Active Investing During a Market Correction | Is There a Marketing Data ‘Correction’ Under Way?

During most market corrections — when the Dow drops by 10 percent or more — equity investors are reminded to take a long-term view, and to sit tight and ride it out. Most corrections don’t result in bear markets, after all; particularly when market fundamentals are strong.

market correction
Creative Commons license. | Credit: Pixabay by geralt

During most market corrections — when the Dow drops by 10 percent or more — equity investors are reminded to take a long-term view, and to sit tight and ride it out. Most corrections don’t result in bear markets, after all; particularly when market fundamentals are strong.

This is not a financial advice post, however.

We are undergoing a market correction of another sort, perhaps more aptly described as a marketplace correction. Except there are no pullbacks or declines here — it’s instead about protecting and projecting long-term growth. This correction has been under way at least since 2017 (and arguably before that), when Procter & Gamble’s Marc Pritchard made his urgent address at IAB’s Annual Leadership Meeting — and IAB CEO Randall Rothenberg reminded us to get out of the “fake anything” business. This correction continues in 2018.

In this market, we are the investors — holding active positions in the long-term health and well-being of the data-driven marketing marketplace. And the last thing we should do is “sit tight and ride it out.”

We all have an active role to play in “steering in a new direction,” for example, in making sure human activity, not bots, are the brand engagement and performance metrics we are measuring – and compensating.

The bots are usually associated with programmatic media buying, which dominates the buying and selling of digital display — where the majority of media buys are very much legitimate, but not wholly so. The “walled gardens” — largely, the social media platforms, among others — too have had to answer to policymakers as to why and how their targeting algorithms have been being duped by ill-minded foreign agents. How do we bring transparency to the social advertising we see — at least in political ads, where labeling and disclosures rules are now in force across other media categories?

But one of my clients — Stirista CEO Ajay Gupta — reminds us that it isn’t just online ads where fraud may be being perpetrated: Even email campaigns can be undermined by fake accounts, running up open and click-through rates which falsify an accurate reading of results.

We don’t need a European-style “data protection” law that would strip the digital marketplace of wholly beneficial intelligence — and hurt business, innovation, competition, journalism and diversity of content in the process. We also don’t need to denigrate the proven value of third-party data in if and how we append our first-party data, gain deeper understanding of our customers and build better models in the process. Both of these “throw out the baby” outcomes would be recipes for failure.

But we do need to tend to our long-term growth — keeping focus on end-users (consumers) and the brands and publishers who seek to employ intelligent and responsible ad tech, marketing tech and relevant data to give customers more precisely what they want.

We need to be active investors — more so because we know precisely that market fundamentals remain strong. Fraud is fraud. And fake is fraud. But advertising itself is not fraud, and neither is relevant content. We — the purveyors of advertising, marketing and relevant content — are victims of fraud, too. And we have the most to lose if we don’t audit our data sources, document and validate actual customer and prospect permissions and preferences, decoy our data and networks, test for bot fraud, and isolate and eradicate bad players.

There are great minds who have come together to tackle these issues — through our trade associations, self-regulatory programs and working group initiatives. As data-driven marketers, we may no longer choose to be passive by-standers — and simply ride it out. Be involved — and stay involved is the best course of action. We are active investors because we all have a stake in growth.

Lest we forget just how successful we can be, investors usually get burned when they pull completely out of the market. So it is with data.

A Listing of U.S. Trade Associations — and there certainly are others:

A Listing of Relevant Self-Regulation Programs for Digital & Data-Driven Advertising:

Disclosure: I have an individual membership with Data & Marketing Association, and a client relationship with Digital Advertising Alliance, which is founded by the six trade associations listed here, with the advice of the Council of Better Business Bureaus.

Xennials: How They’re Different for Marketers

Generational differences in attitudes can be helpful to marketers, but the line between generations can’t be defined by a single point in time. It’s fuzzy. Does the recent buzz about the micro-generation born between 1977 and 1983, the Xennials, create opportunities for marketers to target this demographic?

Xennials
“Xennials,” Creative Commons license. | Credit: Flickr by Ron Mader

Generational differences in attitudes can be helpful to marketers, but the line between generations can’t be defined by a single point in time. It’s fuzzy. Does the recent buzz about the micro-generation born between 1977 and 1983, the Xennials, create opportunities for marketers to target this demographic? First coined by Sarah Stankorb in an article for Good magazine in 2014, the term Xennials refers to those who straddle the later years of Gen X (1977 to 1980) and the early years of the Millennials (1981 to 1983).

