Why Behavioral Science Is Critical to Marketing and Research

What if we could identify consumers’ underlying emotions or motivations to improve our understanding of whether they were actually going to purchase a product? Over the past few years, marketing and research has been digging into the “why” behind behaviors to get even deeper, below the surface of the insights we deliver. The goal is to help brands better understand the true drivers of consumers’ behavior — and it all starts with behavioral science.

What if we could identify consumers’ underlying emotions or motivations to improve our understanding of whether they were actually going to purchase a product? Over the past few years, marketing and research has been digging into the “why” behind behaviors to get even deeper, below the surface of the insights we deliver. The goal is to help brands better understand the true drivers of consumers’ behavior — and it all starts with behavioral science.

What Is Behavioral Science?

Behavioral science isn’t a new industry, but within the past few years is something of an emerging topic in marketing and research. At its core, behavioral science and the research that results from it, seeks to understand the many aspects related to someone’s habits or decision-making. Most importantly, as we noted, it helps to understand why people make certain decisions.

If you think of that in the context of our marketing and product strategies, it’s clear why behavioral science plays a role in market research. There are a variety of methods that can get close to truly understanding consumer behavior, but much of them can fail to capture empirical evidence — sensory information captured through observations and the documentation of behaviors through experimentation.

As a result, the importance and rise of behavioral science in marketing and research is no small subject. Just in the past year, there have already been numerous events discussing behavioral science specific to gathering and analyzing data to understand why consumers make decisions — but marketers and researchers, by and large, are still figuring out how to leverage it.

Leveraging Behavioral Data

Big data can be used as a possible solution for at least two reasons. First, it gives us access to more data than ever before, including data based on actual behavior from purchasing, web analytics, subscriptions, and more. As a result, big data can reduce the struggles we sometimes have with differences between stated versus observed behavior.

Second, there are big data sources that allow us to understand motivations of our consumers by examining the big 5 personality traits for millions and millions of people. By understanding different personalities, we can begin to realize if being “extroverted” or “conscientious” drives consumers’ purchasing. Some suggest that behavioral science and the resulting data on motivations behind decision making will be the new normal for market research. We agree that understanding what people don’t tell us in surveys is as important as what they do. Together, these two types of data give us a more well-rounded picture of consumer behavior, and with the right methodology, you can gain this knowledge quickly.

In a specific use case, a brand was looking to understand their target audience for a new product innovation. They had hypothesis’ about what this audience would look like, and likely could have gained that knowledge through standard quantitative research. However, by incorporating an approach that combines survey data and big data, they were able to understand who their audience was, but also what would motivate them to purchase this particular new product. The moral of the story? Consumers are more than just the people that buy your product.

4 Benefits of Applying Marketing Analytics

Marketing analytics is no small subject in today’s world of business. In fact, according to Transparency Market Research, the marketing analytics industry is set to grow by roughly 14% by 2022. Why such growth? Marketing analytics has a tremendous impact on a marketing organization’s activities, but also on a brand’s overall understanding of their entire company’s success.

Marketing analytics is no small subject in today’s world of business. In fact, according to Transparency Market Research, the marketing analytics industry is set to grow by roughly 14% by 2022. Why such growth? Marketing analytics has a tremendous impact on a marketing organization’s activities, but also on a brand’s overall understanding of their entire company’s success.

There are four unique benefits marketing analytics provides, and combined together, these benefits give a holistic view of an organization’s past, present and future.

But First: What Is Marketing Analytics and Why Is It Important?

Marketing analytics is a result of the technology and influx of data we use as marketers. Early on, marketing analytics was a relatively simple concept. It encompassed the process of evaluating marketing efforts from multiple data sources, processes or technology to understand the effectiveness of marketing activities from a big-picture view — often through the use of metrics. Fundamentally, it’s all about quantifying the results of marketing efforts that take place both online and offline.

Today, marketing analytics has become an entire industry that’s changing the way we work and the type of work we do as marketers. 

