How to Fix ‘Surprise Billing’ Before It’s Damaging Your Brand

The issue of “surprise billing” may not seem central to your responsibilities in the marketing department, but it could be seriously damaging your brand, especially with patients of healthcare organizations.

Life is full of surprises,” as the expression goes; often said to someone who was caught off-guard.

Hopefully, it was a good surprise, but sometimes it’s a real brand-killer. The issue of “surprise billing” may not seem central to your responsibilities in the marketing department, but it could be seriously damaging your brand, especially with patients of healthcare organizations.

For instance, surprise billing occurs when a patient goes to an in-network hospital, but is seen by an out-of-network provider. Most often, this occurs in the emergency department, radiology or anesthesia — because hospitals often contract out those functions to third-party companies without requiring them to take the same insurance as your facility. But everywhere your patient looks, there’s your brand. Once the out-of-network provider delivers care, it generates a bill to the patient at higher rates. The patient’s insurance company may only cover what it deems to be “reasonable and customary charges,” leaving the patient to pay off the balance. Surprise!

What ‘Surprise Billing’ Does to Your Brand

We know from multiple studies that many households live paycheck-to-paycheck, despite external appearances that suggest they are well-off. A Henry J. Kaiser Foundation study found that only 47% of households would immediately be able to pay an unexpected medical bill of $500.

Some patients fight back, but others will either try to pay it off with great difficulty or allow the bill to go to collections. In either scenario, that person has not only lost trust in your brand; they are likely to be vocal about it. This damage occurs under the radar of most marketers, who are focused on new patient acquisition.

The March issue of Health Affairs points to the impact of surprise billing on hospital choice. It examined medical claims from obstetric patients who had two deliveries between 2007 and 2014 and employer-based insurance. The authors conclude, “women who got a surprise bill from their first delivery where 13% more likely to change hospitals for the next one.” And it adds, “… in many cases, women used the information they got from their first experience to make more cost-effective decisions the next time around.”

This impact on hospital choice — from the original patient, as well as those they tell about their experience — strikes right at the core of your brand. And that’s what makes an inquiry from the marketing function entirely appropriate.

What Marketers Can Do to Prevent Surprise Billing

Does your facility use third-party companies to provide or supplement providers in emergency, radiology, anesthesia or other services? Does your agreement with those firms require them to accept the same insurance as your facility? If not, how does your facility alert patients that a provider might not be in their insurance network?

Once you know the answers, your skills are well-suited to developing a communications strategy that advises patients on how to minimize the risk of being seen by an out-of-network provider. Better yet, work with the patient experience team and your contracting group to bring those providers in-network.

That way, more of the surprises your facility provides are ones that are for your brand.

3 Tools Every Marketing Leader Should Use

The other day I was asked what tools I think are important for marketing. So I answered. Here are three tools I would encourage every marketing leader to use (and they persist, regardless of what changes in marketing).

Over the years, like many of my peers, I have used quite a few marketing tools. Thinking back over the last 24 years I have been in this space, it is remarkable how much has changed, and equally remarkable how much has not. Over that time, we have seen some interesting tools and applications come and go: Remember when FeedBurner was a necessity? While the modes by which we do marketing change — and so do the tools — the core of what we do as marketers does not. So then, what tools do we use that persist?

Recently a very aggressive marketing firm launched a bot-driven campaign on LinkedIn that targeted marketing leaders. The automated process sent a connection request. Once the connection was accepted, a video was sent in a message explaining how you were found. Although it was obviously automated, I chose to respond to the message, because, why not?

What I found on the other end, was an actual human being who I engaged in a conversation. This is interesting for two reasons: one, it never hurts to be kind to people, and two it created a connection point for me with someone who is new to our our field and seeking to disrupt it (or so they claim).

The interaction lead to a short, but effective conversation resulting in a very thoughtful question posed to me, “What are the most useful 3 software tools for you?”

This random interaction, initiated by an automated process, lead to useful and interesting question. It caused me to think, take the time to explain my thinking, and to make a tough decision about what is actually useful and what tools persists through change.