Let’s start with the size of this group. There are roughly 25 million Xennials, some 8 percent of the U.S. population, less than half the size of all of the named generational segments — except the oldest. Embracing this named generation would also reduce the populations in the segments it cannibalizes. Removing the number of births from 1977 to 1980 reduces the Gen X cohort from 55 million down to about 42 million, and removing the births from 1981 to 1983 reduces the Millennial number to about 55 million. Note that these numbers are based on births only and don’t account for deaths and immigration.

There are actually more Millennials than Boomers now — 75.4 million vs 74.9 million. And interestingly, embracing this new micro-generation would negate the Millennials claim on the largest generation — at least for the time being.

Xennials chart
Credit: PewResearch.org by Pew Research Center/U.S. Department of Health

The vanguard of a new generation and the rear guard of the old will always create some heterogeneous space between the arbitrarily drawn generational lines. The rise of technology as the defining moment between Gen X and Millennials is a fuzzier line of demarcation than the end of World War II, the moment that defines the line between the Silent Generation and the Boomers. Yet based on my personal experience, there were certainly members of the early Boomer generation who clung to the values of the Silent Generation as others embraced the counter-culture of the late ’60s. Some opposed the Vietnam War, while others found antiwar protests unpatriotic. Some went to Woodstock; others eschewed the rock music played by long-haired hippies in favor of more mainstream artists like Frank Sinatra and Brenda Lee.

The key distinction attributed to Xennials by Professor Dan Woodman is that they had an analog childhood and a digital adulthood. But does this distinction change how we, as marketers, reach them? Does it affect their media consumption habits? Consider that the median number of Facebook friends for a Gen Xer and a Millennial is not all that different — 200 vs. 250. So while Gen Xers came to Social Media later in life, they’ve embraced it nonetheless.

While the idea of the Xennial micro-generation is an interesting one, the implications for marketers are limited — in my opinion. Crafting creative appeals to them would be problematic. Surely, there are Xennials who demonstrate the characteristics of one generation or the other just as in the early transition between the Silents and the Boomers included the vanguard and the rear guard. And no one has put forth the idea that Xennials demonstrate any marked differences in their media consumption habits.

For marketers, the differences among the members on either side of the generation dividing line become less important as the line moves farther into the past.

Consider what Xennial coiner Sarah Stankorb, born in 1980, wrote three years ago for Good magazine:

“When I was a young teen, I desperately wanted to be a Gen Xer like my brother, with all their ultra-chill, above-it-all, despondent counterculture. (Of course, wanting to be counterculture makes you anything but.) With the rise of Millennials and the sheer tonnage of articles on their character, their trophies, their optimism, their creativity — a little part of me hoped I could consider myself a Millennial, to be so shiny, so new. But the label fit about as comfortably as a pair of skinny jeans.”

Gen Xers were counterculture? I thought the Boomers owned that.

I think as a named generation, the Xennials are a short-lived phenomenon. What are your thoughts, marketers?

Marketing Strategy Must Co-Opt AI

Artificial intelligence is expected to change the way we market. And AI applications in customer acquisition and customer experience are already under way. However, effectively leveraging AI to expand strategic thinking will be the most difficult and rewarding challenge.

AI
“artificial-intelligence-503593_1920,” Creative Commons license. | Credit: Flickr by Many Wonderful Artists

Artificial intelligence is expected to change the way we market. And AI applications in customer acquisition and customer experience are already under way. However, effectively leveraging AI to expand strategic thinking will be the most difficult and rewarding challenge.

Customer Acquisition

AI use in customer acquisition is probably the most advanced. Aside from programmatic buying, there are additional applications that will help marketers better target the right prospects and allocate spend to the proper channels.

The eventual goal is to better understand which campaigns work and which ones drive overall engagement. One critical development area is Virtual Assistant Optimization. This is an analog to SEO and follows similar principles. As consumers rely on virtual assistants, such as Alexa, to do what they used to do on search (find recommendations, find a business, etc.), the ability to set up information in a way that can be easily accessed and ranked by virtual assistants will transform the craft of SEO.

Customer Experience

The application of AI as a driver of better customer experiences is also well under way. Today’s AI applications are primarily driven by historical customer behavior, such as product recommendation engines or algorithms that predict preferences.