It’s important to measure the financial impact of not just marketing but of a variety of efforts from product and sales — which marketing analytics also can provide. As a result, knowing and understanding the different types of analysis and the benefits they provide within marketing analytics, can help to identify what metrics to focus on for what objectives — because objectives can be an endless list of how to understand or increase ROI, monitor trends over time, determine campaign effectiveness, forecast future results, and so on.

The 4 Benefits of Applying Marketing Analytics

1. Learn What Happened

Marketing analytics can first lend insight into what happened in the past and why. This is instrumental to marketing teams in order to avoid making the same mistakes. Through descriptive analysis and the use of customer relationship management and marketing automation platforms, analytics bring to light not only what happened in the past but also provide answers to questions on specific topics. For example, you can ask more about why a specific metric performed the way it did, or what impacted the sales of a specific product.

2. Gauge What’s Happening Now

Marketing analytics can also help you understand what’s currently taking place in regards to your marketing efforts. This helps determine if you need to pivot or quickly make changes in order to avoid mistakes or make improvements. Using dashboards to display current engagements in an email track or the status of new leads are examples of marketing analytics that look to assess the real-time status of marketing efforts. Usually, these dashboards are created by employing business intelligence practices in addition to a marketing automation platform.

3. Predict What Might Happen

Some could say the predictive aspect of marketing analytics is the most important part of it. Through predictive modelings such as regression analysis, clustering, propensity models and collaborative filtering, we can start to anticipate consumer behavior. Web analytics tracking that incorporates probabilities, for example, can be used to foresee when a person may leave a site and when. Marketers can then utilize this information to execute specific marketing tactics at those moments to retain customers.

Or perhaps it’s marketing analytics that assesses lead management processes to prioritize leads based on those similar to current customers. This helps identifies who already has a higher propensity to buy. Either way, the goal of marketing analytics for the future will be to move away from a rear-view strategy to focus on the future. Luckily, the influx of data, machine learning, and improved statistical algorithms mean our ability to accurately predict the likelihood of future outcomes will rise exponentially.

4. Optimize Efforts

This last benefit only comes when you combine your analytics with your market research objectives — but if you do so you could see the greatest impact. In fact, if you’re not ensuring your marketing analytics and market research work together, then you could be missing out on a lot of opportunities. Essentially, it’s about translating marketing analytics findings into market research objectives. A common mistake marketers make in conducting marketing analytics is forgetting to gather real customer feedback. This activity is important to bridge the gap between analytics insights, a marketing strategy and activation.

In addition to the first three benefits or approaches, brands should use marketing research as a tool to push their marketing analytics from just learning about lead generation and sales metrics to actually understand customers in the context of their marketing opportunities.

Marketers: Steer Right Along Consumer Desire Paths

Desire paths are a concept born in the physical world. You see them in places where there is a nicely planned path of travel — like a paved walkway through a park — and not far away from it, there is an alternate path that has been cut by people choosing their own path. That’s a desire path.

John Long blog image
Credit: John Long

Desire paths are a concept born in the physical world. You see them in places where there is a nicely planned path of travel — like a paved walkway through a park — and not far away from it, there is an alternate path that has been cut by people choosing their own path. That’s a desire path.

There are many different reasons for desire paths. Perhaps people want to take a shortcut through the park. Or maybe the additional path was started because so many people were walking the paved path, people wanted to find an alternate route to avoid the crowd. Or, perhaps, there was unspoken “rule of the road” that paved paths were for walkers and bikers created a new path to make things safer for all travelers.

In any event, the point is this:

People simply don’t always go the way you want them to go. And a ton can be learned by watching the behavior of those people finding their own way.

In fact, some college campus planners are now starting to end sidewalks short of their destination on purpose, so they can observe where people naturally create the end of the path. After they see where people travel on their own, they come back and pave that path. In other words: Designers are giving people a start, and then co-designing the end based on desire paths.

