The Database Marketer Superhero: Expanded Role, Big Impact

Riddle me this, Batman: What sort of marketing strategies today require deeper, strategic database insight? Not so puzzling, is it? Pretty much everything a marketing team does today is driven by data — e.g., digital outreach, content, media, attribution, return on investment analysis, lead nurturing, PR and social community participation. In fact, the list would be shorter if we tallied up those marketing functions that don’t benefit from data-driven decisions.

Riddle me this, Batman: What sort of marketing strategies today require deeper, strategic database insight?

Not so puzzling, is it? Pretty much everything a marketing team does today is driven by data — e.g., digital outreach, content, media, attribution, return on investment analysis, lead nurturing, PR and social community participation. In fact, the list would be shorter if we tallied up those marketing functions that don’t benefit from data-driven decisions.

Database marketers were traditionally the geeks of the marketing department. They kept to themselves, ran queries to answer questions posed by other strategists, and worked hard to keep data clean and updated. Today’s database marketers are part of an emerging and essential marketing operations team that’s driving a lot of brands’ strategies. One marketer said to me recently, “Whomever knows the customers best gets to make the call.” Who knows your customers better than the people working with the data every day? All of a sudden, database marketers are superheroes — or at least have the opportunity to wear capes if they choose to accept the challenge.

There are two factors driving this trend, one being consumer habit. Given the ability and choice to interact with brands in many ways and across many channels, consumers are taking full advantage. It’s a me-centered consumption world where customer preference and whim create habits. At the same time, marketing automation technology is advancing and data integration is possible. Marketers can track and, more importantly, react to customer behavior in order to meet needs across channels.

Consider these five initiatives that have become imperatives for many chief marketing officers today:

1. Obtain a 360-degree view of the customer. One B-to-C marketer told me that there are more than 25 ways customers can interact with her brand, from a kiosk to a store counter to email to mobile commerce to branded website to call center to social communities. Most consumers participate in three or more of those channels. Communications can only be optimized if those habits and experiences are captured — and actionable — in your database.

2. Respond to customer behavior in the channel where the interaction occurred. This also has to be aligned with self-selected preferences.

3. Select the optimal channel for your next offer. A hotel owner uses past booking behavior to send last-minute alerts via SMS to those who have opted in and accessed the brand’s mobile commerce site. All others get the information via email. Response has boosted overall 8 percent.

4. Outline personas representing key customer segments. Do this in order to profile audience types and improve communication messaging and cadence.

5. Test and optimize your mix of channels for lead nurturing campaigns. For a live seminar event, one B-to-B marketer emailed reminders and offers based on interaction with previous email campaigns. Those who didn’t respond got simple reminders on date, location and keynote speakers. Those who did respond got more robust offers. Revenue from the offers increased 50 percent over the previous year and spam complaints dropped 25 percent. This is surely because those who demonstrated a willingness to engage prior to the event were nurtured with offers that made sense to their actions, and the others were left alone.

I’m sure there are infinite variations of these opportunities. Perhaps you’re testing some of them now. It will also be great to see how database marketers react to this new level of attention and interest from the C-suite. Will you embrace it and join the strategists, or will you run back to the corner and take orders?

How are you and your team embracing the need for a data-driven marketing approach? Please tell us by posting a comment below.

The 5 Assassins of Innovation

Every company talks about innovation and recognizes the need to be innovative. But then why do so many promising ideas die an untimely death? Let me introduce you to the assassins of innovation who have your next big idea in their crosshairs:

Every company talks about innovation and recognizes the need to be innovative. But then why do so many promising ideas die an untimely death? Let me introduce you to the assassins of innovation who have your next big idea in their crosshairs:

1. Low self-esteem Larry: “We’ll never get away with it. We’re not (insert name of impossibly cool brand).” Don’t be fooled by his self-effacing facade. Larry is one of the most prolific eradicators out there. He strikes early and takes down ideas in their infancy. How to defend yourself against Larry?

Try this: A recent study from Millward Brown found that there was no significant correlation between brand or category involvement and likelihood of viewing and sharing viral video. Think about the most popular viral videos in recent years and the categories they represented: bottled water, a mobile provider and deodorant — not typically the types of things most people get worked up about. Well-executed ideas are what make a brand cool, not the other way around.