However, the future of AI-driven experiences also involves the inclusion of current and future context. This means understanding the customer’s location, weather, time, activity and immediate objective to understand the need better. This means understanding that a customer who bought milk a week ago and is headed on vacation today may not need milk for another week.

To achieve high contextual awareness, eventually, IOT generated data will be critical.

Marketing Strategy

Using AI to drive a better market strategy will provide the most significant differential advantage. This is because AI-driven solutions for customer acquisition and customer experience will be developed by solution providers and will be within reach of most companies.

The use of AI to drive strategic decisions, however, will be more bespoke. For example:

  • Can you use AI to help you make sense of the comments you receive on social media, call centers, customer surveys and other VOC platforms?
  • Can you also use it to identify the strengths and weaknesses of your competitors?
  • Can you then identify universal pain points not currently addressed by the industry?
  • How about recognizing innovative and unintended uses of your product that can lead to new markets?

The ability to answer these qualitative and situationally relevant questions is unlikely to come in a prepackaged solution. Rather, insight mining teams, conversant with AI tools and hungry for data-driven insights will be critical to generating strategic advantages. That means a growing need for talent who can understand how algorithms “think” and still step away to see the big picture.

OK, Folks: Make Your Bet on Harry’s or Goliath

As the Bible tells us, the little guy can fight back against the big one. It’s a good biblical tale and it resonates in today’s competitive environment. While slingshots are out of fashion, now we have the Internet and social media as weapons when the odds are stacked against us.

Harry's Instagram page
(Image via Harry’s)

As the Bible tells us, the little guy can fight back against the big one. It’s a good biblical tale and it resonates in today’s competitive environment. While slingshots are out of fashion, now we have the Internet and social media as weapons when the odds are stacked against us.

Getting my morning fix of the latest news from the New York Times digital edition the other day, I couldn’t help but notice that the news summary was preceded by a dramatic headline that leaped off of the page (screen) at me: “The Truth Behind Gillette’s Recent Ad Campaign.”

Harry's content marketing in the New York Times
(Image via The New York Times)

That’s great positioning and a definite attention-getter, if a rather strange lead for a Times story. It’s more of what you might expect from a sensational tabloid or even Target Marketing. In decidedly smaller type, under the headline, it said “Sponsored|Harry’s.”

When I realized it was an ad campaign by an upstart against a giant that has an obscene market share in its category, I couldn’t help asking the question: Will this counterattack against Gillette be as promotionally valuable for Harry’s as a directly customer-focused campaign might be? Put more bluntly, will it be worth the money or is it simply the proverbial tree falling silently in the forest?

With that in mind, I did what I was told to do; I followed the link instruction to “READ MORE.”

NYT ad clicks through to Harry's landing page
(Image via Harry’s)

And there was a lot more. The landing page was all extremely low-key, engaging copy describing Harry’s start-up business where the partners had “worked our butts off to make sure guys across the nation are excited to shave again.” And Harry’s had been so successful that it had “threatened the bread and butter of a really big corporation” that was now striking back. (Getting excited about shaving is a claim I couldn’t identify with and found a bit over-the-top, but perhaps that’s just me. Maybe I should join the Millennials and grow a beard.)

“Here’s our story” is the wonderful bridge to the next item, what the copy describes intriguingly as a page from Gillette’s “dirty playbook.”

asterisk in Harry's ad in the New York Times
(Image via Harry’s)

The ad explains that Gillette took aim at “what we hold most dear — our customers and their satisfaction with our products.” Not a bad self-serving statement. And then it goes on to say that Gillette “dug up third-party sample ‘data’ ” to try and get Harry’s customers back to Gillette. And it pictures the aggressive Gillette ad.

Taking a leaf from the many publications that are chronicling the multiple lies of the Trump administration, it points a big red arrow at what it rightly calls the “super tiny” asterisk used to reference the Gillette third-party “data.” It says simply, “It is not true” and provides not only convincing customer loyalty statistics, 80 percent reorder, but customer Twitter postings to prove it.

It’s not all anti-Gillette angst, though. Harry’s wants to make sure that for those attracted to the ad, there is a free trial offer, a $13 value. This suggests that even at a 25 percent margin, the freebie must be costing Harry’s around $10 per taker, plus the cost of getting the message prominently on the Internet. That’s real money.

content marketing from Harry's
(Image via Harry’s)

And here is the rub. Will the powerful copy and offer, the Harry’s against Goliath approach, go viral or sufficiently viral to extend the reach of the promotion well beyond the media that has been paid for? Will it bring the cost of trials and conversions down low enough to be “affordable,” attracting customers whose loyalty generates sufficient lifetime value to amortize the total marketing costs over that lifetime and let Harry’s end up with more than a sustainable profit? I’ll bet it’s going to be a close shave.