Now to get this in the business realm, the paved path provided would be “marketing.” And the well-beaten path created by people going where they want to go would be “market research.”

As a brand, you most likely do market research to try to understand what products or offerings or marketing messages you should create based on what people are craving, or what they are missing in other brands’ offerings. Then you put those offerings into market and spend advertising and content dollars to make people aware of the value you provide. And, in a perfect world, the dollars come rolling in.

But many brands miss the idea of using their marketing as market research. Desire paths are a good metaphor for an iterative approach to marketing … to learning from how people use content and experiences — the paths we provide. We can also learn a lot from observing how they *don’t* use them … or alter them.

Let’s call that information we gather “digital desire paths.”

When Twitter was first getting started, the idea of hashtags weren’t a designed part of the system.

Instead, people using Twitter who wanted to be able to better identify different topics for others to search for, follow and contribute to started using hashtags to identify words as specific keywords for search. Sometimes, the words were common (like #skateboarding) to allow people to find specific conversations, but not all mentions of the word (skateboarding, sans #). But other times, the words were more branded (like #NikeSB or #SkateYourDunks or even #trashin) to allow brands or power users to “own” specific conversations.

After the idea took hold and people started using hashtags to full effect, the engineers at Twitter added functionality to the system to make hashtags work better. They formalized the convention — like paving the dusty path created by walkers through a park. But the starting point was a desire path of power tweeters. (But just try to imagine Twitter  — and now Instagram  — without hashtags! The experience would be much less pleasant or rewarding.)

Digital desire paths, like hashtags or fan blog posts and more, are the clues for where people are going already. It’s simple market research that’s worth far more than creating functionality in a product, or value in content, and then seeing if people actually want it. This is market research from the bottom up — real indicators of need from the most ardent fans to inform creation. If you’re brand is authentic to the conversation those desire paths intone, they can become your path into the conversation and to more targeted content ideas.

Let’s take a note from college planners in marketing. Let’s create some great starts and see where our audience takes them. Let’s learn from the desire paths, and then create content that’s in people’s natural path, rather than always trying to tell them where to go.

Don’t Ignore Baby Boomers

Quick quiz: Which generation is huge in size, interested in experiences, loves to travel, owns digital devices and is active in social media? Millennials? No, it’s actually Baby Boomers. Surprised? The Baby Boomer generation tends to be overlooked, but they are an important consumer segment.

Baby BoomersQuick quiz: Which generation is huge in size, interested in experiences, loves to travel, owns digital devices and is active in social media?

Millennials?

No, it’s actually Baby Boomers. Surprised? The Baby Boomer generation tends to be overlooked, but they are an important consumer segment.

This population — born between 1946 and 1964 — are 74 million strong and have more disposable income than any other generation. They are more likely to be in the upper-income group. According to Pew Research, 27 percent of boomers are in the upper income group, which is the highest figure of all generations. Principal economist at Kantar Retail, Doug Hermanson, notes:

“Upper-income Boomers can sustain their pre-recession spending and be a strong driver of the consumer economy over the next five to 10 years. They have the money to spend. It’s a different mindset of saving before and now saying, ‘I’ve got to spend it while I’m here.’”

Let’s dig into these mass affluent Baby Boomers. These are defined as those who have $100,000-$250,000 in household income and over $250,000 in savings. They are an optimistic bunch, with 77 percent saying their goal is to have an interesting life.

Over 80 percent say they live a healthy lifestyle, and they are much more likely to give to charities. Pew Research reports that Boomers are living longer, with an average life expectancy of 80 years old, up from 68 in 1950. Many are now entering their retirement years. While about half of all adults say they feel younger than their actual age, 61 percent of Boomers are feeling more spry than their age would imply.

So what drives spending for this important segment? Quality is important to the mass affluent Boomer, with nine out of 10 saying they are more likely to value quality over brand name. They also like to shop within brands they feel an emotional connection with. And over 70 percent of Boomers across all income levels say the fact that they “like” a retailer is a driver of retail selection.