2. Benny the Brain: “We don’t have the data.” Benny’s right. Odds are, you won’t have the data to justify a truly innovative effort because data is inherently backward looking. Data can tell you the “what” but not the “why.” Nor is it about asking customers what they want. (Think back to the Henry Ford quote, “If I asked my customers what they want, they simply would have said a faster horse.”) The type of data you really need comes from talking, following and watching your customers to understand their needs, then creating a solution based on that understanding.

3. Practical Paulie: “[Insert name of brilliant idea] is just a fad.” Unlike Benny, Paulie usually has all the numbers at his disposal. For every idea, he’ll have a few stats to prove why it won’t work. The biggest issue with the industry reports and studies he cites is that they’re rarely specific to your audience, category or situation. Try turning the tables on Paulie. If 25 percent of mobile phone owners only use an app once, that’s 75 percent who are using it more than once. Innovation is rarely mass adoption; it’s about seeding a new idea, reaching early adopters and gaining traction.

4. Helga the Historian: “It’s already been done/We’ve already tried that.” Helga lurks in unexpected places, including companies that are considered innovators by most standards. She’s the one who reminds the team, “We tried mobile back in 2002, and it was a disaster.” Let Helga know that it’s 2011 and times have changed.

Facebook didn’t invent social networking. Remember MySpace? And before that Friendster? And if you go way back, GeoCities? Sometimes it’s just the right idea at the wrong time. Other times it’s the right idea but it’s executed poorly. There are countless reasons why innovations fail. The key is to learn from your mistakes and the successes of others to maximize your odds of producing a winner. Think about your most admired companies. Chances are few, if any, were the first to market. Let Helga know it’s not about being first, but about being better.

5. Big Al the Accountant: “We can’t afford it.” The economic downturn has lavished Al with a lot of extra ammunition. Companies believe they’re doing the right thing by staying with the tried and true, avoiding the risks of bringing a new idea to market. However, it’s companies that are continuing to invest in innovation during tough times that are emerging from the recession with higher growth rates. In this case, think small. Distill down a grand vision to its essential components and propose ways to execute it quickly and inexpensively.

Arming yourself against the assassins
The assassins aren’t invincible (otherwise, I’d have made them superheroes). Know how they’ll attack and be prepared. To summarize, here are quotes from a couple of the smartest people I know: Sun Tzu: “Know your enemies and know yourself and you will win countless battles.” My mom: “Don’t forget to do your homework.”

Email Marketing is the Sticky Stuff of Digital Conversations

Email marketing is no longer one size fits all. It’s part broadcast, part transaction-driver, and part loyalty and engagement aid. In fact, because of this diversity of roles, email has become the glue by which marketers start and nurture conversations with subscribers and customers.

Email marketing is no longer one size fits all. It’s part broadcast, part transaction-driver, and part loyalty and engagement aid. In fact, because of this diversity of roles, email has become the glue by which marketers start and nurture conversations with subscribers and customers.

Glue? Is that good? I think so. Because email marketing communicates with your eCRM database and connects marketing campaigns with data at the individual subscriber level, it’s become a powerful way for marketers to connect across customer touchpoints, even other channels. It’s become “conversational glue.”

Consider this glue to be a series of messages that nurture and engage consumers over time. Marketers already aim to do this. They create content and messaging that reaches customers and prospects over time, with a purpose that’s meaningful to customers. Most likely, the conversation component (i.e., each individual message) drives an action or interaction with the customer. While not every email needs to drive a click to be effective, if you’re engaging in conversation it must be a two-way dialog. This means the timing of the messaging and the content encourage higher response.

There are many ways that marketers collect data in order to customize experiences. Consider what you have at your disposal: past response data, online forms, surveys, sales teams, competitive analysis, social communities (including comments on your blog) and web analytics. Understanding the key drivers of response will help you focus on the things that matter most. For example:

1. Post-purchase triggered messages, like those from Amazon and Williams-Sonoma, encourage suggested follow-up items. That alone isn’t a conversation, so turn that post-purchase request into a conversation by offering testimonials from others who have purchased the follow-up product. Provide helpful tips from your product experts or merchandisers, or even invite the customer to join a product-owner community.

You can still suggest related products, it’s just not the sole purpose of the communication. A colleague received a “personal” follow-up from a sales associate she met during her purchase at Neiman Marcus. Now that’s a conversation starter!