Here are three marketing tools I encourage every marketing leader to use (and they do persist regardless of what in marketing changes):

Flowcharting & Diagramming as Marketing Tools

The two big stars in this marketing tool set are Omnigraffle for OS X and iOS and Visio for Windows (or LucidChart for a cloud based service) — and despite what either claims, they essentially do the same thing. Both tools allow users to rapidly produce flow charts and visual documents. Regardless of how you do marketing, generally there is a process. As the head of marketing for a financial company, I have to create and communicate specific approval processes for compliance and to maintain consistency. I do that with these tools.

But beyond process documentation, these tools are easy to use tools to do wireframing, a quick mock-up of a marketing piece, or even to create a mind-map. Both tools even offer a quick way to mock-up your office layout (if you like that sort of thing).

The utility to here is speed and ease of use. It is a great marketing tool that has been in my arsenal from the beginning.

Cloud Based File Sharing as Marketing Tools

Since desktop publishing starting dominating the marketing landscape in the late eighties and early nineties, the need to share large digital files to facilitate marketing has always been a need. I remember my days in college where every computer on campus had a Zip Drive to make this easier. With the advent of cheap storage and reliable broadband access, physical drives, FTP servers, and large format email services are no longer necessary. But the need is there.

Whether it is Box, DropBox, OneDrive, Google Drive, iCloud or any other slew of services, it really doesn’t matter which you use. What matters is having the ability to share, in real time, files with a team securely without worrying about complex infrastructures. This has enabled us to work better with staff (both local and remote), vendors, and clients. When sharing a file is as easy as saving a file, that is a tool that everyone should use.

Spreadsheets as Marketing Tools

Not just an accountant’s best friend, spreadsheets are quite possibly the most important software innovation. Ever. And I only wish I was exaggerating. All superlatives aside, if you ponder for a moment all that has been made possible with the use of spreadsheet software, it is pretty remarkable. For all of our advancements in business intelligence (BI), machine learning (ML), and analytics, the one tool that most executives reach for when they want to understand and play with data is Excel (and sometimes Google Sheets).

Ponder this: what do you use to build and massage your marketing budgets? What do you use to manipulate, look at, and explore your analytics? What does your team use to present reports to you ? My guess is that most of you, like me, eventually ask for the data in a spreadsheet. And while we are at it, I do not know a single BI or analytics tool, or data platform (like say a CRM or email system) that does not allow for import or export into structured data.

There is a reason for this. Tabular data is the simplest way to store data for visualization and analysis. If you are good with Excel and have good data, you can do quite a bit.

Why These 3?

When I was answering this question in a LinkedIn message thread, something very simple struck me. We make marketing way too complicated and the tools we use as well. Many of us who run marketing departments and teams spend too much time looking at and evaluating marketing tools, and not enough time doing marketing things. So at the end of the day, what is important to me, not only as a marketer, but as an executive? What stands out is the ability to quickly communicate visually, quickly share files, and to quickly look at and manipulate data.

In Direct Mail, More Is Less: How Oversaturation Kills ROI

Yes, we are saying that more mail pieces actually get you less as far as results go with direct mail. Don’t be fooled by the notion that more choices, more text and more offers are better. That does not hold up to reality. It is harder for your prospects and customers to make a choice, understand more text and pick from multiple offers than if you stick with one or two.

Yes, we are saying that more mail pieces actually get you less as far as results go with direct mail. Don’t be fooled by the notion that more choices, more text and more offers are better. That does not hold up to reality. It is harder for your prospects and customers to make a choice, understand more text and pick from multiple offers than if you stick with one or two.

With two, they can make a comparison. Once you move past two, you get confusion. Confused people do not buy. Your ROI will reflect your “too many choices” with poor results. Not sure if I am right? Let’s look at some key ways people process your mail pieces.

  • Decision Processing — Good decisions are processed in three steps, on avaerage. The steps are: know the importance of your goals, consider your options to meet them and pick the winning option. Knowing this, you can help them make decisions faster by providing them with the benefits of your product or service to them in your copy. The more options you offer, the harder it is for people to make decisions. When decision-making is hard, people tend to just not do it. Your mail pieces should make it easy for them to decide to buy from you.
  • Intake — As people are looking over your copy, they skim as they read. Many tests have shown that what resonates with them is the last item read; make sure your strongest copy is last, in order to convince them that it is in their best interest to buy from you. The more positive spin you put on the benefits, the better people feel about your product or service and the more eager they are to buy.
  • Past Experience — All decisions we make are based on past experiences, but your prospects and customers can be influenced by other people’s experiences, too. That is why testimonials about your product or service are very important. Your customers and prospects can relate to others’ experiences and want to get that experience for themselves.
  • Familiar — People buy from companies that they are familiar with, so your company branding is important and must be carried through all your marketing channels. They need to be able to recognize you to help them decide to buy from you.