So, now that we have seen how they like to spend money, let’s take a look at what this generation plans to spend money on. About a quarter of Baby Boomers in the mass affluent category say they will spend more money in general in the coming year. Baby Boomers at the higher income level are more likely to prefer experiences over things: 73 percent of them say they prefer to spend money on experiences, vs. 69 percent of Millennials. Their spend categories emphasize travel, home improvement and charities.

Additionally, Synchrony Financial consumer surveys reveal the following:

  • The highest category of future spend will be travel. About 40 percent of mass affluent Boomers plan to spend more on travel next year. AARP estimates Baby Boomers spend more than $120 billion annually on leisure travel.
  • The second highest spend category is home improvement, with 32 percent of Boomers spending more on home improvement in the coming year, and 22 percent spending more on home furnishings.
  • Boomers are much more likely to say that they give to charitable causes, with 79 percent saying they plan in increase their charitable giving.

The Digital Divide: Boomers and Technology

Let’s take a look at the most talked-about difference between Baby Boomers and younger generations — digital technology. The reality is that the Baby Boomer population is on-par with younger generations when it comes to smartphone ownership, online shopping and social media access. Three out of four Baby Boomers own a smartphone, up 19 percent from a year ago. The generational divide exists in the usage of digital devices. Synchrony Financial’s research studies show that Boomers are much less likely than Millennials to use their smartphone for a multitude of tasks — from shopping to texting to social media postings.

But contrary to what some may think, Boomers have a great deal of access and interaction with social media. Ninety-two percent of Boomers say they have access to a social media channel — mainly Facebook (82 percent of Boomers have access to Facebook, up from 76 percent only a year ago). But they not influenced by social media for purchases. Only one third say they purchased a product after seeing it on social media, which is a significantly lower figure than that of younger generations: For Millennials, that number tops 70 percent.

How well does your business cater to this large and important segment of the population? Generalizations are difficult for any population of this size, but in general, Boomers are optimistic, secure and not done spending. Brands who provide a great shopping experience, high quality and seamless digital technology will go far in attracting this important segment.

Sources: All data is sourced from the following three studies, unless otherwise noted: Synchrony Financial 2016 Loyalty Study, Synchrony Financial 2016 Affluent Survey and Synchrony Financial 2016 Digital Study. All references to consumers and population refer to the survey respondents.

Note: The views expressed in this blog are those of the blogger and not necessarily of Synchrony Financial.

You Are NOT the Market

All great marketing is informed by market research. Whether it’s planning a campaign to reach new prospects or designing an email to your customers, there’s plenty of current data to help you make smart strategic decisions. Using your own bias as a decision tool will not work in your favor.

Data DrivenToo many marketers are failing at marketing. Why? Because you are NOT your consumer.

Your media habits are not their media habits. Your product or brand likes and dislikes are not their product or brand likes and dislikes. Your decision-making process is not their decision-making process. As a result, marketers are their own worst enemy.

All great marketing is informed by market research. Whether it’s planning a campaign to reach new prospects or designing an email to your customers, there’s plenty of current data to help you make smart strategic decisions. Using your own bias as a decision tool will not work in your favor.

For example, in a client meeting this week, the discussion turned to the implementation aspect of a promotion that was going to require the target audience to make a nominal purchase on their website. As we talked through some of the logistics issues, one of the clients remarked, “Nobody works at a desktop anymore, everybody will access it via their mobile device.”

Sorry my friend, but you’re wrong. While it’s true that in 2015, the number of mobile users surpassed the number of desktop devices, there are still plenty of people working on a desktop, and, the research proved that on his website, 52.8 percent accessed it via their desktop.

This week I’ve been participating as a judge for Collegiate ECHO Marketing Challenge. As part of the directions for scoring is this statement: “…Market Research will be of paramount importance, comprising 50 percent of the score. Market Research conclusions lead to a cohesive Marketing Strategy, which in turn leads to a Creative Strategy, Media Plan… “

This is good news! The next generation of marketers is being held accountable for marketing recommendations that are based on insights gleaned from both primary and secondary research — but many current marketers have let this important fact fall by the wayside.