Hopefully for Harry’s, God will be on its side.

Endit …

 

 

 

Mobile’s Market Share Killed the Circus

When I was a kid, running away to join the circus was my dream of choice. The very idea of the smell of the sawdust and the animals, the vagabond life of death-defying trapeze artists and high-wire walkers and the popcorn and cotton candy conjured up a paradise almost too good to be true. When the circus came to town, it was the treat of the year.

circusWhen I was a kid, running away to join the circus was my dream of choice. The very idea of the smell of the sawdust and the animals, the vagabond life of death-defying trapeze artists and high-wire walkers and the popcorn and cotton candy conjured up a paradise almost too good to be true. When the circus came to town, it was the treat of the year.

So this gringo was really sad when The Big Apple Circus announced closure and bankruptcy last summer, ending 38 years of enchantment for kids and adults during New York’s Christmas season. Somehow, the architecturally austere Lincoln Center became a less welcoming place without the Big Apple’s happy multicolored tent dominating the foreground.

Now Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey, the world’s most historic circus, founded in 1871 by the great showman P.T. Barnum, is being forced to fold its tent; victim of an age where magic is increasingly served up on electronic devices available 24/7. Quoted in the New York Times, Kenneth Feld — the 69-year-old boss of the company that owns the circus — complained about “an unforgiving marketplace. It just became too hard for the circus to hold onto its most crucial fans: wide-eyed kids and their nostalgic parents. There has been more change in the last decade than in the preceding 70 years,”

That change has drawn today’s digitally sophisticated youngsters away from the pleasures of watching real performers give everything they have to enchant the audience and earn its applause. Whether it is equestrians performing acrobatics on the backs of horses galloping around the ring at 40 kilometers per hour, an animal trainer coaxing his elephants to dance to the music of the circus band or a family of monkeys mimicking the monkeys in the audience, all great circus acts are the result of years of hard work, often beginning in childhood with circus-performing parents. Each time a circus performer goes to the center of the ring and does his act, he risks failure and, by circus tradition, must do the “trick” again until he gets it right.

Every Brazilian I’ve asked has happy memories of going to the circus as a kid — of the clowns, the acrobats, the magicians and the animals (especially the monkeys). Touring circuses are still very much a  part of the culture, and the circus tent in the middle of rural towns is a favorite subject for Brazil’s naïve artists. But like their Yankee brothers, these circuses have fallen on hard times. Circus Marambio, the fourth generation of a family circus currently performing in São Paulo has juggling, tightrope walking, aerial and clowns — all within a narrative story, “Monkey Island,” about a scientist in a hang glider who crashes on an island of monkeys. He discovers a new world, where man and nature respect and learn from one another. Intentionally or not, there are echoes of Cirque du Soleil, the international success that, since the early 1990s, has become the best-known circus name worldwide, with as many as 10 different shows being performed in different cities around the world at any time.

In one form or another, circuses have been around since Roman times, when trained exotic animals wowed the crowds, while jugglers and acrobats amused guests before the next battle or race commenced. The real circus has been about those jugglers, acrobats and clowns, with animal acts added later. Circus traditionalists rightly say that Cirque du Soleil is not a real circus, however brilliant its staging. It’s a glittery show, but lacking in the essential down-to-earth art of circus — that special magic that used to connect those “wide-eyed kids and their nostalgic parents” to the very human performers in the ring.

As the big circuses close for lack of audience and funding, will there be a return to the intimacy of the traditional family circus or will the artificial magic of the digital world have destroyed one of our most enduring artistic traditions?

Let us hope that the seductive dream of running away to join the circus will not be lost forever.

P.S.: Disclaimer: As a former director of The Big Apple Circus, this gringo was thrilled to learn that as the result of a bankruptcy court-ordered auction, the circus would return this fall for the 2017-18 season, which will coincide with the 40th anniversary of the circus’s first performance in 1977. Lincoln Center and New York audiences will not have lost its gem — at least for the moment.

Endit…

No One Is One-Dimensional

If anyone says to your face “You’re one-dimensional,” you would be rightfully offended by such statement. It would almost sound like “You are so simple that I just figured you out.”