Take the confusion out of your direct mail pieces in order to increase your response rates. Your prospects and customers are inundated with marketing messages all day long in various forms. In order for your mail pieces to resonate, you need to grab attention with your design and then wow them with concise, easy-to-read copy. Focus on how great their life is going to be by using your product or service. Then make it a limited time offer so they respond quicker. Finally, make it easy for them to buy from you.

Stay away from multiple offers per mailer; target the right people with the right offer. You can still have multiple offers in your campaign; just send different offers to different people. When you are not sure what offer will work best, do an A/B test so half of the people get one offer and the other half get the other offer. You can then analyze your results to see which offer worked better. There are enough difficult choices in the world, make buying from you an easy choice and you will see your results increase. In your marketing, you cannot be everything to everyone. You need to be something to someone. Focus on the someones. Are you ready to get started?

Are Your Data Decisions Sending the Right Message?

The old way of “house-holding” is relevant when making household purchases, like cable service. But, it’s not relevant with making individual purchases, like shoes. Today even a 3-year-old child has a say in the type of shoes they wear. We like to think of the new way to view the household as the Intelligent Household where each person in the household is treated like an individual and each consumer journey matters. Separately. Individually.

How much thought have you given to the act of “house-holding” your data? Quite possibly a lot. Grouping customers together into “family units” is known as house-holding. This is done for at least one important reason — savings. After all, treating the individuals within a household uniquely seems pretty expensive. But, at what cost does this savings come? Understanding a customer’s household is a big part of your data driven marketing efforts.

The Data Driven Decision of Intelligent House-Holding

The old way of “house-holding” is relevant when making household purchases, like cable service. But, not with making individual purchases, like shoes. Today even a 3-year-old child has a say in the type of shoes they wear.

We like to think of the new way to view the household as the Intelligent Household where each person in the household is treated like an individual and each consumer journey matters. Separately. Individually.

Gender Identity Matters in Marketing and Data, Too

Here are two ways to consider – or reconsider – your approach to house-holding data for both digital and print impact.

1.) The impact of gender differences on response

With all of the brands dedicated to serving only-women (and there are even some few focused on only-men) it got us to thinking. Do men and women respond at the same rate to the same things (when the product and service applies equally to both)? After all, they are both people — and we are making our best creative appeals to people without any particular bias.

Surprise! There is a difference. And, at least for some of our work, the difference is not small. Certainly not small enough to overlook. It’s a whole new data-driven discovery.

When you consider the fact that it is far more common for women to be “house-holded” within the name of the man of the household and when you consider the fact that women often make the purchasing decisions, this does not yield an optimized approach.

Instead, why not seek to identify the ways you can make a creative appeal more to each gender and try it. For example, women are more hungry for information, background and rationale – and may be more skeptical of promises. There’s a lot of good data and research that supports this direction — and I’m abbreviating it here.

2.) The loss of a connection established

I struggled mightily for how to phrase this one. Here’s what I mean. I have a certain brand to which I am quite faithful. I make many purchases within this particular brand — spend more than my fair share on their products, and I own their credit card, solely in my name. My husband also favors the same brand. His name is not on my credit card, and he does not have one of his own. Yes, he buys things at the same place, but not with the same account and not with one of their store cards. Yet, when I go to MY page on their site, I have been house-holded — based on some fancy data work that they no doubt worked hard to manipulate. After all, we both do make purchases and we do live at the same address.

“Hello, Spyro!” it greets me cheerfully when I land on the profile page of my account, where he has never once made a purchase.

At what cost does this slick data manipulation come? Well, loyalty, I’m afraid. And reputation. I’m not exactly thrilled with this, and neither is he. He gets served up recommendations for teenage girl clothes and my identity is seemingly lost — or at the very best, hidden. Not ideal. And frankly, it doesn’t make them seem very smart.

As marketers we know it is important to value your clients and demonstrate that value in ways large and small. I sincerely doubt that this brand is even aware of the impact this (likely operationally-driven) act. Yet this simple mistake adds-up to ignoring people who spend money. Ouch.