Perhaps that’s why we still see creative that is all black with tiny, reverse type. Or why I whizz by an outdoor board that has more type than I have time to read. Or why campaigns, that have been multi-million dollar investments, fail.

Can we all agree to this 2017 resolution? Assume you know nothing about your market unless it’s based on factual insights about your target, and then develop your marketing strategies, media selection and creative solutions using insight and best practices — and leave your personal skew off the table.

Use Market Research to Tie Brand Awareness and Purchase Intent to Sales

For years, I’ve been saying direct marketers are their own worst enemy when it comes to measurement. Direct marketers are good at measuring the things they’ve traditionally measured—response rates, cost per lead, cost per acquisition, etc.  But they’re not good at measuring the effect that their communications have on the non-responders; when, in fact, the effect of consistent branding in direct communications is what makes direct marketing powerhouses like Omaha Steaks and 1-800-flowers.com top of mind when consumers are ready to purchase (not to mention Amazon).

For years, I’ve been saying direct marketers are their own worst enemy when it comes to measurement.

Direct marketers are good at measuring the things they’ve traditionally measured—response rates, cost per lead, cost per acquisition, etc. But they’re not good at measuring the effect that their communications have on the non-responders; when, in fact, the effect of consistent branding in direct communications is what makes direct marketing powerhouses like Omaha Steaks and 1-800-flowers.com top of mind when consumers are ready to purchase (not to mention Amazon).

Even though consumers engage with brands on their own terms across multiple platforms, many marketers are stuck measuring the results of individual tactics rather than taking a holistic view of measurement. So when a single email or display ad fails to achieve the target level of attributable sales within a specific period of time, then they consider it a failure. Even though the communication has made an impact on those who didn’t respond, they can’t measure it, so they don’t count it.

And while many direct marketing practitioners now embrace the idea that their advertising has a cumulative effect of building a brand over time, most fall short of being able to quantify that ROI with meaningful metrics.

That’s where market research can help.

Consider the following word equations in light of how awareness contributes to sales for the top direct marketing companies:

Top of mind awareness + brand reputation + need = purchase intent
Top of mind awareness + brand reputation + immediate need = purchase

So it follows that if we can monitor awareness and reputation over time and index it to sales, then we can quantify the effects of those elements on sales revenue.

Start by surveying your prospects blindly—either through mail, email or search ads using relevant keywords. Offer an incentive that’s consistent with your product offering, e.g., “Save $$$ on cell phone accessories.” Ask respondents the following questions to determine the levels of unaided and aided awareness:

  • Which brands first come to mind when thinking of “category X”? (unaided awareness)
  • Which of the following brands (list) have you ever heard of? (aided awareness)

Get a better picture of the respondents’ product usage by asking:

  • Which brand(s) within category X do you “regularly” purchase?
  • Which brand is your favorite?
  • Which brand did you last purchase?
  • How often do you purchase this type of product?
    (Light, medium, heavy user?)
  • What percentage of “category X” purchases that you’ve made (within a certain timeframe) were “brand A”? (your share of customer)

For those who have used your brand, quantify purchase intent with the following question:

  • The next time you need this product, how likely are you to purchase “brand A”?

Next, index awareness levels to sales to sales revenues. Be sure account for category sales within the same time period. Your actual sales may have gone down, but the entire category may have gone down as well, and you may in fact have gotten more than your previous share of the category sales.

As you track these metrics over time, you will be able to quantify what a point of unaided awareness is worth in sales revenue. It’s one tool that will help you understand the effect that your communications have on sales beyond the responses that you can count directly.