2. Sign up for a B-to-B event and what do you get? An invitation the following week for the same event — sometimes at a better deal. An order confirmation or download receipt isn’t a conversation. This period of anticipation — post sign-up and pre-event — are actually great times for conversations. Engage participants with experts by sending provocative insights to be shared at the event, and collect feedback in advance that you can use during the event to tailor the experience. While you do that, offer help for hotels, travel, networking, etc. Wrap the conversation around those helpful informational messages.

How do you do this? It starts with data. If you don’t have a campaign management tool integrated with your database, you need to prioritize the data elements that will power the most relevant conversations and import that data to your email marketing tool. That data isn’t as timely or rich, but it will get you on your way. Perhaps it could even help you make a business case for better segmentation and campaign management tools. Create the content up front so that you know the whole conversation. But if subscribers aren’t engaging, don’t keep talking. Allow those who aren’t interested to drop out of the series.

Test everything — content, images, offers, presence of navigation and secondary offers, cadence, timing, and message length. Even subject line testing will help you improve results and guide your segmentation going forward as you learn more about your audience.

Successful conversations require a deep commitment to subscriber interest. Let’s be honest: Self-interest and business pressure often result in low relevancy for subscribers, the very people you’re trying to engage in conversation. Often there’s a disconnect between a marketer’s desire to have conversation and a subscriber’s willingness to converse. Select your opportunities carefully. Marketer must become advocates for their subscribers, and not just for altruistic reasons. Relevancy improves response and revenue.

Don’t forget to include your landing pages in the conversation. Continue to offer ways to respond, interact and provide feedback. Social elements can help here as well. Think of landing pages as a continuation of the conversation.

What are you doing to start and nurture conversations? Let me know how you’ve successfully improved engagement and response by posting a comment below.

Trade Associations Bond on Industry Self-Regulation

With the threat of an online privacy bill looming, some of the nation’s largest media and marketing trade associations released self-regulatory principles on July 2 to protect consumer privacy in ad-supported interactive media.

With the threat of an online privacy bill looming, some of the nation’s largest media and marketing trade associations released self-regulatory principles on July 2 to protect consumer privacy in ad-supported interactive media.

The seven principles will require advertisers and Web sites to clearly inform consumers about data collection practices and enable them to exercise control over that information. The collaboration includes the American Association of Advertising Agencies, the Association of National Advertisers, the Direct Marketing Association and the Interactive Advertising Bureau.

The Council of Better Business Bureaus is also part of the effort and has agreed, along with the DMA, to implement accountability programs to promote widespread adoption of the principles.

This is a big deal: Taken collectively, the participating associations represent more than 5,000 U.S. companies, and the task force represents the first time all advertising and marketing industry associations have come together to develop self-regulatory principles.

And it should be a big deal, quite frankly. Concerns around government regulation on the use and collection of data on the Internet has been swelling in the industry over the past few years as the medium has become all-encompassing. What’s more, the House Communications Subcommittee Chairman Rick Boucher (D-Va.) is preparing an online privacy bill right now that may contain an “opt-in” provision that would prevent companies from targeting consumers without their explicit permission.

The seven principles
The self-regulatory program is expected to be implemented at the beginning of 2010. The process, however, started in January, when the task force announced it was working on developing these principles in direct response to calls by the Federal Trade Commission.
The principles are designed to address consumer concerns about the use of personal information and interest-based advertising, while preserving the robust advertising that supports free online content and the ability to deliver relevant advertising to consumers.
The seven principles include the following:

  • The Education Principle, which calls for organizations to educate individuals and businesses about online behavioral advertising. Along these lines, a major campaign — expected to exceed 500 million online advertising impressions — will be launched over the next 18 months to educate consumers about online behavioral advertising, the benefits of these practices and the means to exercise choice.
  • The Transparency Principle, which calls for clearer and easily accessible disclosures to consumers about data collection and use practices associated with online behavioral advertising.
  • The Consumer Control Principle, which requires Internet access service providers and providers of desktop applications software such as Web browser toolbars to obtain the consent of users before engaging in online behavioral advertising, and take steps to de-identify the data used for such purposes.
  • The Data Security Principle, which calls for organizations to provide reasonable security for, and limited retention of, data collected and used for online behavioral advertising purposes.
  • The Material Changes Principle, which calls on organizations to obtain consent for any material change to their online behavioral advertising data collection and use policies and practices to data collected prior to such change.
  • The Sensitive Data Principle, which recognizes that data collected from children and used for online behavioral advertising merits heightened protection, and requires parental consent for behavioral advertising to consumers known to be less than 13 on child-directed Web sites. This principle also provides heightened protections to certain health and financial data when attributable to a specific individual.
  • The Accountability Principle, which calls for the development of programs to further advance these principles, including programs to monitor and report instances of uncorrected noncompliance with these principles to appropriate government agencies.