This particular house-holding offers no advantage — there is no savings in the bill or statement sent, so I doubt due diligence was paid to the change. Once my page was mine. And now it’s not.

What ways have you seen gender differences impact your marketing efforts?

Deliver an Outstanding CX When Customers Aren’t Talking to You

Customers like self-service. This makes sense when you already have a relationship with a company and you’re just trying to execute a transaction as quickly and efficiently as possible. I do this with American Airlines, interacting with a kiosk to check in rather than an agent.

I just saw the headline, “Consumers Like Self-service More Than Associate Interaction, Reveals Survey.” The gist of the research is if consumers have a choice they’re more likely to tap self-service technology vs. interacting with a retail sales associate, according to a SOTI survey.

This makes sense when you already have a relationship with a company and you’re just trying to execute a transaction as quickly and efficiently as possible. I do this with American Airlines, interacting with a kiosk to check in rather than an agent. I use the self-check-out at Harris Teeter (a grocery store). And I use an app on my phone or an ATM more frequently than a teller at my bank. I also have more than a 20-year relationship with each of these brands.

If they don’t know me after 20 years, they aren’t listening. And, after 20 years, if I’m not pleased with an experience, I’ll let them know about it.

If I didn’t already have a relationship with the airline, the bank or the grocery store, I don’t think I’d trust their other distribution channels. I certainly wouldn’t be familiar with them, they’d be less convenient to use, and I likely would not use them — it would no longer be the most efficient way for me to do what I need to get done.

  • What are you doing to engage your customers and provide an outstanding customer experience?
  • Are you providing a product or service that addresses a problem or concern of your customer?
  • Do you make it easy for your customer to buy?

Do you, or your customer-facing employees, try to engage your customer in a conversation along these lines:

  • What’s driving you to buy our product?
  • What problem are you trying to solve?
  • Have you used our product before?
  • How’s our service?
  • What can we do to improve our product or service?

A lot has been written recently about how customers don’t want to have a relationship with a brand. However, a brand is not a person.

I believe customers do want to have a relationship with a representative of the brand. Someone with whom they can share a comment or suggestion and know that it will be heard and acted upon.

Typically, the people interacting with your customers are your employees.

Do you encourage your employees to engage customers in a conversation to learn more about their needs and wants? What they’re happy with and what can be improved?

Your customers probably don’t want to talk to you because you’ve shown no interest in talking to them. They may have no emotional connection to your brand and don’t care whether you succeed or not.

I have an 11-year relationship with Chipotle and fill out an online feedback form after every visit because I do have an emotional connection with the brand and I want to see it delivering an outstanding customer experience.

You may send a customer satisfaction survey or mine sales data, but have you, or your employees, had a conversation with the customer?

People like to do business with people they know, like and trust. People also don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care about them. This is done person-to-person, not by analyzing data. This is how you build an emotional connection between a customer and a brand.

This is a function of having empathy and being sincerely concerned about why the customer is buying your product vs. that of your competitors — B2B or B2C.

Customers want relationships with brands and product and service providers on their terms. They want to be able to talk with a real person with some knowledge and authority if they have a question, suggestion or complaint.

The customer wants what they want when they want it, and it’s up to the service provider to figure out what it is.

Empower employees to find out what your customers and prospects want to know and how they want to find out about it.

By finding out how different customers want to learn about your products and services, you’ll be able to differentiate and segment your customers; thereby, providing them with more relevant information of value.

You must provide your customers the options they want in order to keep them satisfied. If you don’t, they will find someone else who will. In order to understand your customers’ needs and wants, you need to have a relationship with them, so you’ll be able to fulfill their needs on an ongoing basis.

If customers don’t want to talk to you, it may be because they don’t have a need right now, or they’re pressed for time. However, they are not saying they never want to talk to you or give you feedback.

Don’t stop trying to have a relationship with your customers. Don’t stop trying to gather real customer insights. Be there for your customers when they’re ready to talk.  If you’re not, they’ll go to someone who is.