2012 DMA ECHO Green Marketing Award Goes to: Vestas

The Green Marketing Award is not about marketing environmental products, services or causes. Rather, it’s about how efficiency and sustainability—and profitability—are incorporated in a successful marketing campaign. This year’s winner was Vestas Wind Systems (Arhaus, Denmark). The business-to-business campaign, targeting large-company executives at 23 Fortune 1000 firms, was remarkable in how it used market research, social media, direct mail and digital media to provide a truly personalized campaign to convince companies to consider wind energy as a power source for their operations.

During the summer, I had an opportunity to serve as a judge on a panel to select the Direct Marketing Association‘s special ECHO Green Marketing Award winner for 2012. That award was presented recently at DMA’s annual conference in Las Vegas, DMA2012.

The Green Marketing Award is not about marketing environmental products, services or causes. Rather, it’s about how efficiency and sustainability—and profitability—are incorporated in a successful marketing campaign. This year’s winner was Vestas Wind Systems (Arhaus, Denmark). The business-to-business campaign, targeting large-company executives at 23 Fortune 1000 firms, was remarkable in how it used market research, social media (InMail via LinkedIn), direct mail (custom Bloomberg BusinessWeek magazine wraps) and digital media (EnergyTransparency.com) to provide a truly personalized campaign to convince companies to consider wind energy as a power source for their operations.

Vestas tapped two research firms, Bloomberg and TNS Gallup, to complete two studies. One was a Corporate Renewable Energy Index that reported on corporations’ energy consumption, and the second was a Global Consumer Wind Study, that examined consumer demand for renewable energy. The surveys documented that consumers want products made with wind energy, and that corporations are eager to source more renewable energy.

Working with its agency partner, Vertic Inc. (New York, NY), the campaign targeted 419,000 employees and 300 top executives inside the 23 companies. Audiences were segmented by geography, seniority, work role and industry. Opinion leaders also were targeted. Using InMail, LinkedIn company-specific banner ads and the magazine wraps, traffic was generated to 600 individual URLs associated with EnergyTransparency.com where an executive could inspect energy consumption trends in their company and industry sector, along with customer brand preference information relevant to the company.

Overall, the campaign cost less than $1 million, and generated more than 10,000 site visits with average visit lasting more than 7 minutes on average—with 80 percent of opinion leaders visiting the site, and 30 percent of top executives targeted. InMails achieved at 13.37 percent open rate and 5.78 percent conversion rate. Business sales resulting from the campaign were not disclosed.

The judges welcomed seeing 1:1 communication, effective personalized used of social media, magazine wraps, banner ads, and successful delivery of brand interaction among C-suite executives—always a tough challenge. On the sustainability front, judges welcomed use of existing communications channels—magazines already subscribed to, social media networks where professional profiles already are present—to provide messaging, using little in the way of new production materials to convey relevant information. Overall, the campaign focused on energy use, so what better way to reach executives efficiently.

Global, integrated print & digital, b-to-b … congratulations to Vestas Wind Systems and Vertic!

Resources:
This Year’s DMA International ECHO Green Marketing Award Winner (see page 14):
http://dma.seqora.com/prod/Desktop/page.aspx?id=25&mode=SP&name=EchoAwards2012

Five Ways to “Get Real” With B-to-B Social Media

Today, 89 percent of B-to-B marketers in the U.S. are using social media, says a study conducted by iTracks and the Business Marketing Association (BMA). In fact, B-to-B use of social media may have even eclipsed that of consumer marketers, according to another report from White Horse Productions. But the B-to-B marketers I talk to still sound confused. “What should I be doing,” they ask. “What’s really worth my time?”

Today, 89 percent of B-to-B marketers in the U.S. are using social media, says a study conducted by iTracks and the Business Marketing Association (BMA). In fact, B-to-B use of social media may have even eclipsed that of consumer marketers, according to another report from White Horse Productions. But the B-to-B marketers I talk to still sound confused. “What should I be doing,” they ask. “What’s really worth my time?”

What you want to do is get out of the hype, get real, and get results. Here’s a simple plan of attack.