If anyone says to your face “You’re one-dimensional,” you would be rightfully offended by such statement. It would almost sound like “You are so simple that I just figured you out.” Along with that line of thinking, you should be mad at most marketers, as they treat consumers as one-dimensional subjects. Even advanced marketers who claim that they pursue personalized marketing routinely treat customers as if they belong to “1” segment along with millions of other people. Sort of like drones with similar characteristics. Some may title such segments with other names, like “clusters” or “cohorts.” But no matter. That is how personalization works most times, and that is why most consumers are not impressed with so-called personalized messages.

Here is how segments are built through cluster analysis. Unlike regression models, clusters are built without clear “target” (or dependent) variables (refer to “Data Deep Dive: The Art of Targeting”). Considering all available variables, statisticians group the universe with commonly shared characteristics. A common analogy is that they throw spaghetti noodles on the wall, and see which ones stick together. Analysts can control the number of segments and closeness (or “stickiness”) of resultant groups. I have seen major banks grouping their customers into six to seven major segments. Most commercial clustering products by data compilers maintain 50 to 60 segments or cohorts (I am not going to name names here, but I am sure you have heard of most of them). I was personally involved in a project where we divided every town in the U.S. into 108 distinctive clusters using consumer, business and geo-demographic variables. The number of segments may vary greatly, depending on the purpose.

Once distinctive segments are created through a mathematical process, then the real fun begins. The creators get to describe characteristics of each segment in plain English, and group smaller segments into higher-level “super” clusters. Some creative companies name each cluster with whimsical titles or dominant first names of each cluster (for copyright reasons, I wouldn’t use actual names, but again, I’m sure marketers have heard about them). To identify dominating characteristics of people within each cluster, analysts use various measurements to compare them against the whole universe. For instance, if a cluster shows an above-average index of post-college graduates, then they may call it “highly educated.” If analysts see a high index-value of luxury car owners, then they may label the whole cluster with some luxurious-sounding name.

Segmentation is an age-old technique and, of course, it still has its place in marketing. Let me make it clear that using segments for target marketing is much better than not using anything at all. It also provides a common language among various players in marketing, binding clients and vendors together. Marketing agencies, who cannot realistically create an unlimited number of copies, may prepare a set number of creatives for major segments that their clients are targeting. With descriptions of segments in front of them, copywriters may write as if they are talking to the target directly. Surely, writing copy for a “Family-oriented young couple with dual income” would be easier than doing so for some anonymous target.

However, the trouble begins when marketers start using such a “descriptive” tool for targeting purposes. Just because there is a higher-than-average index value of a certain characteristic in a segment, is it justified to treat thousands, or sometimes millions, of people in the target group the same way? Surely, not everyone in the “luxury” segment is about luxury automobiles or vacations. It is just that the cluster that someone happened to have belonged through some statistical process has a higher-than-average concentration of such folks.

Then how do we overcome such shortcomings of a popular method? I suggest we reverse the way we look at the behavioral indices completely. The traditional method defines the clusters first, and then the analysts put descriptions looking at various behavioral and demographic indices. For promotions for specific products or services, they may examine more than 50, sometimes more than a few hundred index values. Only to label everyone in a segment the same way.

Instead, for targeting and personalization, marketers should commission independent models for every type of behavioral or demographic characteristic that may matter for their campaigns. So, instead of using one “luxury segment,” we should build multiple models. For example, for a travel industry like airlines or cruise lines, we may consider the following series of model-based “personas”:

  • Foreign vacationers
  • Luxury vacationers
  • Frequent business travelers
  • Frequent flyers
  • Budget-conscious travelers
  • Family vacationers
  • Travelers with young children
  • Frequent theme park visitors
  • Bargain-seekers
  • Adventure-seekers
  • Wine enthusiasts
  • Gourmets
  • Brand-loyal travelers
  • Point collectors
  • etc.

This way, we can describe “everyone” in the target universe in a multi-dimensional way. Surely, not everyone is about everything. That is why we need a system under which one person may score high in multiple categories at the same time. We all have tendencies to be bargain seekers, but everyone has a different threshold for it (i.e., what length of trouble would you go through for a 10 percent discount?). If you have multiple descriptors for everybody, you can find the most dominant characteristics for one person at a time. Yes, one may have high scores in “luxury vacationers,” “frequent flyers” and “frequent business travelers” models, but which characteristic has the highest score for “him”?