Why Marketers Should Hire Their Moms, Dads

It’s everywhere. Professionals over 40 can’t even get an interview even when their experience, achievements and proven skills put them at the top of the list of qualified candidates. And the rationale behind recruiters, CEOs and others seems to always be: cultural fit.

marketers with experience
“Parents,” Creative Commons license. | Credit: Flickr by Simon Rowe

It’s everywhere. Professionals over 40 can’t even get an interview even when their experience, achievements and proven skills put them at the top of the list of qualified candidates. And the rationale behind recruiters, CEOs and others seems to always be: cultural fit. CEOs and other executives skew younger than ever as start-ups continue to get backing by VC firms and angel investors that believe in new ideas dreamed up by young enthusiastic tech masters. And these young entrepreneurs tend to hire “friends” who reflect their age, lifestyle, attitude and, unfortunately, inability to stay in one place for very long as something bigger, better, smarter, faster, sexier, richer dangles within arm’s reach. All of the time. This matters, and this is just one of the mistakes young businesses and young leaders are making with their hiring decisions.

Success for start-ups and old-time businesses goes back to the old adage: Anything worthwhile takes time.

Time matters. And the amount of time a candidate has spent perfecting a marketing, finance, or IT skillset matters big if you want your business to stand the test of time. Smart hires are not those who hire someone who fits the “sorority” atmosphere of the office, but those who bring on team members who have spent time perfecting a process for growth, know how to test concepts affordably and effectively, know how to analyze results beyond just immediate sales bumps, and know how to grow a business over time — not just in the immediate quarter, to lure more investors. It takes time to know how to grow a business, and that time comes from career success over 15, 20 or even 30 years. It doesn’t happen over one cool social media post or event that generates a lot of shares, likes or overnight sales. Once.

Businesses that value “experience” more than “sorority fit,” are those that hire for candidates with the “Time” to really understand, perfect and build upon the following competencies:

Time in the following areas matter for business’s long-term growth:

  • Understanding and Building Upon Human Behavior: It takes time to study why we do what we do, and life experiences truly add to this knowledge. Being a mom, dad, manager of people for years, or even long-time volunteer adds to one’s understanding of why people do what they do, buy what they do, and like or dislike products and cultures they encounter. Knowing this from life experience over time adds substantially to one’s ability to solve problems successfully, rally people around common projects and causes, and lead others to success.
  • Patience in Expectations and Execution: Nothing worthwhile happens overnight or from one tweet, post, like, video or blog. It takes time to develop good ideas, test them, identify obstacles, develop and execute solutions; launch, refine, relaunch and build for sustainable growth. Workers in the 40s and 50s — yep, many in your parents’ age bracket, learned to develop and launch new products, business operations, or marketing campaigns by developing processes and timelines that enabled them to do it right the first time and in a way that would be sustainable. We learned to test ideas, to find champions that truly built sales not just buzz, that appealed to target consumers’ needs — emotional and physical, and we learned that it was okay if a campaign took a few months vs. days to develop, refine and execute. We didn’t have to do it overnight. It worked. Brands this “older” generation helped build, when patience and time mattered, are still thriving. Just look at how many brands have been around for 50-plus years vs. start ups that “boomed” overnight within the past five to 10 years.
  • Testing: One of the turning points in my own career was when I was forced to stop placing ads in expensive magazines or on radio shows when I worked for a Fortune 100 brand as an international marketing manager, and start testing new messages, personas, offers and campaigns, instead. For a year, my mult-million dollar media budget was frozen by the CEO of this large brand until we could prove which approach best built sales. It was epic. No one had to prove that ads really built sales before, including our world-famous ad agency that had our $200 million budget, which was a big deal at that time. We formed a committee of bright and experienced minds and came up with various appeals to human behavior to test. We tested thresholds for fear, the impact of humor, creative elements, offers, markets with various cultural influences, humor and so much more. We took what appeared to be winning sales and tested them again. At the end of several months — close to a year — we launched one of the brand’s most successful campaigns.

The knowledge gained by taking “time” to learn, and having patience to wait until we knew how to best use our resources to grow our business was a pivotal point in my career. I wrote my first book, “Big Business Marketing for Small Business Budgets,” as a result of what I learned from this process, and I’ve operated a successful consulting practice ever since, built on taking time to understand a brands’ consumers, attitudes toward a category and expectations. And to what types of experiences they are willing to assign their loyalty. I’ve created many tests across all channels — print, digital and social — to learn how to best communicate. And by taking the time to do it right and the time to learn over the years what matters most, I’ve achieved YOY gains of more than 200 percent for response, revenue and ROI.