First, get busy on LinkedIn. This is the no-brainer of B-to-B social media marketing. You, your company, and all your employees need to take maximum advantage of the exposure. Your LinkedIn to-do list looks like this:

  • Fill out your profile 100 percent. LinkedIn will prompt you on how to make sure every element is captured. Encourage your employees to set up their profiles, including their skills lists. Prospective customers will check out you and your staff as part of their due diligence before doing business with you—so be prepared.
  • Set up a company page, with your logo image, plus a crisp, benefit-laden company description. Invite links from your customers, suppliers and friends. Along with a Google search, this is how you will be found in the marketplace.
  • Join groups, or set up fresh groups, in your field of expertise.
  • Post regular status updates in the micro-blog area LinkedIn provides.

Then, examine your marketing objectives. Each social medium has its own strengths and weaknesses. What you want to do is get the most bang, by applying them to their best use.

Here’s a typical array of business marketing objectives a company may be pursuing. Let’s look at how social media can be applied to support what you’re trying to do.

Understand your market opportunity. In other words, market research. What customers and prospect are talking about on social media gives companies valuable insight into customer needs, issues and trends. You can set up a listening post using tools like Radian6, or simply set up an RSS feed from sources like blogs, Twitter, LinkedIn, Focus, Quora, YouTube and Wikipedia, so you can keep current with what’s being said in your field.

Stand out in the crowd. Social media can help you differentiate your company from your competition. If you want to be seen as a thought leader in your industry, or a trusted advisor to businesses trying to solve problems, then it’s all about content. You’ll be publishing white papers, research reports and case studies, and tweeting about them. Or publish an informative blog and promote it via Twitter and LinkedIn micro posts.

Blogging can be a powerful way to establish thought leadership, but it does represent a risk. Only start a blog if you have valuable content to present, and if you can commit to keeping it up. Editorially, the tone should be informative, not sales-y. If you don’t have good writers in house, there are plenty of freelancers available to help. Another tip: If you hesitate to take on a blog on your own, you might provide guest posts to influential blogs managed by someone else. (As you see, this is the route I took for myself—it’s great!)

Find new customers. There’s a lot of hue and cry out there about whether social media can help you find prospective customers. Of course it can. The trick in B-to-B is to turn your social media messaging into a lead generator, with the addition of three essential elements:

  • A compelling offer, such as an intriguing research report or white paper.
  • A clear call to action, like “Download now.”
  • A dedicated landing page that captures the respondent’s contact information.

We can debate the merits of gating your content for lead generation, versus making it available to all, for thought leadership. A worthy discussion. But if your objective is to launch a business relationship with a prospective buyer, than the lead generation route is the way to go. So add an offer and call to action to your blog posts and tweets.

Expand current customer value. Social media can serve as another useful “touch” in your ongoing effort to penetrate accounts and deepen your relationship with current customers. Encourage customers to follow you on Twitter, subscribe to your blog, or connect with you on LinkedIn. A smart salesperson will link to every possible contact at a current account, and post company and product news in the LinkedIn microblog a couple times a week.

Now, what about Facebook? With 845 million users worldwide, it can’t be ignored. Ask yourself whether your customers are there, and whether they want to interact with you there. According to Globalspec, 66 percent of industrial workers have Facebook accounts, but 67 percent of them say they cannot access Facebook from their office computers. Given its vast reach, at the very least set up a company page on Facebook—for employee recruitment, if nothing else.

And don’t forget YouTube, the world’s second largest search engine. Set up a channel to give exposure to your product demos, training videos and corporate videos.

So, with that, you have a reasonable attack plan for cutting through the hype and putting social media to work for you in a manageable way. Now, what have I forgotten? Do you have any good social media applications you can share with the rest of us business marketers?

A version of this post appeared in Biznology, the digital marketing blog.

Deciphering Big Data Is Key to Understanding Buyer’s Journey

Long before a sale is won or lost, customers and prospects embark on what can be called the “buyer’s journey.” This journey is a complex evolution spanning the entire lifecycle of the customer-vendor relationship, beginning with identification of the underlying business issue or need, and culminating in vendor selection.