Sounds like a plan to me. What do you think? Do you think this initiative will stave off government regulation for good, or should these trade groups be doing more? Leave a comment here, and let us know how you feel.

Authentication Alliance Marks Data Privacy Day With Consumer Trust Best Practices

To mark World Data Privacy Day, Jan. 28, the Authentication and Online Trust Alliance published its top 10 list of privacy principles and business practices. These practices, many of which have been widely adopted by AOTA members, are calls to action for companies to help maximize consumer confidence and ultimately spur economic growth.

To mark World Data Privacy Day, Jan. 28, the Authentication and Online Trust Alliance published its top 10 list of privacy principles and business practices. These practices, many of which have been widely adopted by AOTA members, are calls to action for companies to help maximize consumer confidence and ultimately spur economic growth.

To me, it’s pretty simple: Adopt these principles or suffer the consequences of a consumer trust meltdown. And that could invite regulation, according to AOTA Founder/Chairman Criag Spiezel. Here’s what the group recommends you do, edited a bit:

1. Ensure all privacy policies are discoverable, transparent and written to ensure consumer comprehension, accessible from every page of a Web site and/or e-mail.

2. Periodically contact users and provide them with your company privacy policy upon any changes for their review; allow for provisions for consumer choice or their data usage.

3. Establish and publish procedures for data collection, transfer and retention; perform third-party or self-audits for compliance.

4. Support collaborative, global, public-privacy efforts to increase consumer awareness and education, as well as the adoption of fair information practices and privacy/security regimes (e.g., the appointment of a national chief privacy officer).

5. Support self-regulatory efforts to adopt standard data retention/use policies.

6. Set and publish standards of privacy, security and data retention policies with clear accountability between first-party sites and third-party content providers and advertisers.

7. Create response plans for accidental disclosure of personal information and data breaches, including notification to consumers and governmental agencies. Provide relevant remedies to consumers (e.g., no-charge credit record monitoring services to those affected, or other remedies as appropriate).

8. Commit to authenticating all outbound e-mail with Domain Keys Identified Mail and/or Sender ID Framework to combat forged e-mail and potential privacy exploits within six months.

9. Transactional sites should adopt Extended Validation Secure Sockets Layer Certificates within six months or upon existing certificate expiration.

10. All consumer-facing sites should obtain privacy certification and seals from third-party providers or other third-party consumer dispute resolution mechanisms.

More details can be found here.

Are you following these best practices? If not, why? Let’s start a dialogue on the subject. Post a comment now.

Google Analytics Gets More Robust

Last month, many online marketers got just what they were waiting for: news that new functionalities representing a major upgrade to Google Analytics were coming.

Last month, many online marketers got just what they were waiting for: news that new functionalities representing a major upgrade to Google Analytics were coming.

In an Oct. 22 blog post, Google said it has been speaking with its customers, Web analytics experts and customers of other analytics tools about additional functionality they’d all like added to Google Analytics. The company said it wanted to make Google Analytics “as powerful, flexible, and useful as a Web analytics tool can be.”

The new features include advanced segmentation, custom reports, a data export application programming interface, integrated reporting for AdSense publishers, multi-dimensional data visualizations and an updated user and administrative interface. Some of these features are still in beta test mode.

While all of this functionality is good news to Google Analytics users, the big news here is the application programming interface, says Jim Sterne, president of Target Marketing, a Santa Barbara, Calif.-based Internet marketing strategy consultancy. He’s also the founding director and president of the Web Analytics Association.

“The major complaint about Google Analytics was that the data were inaccessible,” Sterne says. “Now, with the API, people can download their data and slice and dice it all they want with whatever tools they like. This is a big step forward. Google Analytics was a wonderful tool for the price — now it’s an astonishing tool.”

In effect, Google has created a more robust Web analytics tool that will undoubtedly help online marketers improve their competitive edges and marketing optimization programs.