So if you’re hiring or looking for new ways to build your business, look at your Mom, Dad, and that generation that might have built brands and businesses in the “old” days, when time mattered. Especially if you want your “new” businesses to still be around when you’re sending your kids off to college.

The Post One-to-One Era of Marketing?

Over the past few years, several people have said to me, “Wow, with all this technology, you can finally put the right marketing message in front of the right person at the right time. That’s truly one-to-one. That’s living the dream!” … But is that still the dream in 2017?

Over the past few years, several people have said to me, “Wow, with all this technology, you can finally put the right marketing message in front of the right person at the right time. That’s truly one-to-one. That’s living the dream!” … But is that still the dream in 2017?

Last week I was at the Engagement Marketing Executive Symposium hosted by Ricoh, and I got to hear Carla Johnson talking about the book she’s  written with Robert Rose: “Experiences: The 7th Era of Marketing.” In the presentation, she laid out the whole history of marketing in the six “eras” we’ve been through so far:

  1. The Trade Era: 1850s to 1900s focused on where you can buy the product, because distribution was very limited.
  2. The Production Era: 1900s to 1920s focused on quality of the product and dangers of other products.
  3. The Sales Era: 1920s-1940s focused on making a sales argument and price, highly influenced by “How to Win Friends and Influence People.”
  4. The Marketing Department Era: 1940s to 1950s, focused on promotion of product benefits.
  5. The Marketing Company Era: 1960s to 1990s was the high “Mad Men” era, focused on brand. Think the Pepsi Challenge and Apple’s iconic ads.
  6. The Relationship Era: 1990s to 2015, one-to-one marketing highly influenced by the books “The One to One Future” and “The Cluetrain Manifesto.”

Out of these eras, Johnson said the first four represent the classic four Ps of marketing: Place, Price, Product and Promotion. Then we see the development of the commercial mass-media era, followed by the rise of modern direct marketing.

Looked at this way, I can certainly see a progression. The question is, are we now past the one-to-one era? It feels like we just recently found the technologies to actualize the ideas Peppers and Rogers wrote about, but have those techs already missed the boat?

Well, if all this personalized digital marketing was loved by the masses, would we be seeing both Apple and Google add built-in ad blockers to their web browsers? Or laws like CASL and GDPR threatening access to data and channels we use to reach one-to-one?

Clearly, consumers are having a bad experience with these kinds of marketing. In theory, very good one-to-one marketing should always be relevant and a pleasure for the audience to receive. In practice,  lot of marketing that’s meant to one-to-one is actually one-to-none, and nobody wants to engage with it.

The only way to fix a bad experience is to start offering a good one, and that’s where the seventh era comes in:

7. The Experience Era: 2015 to the future, experiences “transform” business through customer-centricity.

Where the one-to-one era was built around direct, personalized communication, the experience era is built on providing an experience around your brand that your target audiences will choose to engage with. It’s the art of marketing without interrupting; the art of opt-in engagement.

Is that the era you feel like we’re in?

One thing’s for sure: We can’t keep frustrating the audience and expecting them to be happy to see us.

 

Why Brand-Tracking Needs an Overhaul

Have you noticed how disconnected brand-tracking has become with actual consumer behavior? You might run a great new ad or build a new positioning in the market, and the tracker may even show an uptick in brand consideration. Nevertheless, when it comes to hard behavioral metrics (such as purchase volume), they remain unaffected.

Branding
“Branding,” Creative Commons license. | Credit: Flickr by Limelight Leads

Have you noticed how disconnected brand-tracking has become with actual consumer behavior? You might run a great new ad or build a new positioning in the market, and the tracker may even show an uptick in brand consideration. Nevertheless, when it comes to hard behavioral metrics (such as purchase volume), they remain unaffected.

Underlying Trends

According to a new study by Trinity Mirror, almost 70 percent of consumers don’t trust advertising and 42 percent distrust brands and view them as self-serving. Several other studies are finding similar conclusions. Despite this trend, it may be premature to say that brand advertising no longer works. Rather, the larger consensus seems to be that brands must find new ways to convey authenticity and sincerity beyond the ad. In many cases, brands are responding by focusing on brand purpose and brand experience in addition to traditional brand communication.