Long before a sale is won or lost, customers and prospects embark on what can be called the “buyer’s journey.” This journey is a complex evolution spanning the entire lifecycle of the customer-vendor relationship, beginning with identification of the underlying business issue or need, and culminating in vendor selection.

Along the way, the prospect engages in a wide breadth of activities. Some are internal, such as winning over key stakeholders, building internal consensus and acquiring the necessary budget; while others are externally facing. For example, market research, engaging with colleagues in similar firms to share experiences, and of course contacting salespeople for product demos and pricing negotiation.

I do not claim to have coined the term ‘buyer’s journey.’ For more information on it, you can check out a great article by Christine Crandell that appeared on Forbes.com earlier this month. Among other things, Crandell does a great job explaining how social media can be leveraged to better connect with and understand the buyer’s journey, particularly during times when prospects are not engaged with your sales team. What’s especially interesting about the concept of the buyer’s journey is that prospects are actually unengaged with your firm during the vast majority of this process. Engagement only begins when prospects start their market research and contact a salesperson—usually not before.

Now how does this relate to database marketing? Well, it does in two huge ways. On a strategic basis, any marketer worth his or her own salt knows that effective marketing depends getting your message in front of qualified prospects as inexpensively as possible. In order to do this effectively, identifying how prospects are researching the marketplace is key. Why? Because this is where your prospects are spending much of their time, this is where you need to have your brand appearing front and center. So, from a marketing spend point of view, without a doubt this is where you’re going to get the most bang for your buck.

Now, of course, this is far easier said than done. It’s going to take a ton of market research, including customer interviews, focus groups, industry insight and general analysis to identify how your customers researched the marketplace prior to making a purchase. Did they attend key industry trade shows or events? Do they belong to specific peer or networking groups? What publications do they subscribe to? Whatever the answers to these questions are … well this is where you need to be.

Another key to deciphering the buyer’s journey is understanding how the prospect is engaging with your firm across all Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). This understanding can only be arrived at through a deep analysis of every touchpoint between you are your customers. The best way to achieve this is to identify and extract customer and prospect data wherever it may reside. There are no shortcuts here. For large organizations, it can be located in an email broadcast tool, CRM, ERP, Marketing Automation Solution or purpose-built Master Data Management (MDM) Hub, among other places.

Now, of course, this means extracting and sifting through tons and tons of data—everything ranging from garden variety campaign analytics to purchasing history, from personal attributes to company insight, from demographic data to psychographic profile. Tracking, archiving and sorting out all this information is big business. In fact, many in the industry are now referring to this reality as ‘Big Data,’ as companies track and store vast troves of information that they need to make sense out of. In addition to the physical IT infrastructure required to capture and store the information, making sense out of it often requires technical expertise. Without wanting to veer off topic, if this sounds interesting then I suggest turning to NPR, where an interesting and in-depth story on Big Data aired on November 29, 2011.

As I was saying, once the data is extracted, you need to make sense out of it. Paramount to this task is the process of creating robust user profiles replete with detailed demographic, psychographic and, of course, (for B2B) firmographic information—in effect, multi-dimensional user profiles—and mapping it back to KPIs that help identify engagement patterns and behavior central to the buyer’s journey.

Once user profiles have been established, this is where the fun parts comes in, as marketers leverage this information to create compelling offers that speak to the various customer segments. The good news is that recent technological innovations have made this job much easier and more effective. Using marketing automation tools, it’s now possible to broadcast varying sophisticated drip marketing campaigns to various segments of your database—segments that can now easily be created using complex rules based on both list attributes and user engagement. What’s more, the marketing message itself—email creative, direct mail piece, landing page, and so on—can now be highly personalized based on profile data, resulting in higher response rates, reduced media costs and, of course, improved customer satisfaction.

I hope this all makes sense. Any comments or feedback are welcome.