Imagine having assigned scores for these “personas” for everyone. I may score nine out of nine in “frequent flyer” (and that is for certain, as I am writing this on a plane again), score six out of nine in “luxury vacation,” and score two out of nine in “family vacationers” (as my kids are not young anymore). If you have one chance to show me something that resonates with me this second, what would be the offer? Even a machine can decide the outcome with a scoring system like this. Now imagine doing it for millions of people, all customized.

Last month, I wrote that personalization is not an option anymore, and further, marketers should aspire to personalize their messages for most people, most times, through all channels, instead of personalizing only for some people sometimes through some channels (refer to “Road to Personalization”). Because “personas” based on statistical models will not have any missing values, we can achieve that ambitious goal with this technique.

With new modeling techniques and software, this is just a matter of commitment now. We are not operating in the 80s anymore, and it is time to move ahead from simple segmentation methods. Yes, using segments would be much better than no targeting at all. But with a few more tweaks, we can build more than 20 personas in the same time that we would spend for developing segments using a clustering technique, which isn’t exactly cheap even nowadays.

Another downside of a clustering technique is that, once the statistical work is done, it is very difficult to update the formula without changing existing marketing schemas. By nature, segments are very static. It is no secret that even some data compilers chose to stay with old models, as they are afraid of creating inconsistencies with newly updated ones. Some are more than a decade old.

Conversely, it is very easy to update personas, as it is not much different from refitting the models one at a time. And we don’t have to update the whole series every time, either. Just watch out for the ones that do not validate very well over time. With real machine learning techniques around the corner, we can even consider automating the whole process, from model update to deployment of messages through every channel.

The hard part would be imagining the categories of personas, but I suggest starting small with essential categories, and then keep building upon them. Surely, teenage apparel companies would have a very different list than business service companies that sell their services to other businesses. Start with obvious ones, like bargain seekers, high-value customers and specific key product targets.

Connecting personas to actual creatives will require some work in the beginning, too. However, if you plan the categories with set creatives in mind from the get-go, it won’t be so difficult. Again, start small and see how it goes, along with some A/B testing. Ten categories will be plenty for many businesses. But having more than 100 personas won’t take up much space in supporting databases, either. Once the system gets stable, marketers can automate much of the process, as most commercial software can take these personas like any other raw variable.

So, if your marketing team is committed enough to have purchased personalization engines for various channels, get out of the old segmentation method and consider building model-based personas. After all, no one is one-dimensional, and everyone deserves personalized offers and messages in this day of abundant data and machine power. This is not 1984 anymore.

5 Data-Driven Strategies to Feed Your Customer Obsession

The digitization of our culture and marketplace has made it even more important for marketers to be customer advocates. Every bit of content we create, every retargeting campaign we develop and every customer journey we attempt to map … all this must be tied to superior and engaging customer experiences. It’s the only reason marketing exists.

The digitization of our culture and marketplace has made it even more important for marketers to be customer advocates. Every bit of content we create, every retargeting campaign we develop and every customer journey we attempt to map … all this must be tied to superior and engaging customer experiences. It’s the only reason marketing exists.

This Forrester Research recently claimed that companies obsessed with customer experience are more profitable and see higher growth. Consider Amazon, Nike or Mercedes Benz, where innovation is part of the culture. Consider how an obsession with innovation at Apple and Google translates to customer delight in their products. For the rest of us, it may be harder without that kind of a culture behind us, but frankly, there is no longer a choice for marketers: Each of us must adopt an attitude of obsession with customer satisfaction. Then, we need to employ a systematic approach to optimizing everything we do toward customer value. The key question to ask at every point in your day, “Is what I’m doing adding real value to a large number of high-value customers?” If not, change it or dump it.

Like any change, in life or business, it starts with attitude. If you don’t work for a customer-obsessed company, can you successfully meet the demands of your market and rise above the competition? At a minimum, companies must embrace that digital and customer experience is everyone’s business—great ideas and the seeds of change can come from anywhere, regardless of title, but do need to be cross-functional and valued to blossom.

It’s time to make this transformation personal. Consider how you can use the technology you have to adapt the customer experiences that you do control, and demonstrate success to the rest of the organization. This proof of concept approach is a great way to get more budget, too. Incremental change is great—improvements to a campaign for next time or an adjustment to the timing for a triggered message are good starting points. However, more is needed.