When it comes to brand-tracking, the problem is that most trackers are still tied to the traditional linear relationship between stated brand consideration and sales. While always a bit tenuous, the relationship made much more sense in the era of push marketing. Now, however, the consumer’s purchase decision process has fundamentally changed. More and more, consumers develop brand preference through experiences and by observing brands living up to their stated brand purpose. Not only does this new dynamic take time to measure, more importantly, but it also requires a well thought out measurement strategy. Let’s assume one of your brand propositions is “valuing the consumer’s time.” In this case, more important than measuring consideration is tracking if the consumer actually views you as valuing of their time. Furthermore, where in your transaction chain are you living up to that promise and where do you fail? Can you confirm this through behavioral data, such as a decrease in abandoned website shopping carts or fewer billing inquiries?

How Brand-Tracking Needs to Evolve

First, brand monitoring needs to be part of a larger consumer intelligence database. Integrating brand with NPS data, customer experience data and behavioral data is critical to understanding how your brand is performing. One significant advantage of this approach is that you may find that all the underlying brand principles are tracking upward, but brand consideration remains unchanged. Knowing this early may save you millions in investments on a brand strategy that is potentially not providing the market advantage you hoped for. Without tracking the underlying brand principles, you would be left wondering if the strategy is bad or if the execution is not working.

Next, build a custom brand measurement strategy. Because great brands are now structured around a unique purpose and experience, measurement strategies cannot be off the shelf. I commonly encounter brand-trackers that create more questions than they answer. While this can be spun into a positive, in pragmatic reality it wastes time and delays decisions. The underlying reason this happens is that companies fail to measure the specific changes and perceptions they are uniquely trying to affect.

Revisiting the brand proposition of “valuing the consumer’s time,” do you know how you will actually measure success on this proposition? When is the right time to ask the consumer? Is it solely the consumer’s responsibility to tell you how you are doing? What other ways can you listen to consumers besides a survey? What can you know from their behavior?

Having a clear vision of the underlying experience, behaviors, and perceptions you are trying to create and knowing how you will measure them will go a long way toward understanding how your brand is resonating in the market.

What the DMV Taught Me About Brand Trust in the Age of Algorithms

After I shifted my residency from Pennsylvania to Virginia, I put off for way too long the job of going to the DMV to change my driver’s license. When I finally went recently, it was just as awful an experience as I expected. While I did lose years off my life, I also came away with new insights about customer experience and brand trust in the age of the algorithm.

building trustAfter I shifted my residency from Pennsylvania to Virginia, I put off for way too long the job of going to the DMV to change my driver’s license. When I finally went recently, it was just as awful an experience as I expected. While I did lose years off my life, I also came away with new insights about customer experience and brand trust in the age of the algorithm.

Let me set the stage. After explaining my needs (license, registration) to a greeter, I was given a ticket with the the number D72. I then went to sit among 100 or so lost souls watching a ticker go by: A31, T76, F17, H125, B7, A32 C38 … And I watched. And watched. After about an hour it dawned on me that I had not seen one “D” number go by in all that time.

I wandered around seeking an explanation for this strange D-free streak. I saw a poster that said something like, “We have a numbering system that prioritizes the various services with an employee with the right level of experience and training. We find that this is most effective process.”

So in other words, “We have a sort of secret system, and will not really explain it to you, but trust us, it works (for us).”

Rather than provide comfort, this bit of bureaucratic prose only wound me up further: What does my “D” ticket say about me? Where do I stack in the pecking order? What trade-offs are they making that are invisible to me, and that cost me precious time? Should I have gamed the system by doing things one at a time? Can I swipe my neighbor’s faster-moving C ticket? (He’s sleeping on shoulder, so really wouldn’t miss it.)

My conversation with the greeter didn’t help matters. She explained that, yes, D tickets were really slow — harder to deal with. Plus, 11-3 was the lunch hour, and therefore things get really bogged down at that time. I opined that 11-3 was more accurately a lunch four-hours, not a lunch hour, representing nearly half the day. Her silent, reptilian stare chilled my spine and sent me back to my seat.

At four hours and twelve minutes, I gave up and handed the win to the State of Virginia and went home to drink heavily.

This is where the lesson for marketers comes started to dawn on me.