We must re-think the customer experience across an ecosystem, and not just a set of interactions with owned media or branded touchpoints. Collaborate with other suppliers and influencers to focus on digital efficiency so that you can react in “right time.” Right time is an alternate to “real time” that recognizes that immediacy is not the most effective reaction in all situations. This is especially true since the customer journey is non-linear.

Thinking differently can be difficult inside an organization—especially if you are successful. Often, good ideas are limited because of the way we ask questions about our customers or our marketing programs. A research experiment with third graders provides some proof of why creativity goes beyond tactical application of cleverness or humor. (The video is about two minutes long.)

The project gave two groups of third graders the same assignment—to make a picture out of a triangle. When the assignment was narrowly defined, the pictures came out nicely, but not that different from each other. When the assignment was not defined, the pictures came out wildly different—and much more creative!

Don’t just wait for disruption to come to your industry—learn to disrupt your own business. Truly aim to understand whatever is blocking your path to innovation and customer connection. Consider some of these strategic elements that can help you break free of legacy patterns and test new ideas.

1. Use the Data You Have to Zero-in on Key Segments. Use microtargeting to really get to know your customers. Dig deep into customization and personalization opportunities to find the small, yet potentially profitable subsets of your market and niche offerings.

2. Separate the Signal From the Noise. Being able to do so is a powerful intoxicant: If I can just repeatedly do that one perfect thing that will really drive our business forward, I’d dominate our market and be a hero. Problem is, identifying that one perfect thing is very hard. Marketing analytic models may be more accessible than you think—and perhaps are no longer a luxury, but an imperative for understanding the customer needs—and predicting future behavior. Bring these practices closer to the campaign management and segmentation strategy—and give your analytics teams a seat at the table. Consider some of these key questions that analytics models can answer:

a. What dynamic forces are affecting my customer and how effectively am I changing to meet these changes?
b. Are there new market opportunities developing that I can take advantage of and become the industry leader?
c. Would this new product be interesting to our current customers? What must be true for customers to feel pain? Who are our most valuable customers, and over time? What outside factors impact customer loyalty and retention?
d. What are the characteristics of our best prospects?
e. Which marketing messages and campaigns are contributing, and when do they contribute during the lifecycle?

3. Marketing Automation Tools Are Slowly Evolving to Help You Manage These Changes, but you may need to bolt together point solutions in the meantime (especially if a big upgrade is not in your budget this year). Look to consolidate applications into a platform with data and process level integration to improve efficiency and effectiveness; work to integrate marketing technology with the enterprise infrastructure to reveal deeper insights into customers, partners and market opportunities. Here is a good reason to establish inter-disciplinary teams with IT and sales and customer service and legal to improve marketing contribution, vendor management, due diligence and governance practices.

4. Paid Placements (Native Advertising) Are Here to Stay. Spend your money on the right content and platform and understand which digital properties are performing best. Build budgets and relationships around content placement, sponsorship opportunities, syndication services and content recommendation platforms. Content marketing can’t be limited to owned and earned media if you need to reach larger and broader audiences.

5. Focus on Quality Content; we are all publishers now. Mobile will continue to dominate, so master its impact on your content and targeting. All our writing has to be compelling and adaptable across platforms, and written to the tastes of narrowly targeted personas. Automation tools help to make sure your content is repurposed with panache and context.

Clearly there’s lots of opportunity for growth in many areas of marketing success, particularly as we align our investments in areas where vendors have incentives to innovate. Scouring your budget for “past success” might be a good place to start: Given the advances in technology, will what worked in 2010 or even in 2014 work now in 2015? Please share your own tips and challenges for creating a customer-obsessed culture in your organization in the comments section below.

List-building 2.0: 7 Tips for Using ‘Power’ Polls For Prospecting

Most people know Web 2.0 is simply the evolution of the Internet into an environment of interactivity, reader participation and usability. Web 2.0 opens up the dialog between user and website or blog. This connection can help generate traffic and a viral buzz.

Most people know Web 2.0 is simply the evolution of the Internet into an environment of interactivity, reader participation and usability. Web 2.0 opens up the dialog between user and website or blog. This connection can help generate traffic and a viral buzz.

But from a search engine marketing (SEM) standpoint, the benefits are clear and measurable: More traffic and frequent interactivity (or posts) equal better organic (free) rankings in search engine results. Getting good organic rankings is a powerful way to find qualified prospective customers.