None of us would ever seek to recreate such an experience. But in the age of the algorithm, analytic optimization and the coming era of AI, we run the risk of inadvertently creating similarly mysterious and unsettling experiences — and thereby undermining brand trust.

The Experience Business and TV on the Cloud — Adobe Summit 2017

According to Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen, transformation is all or nothing. You either commit to it, or you don’t achieve it. And Adobe came to Vegas to commit to the “Experience Business.”

In Las Vegas last week, IBM and Adobe both revealed where the winds are blowing their marketing clouds. The companies held nearly simultaneous summits, and each one offered a new marketing paradigm along with new capabilities that would not have been imaginable a few years ago.

This week, I’m collecting my thoughts on Adobe. Next week, I’ll talk about IBM.

The Experience Business

On top of bringing out Peyton Manning, Ryan Gosling and Penn & Teller …

Penn & Teller at Adobe Summit
I knew who I was there to see.

… Adobe announced a transformed version of its cloud.

According to Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen, transformation is all or nothing. You either commit to it, or you don’t achieve it. And Adobe came to Vegas to commit to the “Experience Business.”

What Adobe means is that successful businesses must be committed not to their products, culture or business processes, but to the customer experience.

According to Adobe EVP Brad Rencher, consumers have become very demanding. Connecting with them is not about the things companies are selling, but about the experiences they’re delivering.

“A great experience doesn’t just save time for your customers,” says Rencher, “it maximizes the time they spend with your brand.”

What does an experience business look like to customers?

  • Will know me and respect me.
  • Will speak in one voice.
  • Will make technology transparent and let’s the consumer dry the terms of our interaction.
  • Will delight me at every turn because it knows that today’s experience, although it wows me today, will disappoint me tomorrow.

According to Rencher, there are four imperatives for the company to be able to deliver those experiences:

  • Focus on context: Not just are they shopping, but where, when and why are they shopping? What’s the context? Tech can help deliver context at scale, but you must develop your data strategy into a context strategy in order to do that.
  • Design for speed and scale, across your company: Rethink your entire content supply chain so it can deliver exactly the right content for the context of their visit.
  • Real-time response is essential: “Milliseconds make the journey,” said Rencher. It is essential that you can respond to your customers in real-time (still at scale) in order to be able to leverage what you know about the context of their visit.
  • Put customers first: Your content and other responses should match what the customer needs regardless of contact channels or your own silos. Systems integration is key to this as channels expand. “From CEO to the newest hire, we are all responsible for the experience,” said Rencher, “and fractured technology doesn’t get you there.”

Every vendor conference has it’s share of spin, but I don’t think Adobe is off-base on this concept. The best businesses are remembered for the experiences they provide. For example, later in the conference I caught a session where Southwest said “We were always an experience business, we just happen to fly people around too.”

Adobe’s offering is designed to give you the tools to do that easier. And in order to better align their tools with those goals, they announced a new organization and several new pieces for their cloud.

Adobe Experience Cloud  … Now With TV!

The Adobe Experience Cloud and it's structure.
The Adobe Experience Cloud and it’s structure.

“Experience Cloud is where you do the work of the experience business,” said Rencher. And it’s now the name of the entire enterprise side of the Adobe cloud.

Underneath Experience Cloud, you have the enterprise Document and Creative clouds, along with Marketing Cloud, Analytics Cloud and the new Advertising Cloud.

Sensei

Within the Experience Cloud, marketers not only have access to all of those components, but also to a new AI, machine-learning digital assistant system called Sensei.

Sensei is not a single AI entity, but a category of learning, artificial intelligence tools that help marketers spot trends and anomalies, automate some marketing processes and help with the dirty work of crunching numbers and planning marketing.

Advertising Cloud

The new Advertising Cloud is probably the most exciting addition to the Adobe cloud. This tool leverages Adobe’s recent acquisition of TubeMogul’s programmatic advertising software to allow all of your media planning and buying to be integrated into one solution.

That includes both digital marketing and in-line television ads, and marks the first time I know of that TV ad buying can sit in your marketing automation platform and be accountable in the way.

To power that, Adobe is also launching its own, independent advertising network that you’ll be able to access through the app.

A Wrap

Those were my highlights of the Adobe Summit. Were you there or following along from home? Did I miss anything that impressed you? If so, let us know in the comments.