So what online tactic encourages Web 2.0 principles as well as helps with search engine results page rank, visibility and listing-building efforts? Targeted online prospecting polls, also known as “acquisition” or “lead generation” polls.

Based on the specificity of your poll question, online acquisition polls can help you: collect relevant names and email addresses; gauge general market (or subscriber) sentiment; and generate sales (via a redirect to a synergistic promotional page). Polls also allow for interactivity, where participants can sound off about a hot topic.

I’ve been including strategic acquisition polls in my online marketing strategy for nearly a decade now and have rarely been disappointed with the results. Some websites, like surveymonkey.com, allow members to set up free or low-cost surveys and polls. However, it may not allow you to include a name-collection component or a redirect to a promotional or “thank you” webpage, which is essential for a success.

If that’s the case, either ask your Webmaster to build you a proprietary poll platform or use a poll script. You can find examples at hotscripts.com, ballot-box.net/faq.php, and micropoll.com.

Here are seven ways to help create a winning prospecting poll campaign:

1. Engage. Your poll question should engage the reader, encourage participation, pique interest and tie into a current event. And be sure to have a “comments” field where people can make additional remarks. Sample topics: politics, the economy, health, consumer breakthroughs, the stock market, foreign affairs.

2. Relevance. Your poll question should also be related to your product, free e-newsletter editorial, or free bonus report (which can be used as incentive). This will greatly improve your conversion rate. Let’s say your free offer is a sign-up to a stock market e-newsletter and the upsell is a redirect landing page promotion to a paid gold investment newsletter for $39/yr. In that case, your poll question should be tied with the editorial copy and product, something like “Where is gold headed in 2013?” Investors who favor gold (your target audience), will respond to this question … and engage. You are gaining these qualified prospects as leads and perhaps buying customers.

3. Incentive. After people take your poll, tell them that to thank them for their participation, you’re automatically signing them up for your quality, free e-newsletter or e-alerts … which they can opt out of at any time. To reduce the number of bogus email addresses you get, offer an extra incentive free “must-read” report, too. And assuming it’s your policy not to sell or rent email names to third parties (and it should be, based on email best practices), indicate your privacy/anti-spam policy next to the sign-up button on your email sign up form. This will immediately reassure people that it’s safe and worry-free to give you their email addresses.

4. Flag. Having your poll question somehow tie into your product makes the names you collect extremely qualified for future offers. Each name should be flagged by your database folks according to the answer they gave by topic category. You can create buckets for each product segment. Using our investing e-newsletter example, categories could be gold, oil, income, equities, etc. Segmenting the names into such categories will make it easier for you to send targeted offers later.

5. Results. Use the poll feedback for new initiatives. In addition to collecting names, online polls will help you gauge general market opinion—and could help you come up with new products.

6. Bonding. Strengthen your new relationships. You need to reinforce the connection between the poll people just participated in and your e-newsletter. So make sure each name that comes in gets an immediate “thank you” for taking the poll. This could be via autoresponder or redirect “thank you” page. On your “thank you” page/email, can be a link for the downloadable, free e-report you promised. Consider sending a series of informational, warm and fuzzy editorial autoresponders to help new subscribers get to know who you are, what you do and how your e-newsletter will benefit them. This will help improve their lifetime customer value.

7. Results. Gratify participants with the results. Don’t just leave poll participants hanging. Make sure you tell them the results will be published in your free e-newsletter or on your website (to encourage them to check it regularly), and then upload the results, as well as some of your best, most engaging comments. This is great editorial fodder, as well as helpful to increasing website readership and traffic.

Marketers have used polls internally (on their own company websites) for years. But now more than ever, with its cost effectiveness and efficiency, polls can be used to collect targeted leads and interact with prospects.

Polls aren’t just for finding leads, either. They are also great for measuring market sentiment, doing competitor analysis and new product development; which, in turn, can help customer retention, customer service and sales.

When Targeting Youth, Focus on Technology, Family

I attended a Direct Marketing Club of New York luncheon last week-sponsored by American Student List — and the speaker’s topic was “Trends in Youth Marketing-The Net Generation.”

I attended a Direct Marketing Club of New York luncheon last week-sponsored by American Student List — and the speaker’s topic was “Trends in Youth Marketing-The Net Generation.”

According to the speaker, youth industry analyst Sara Laor, there are more people in the United States aged 30 and younger than there are Baby Boomers. They grew up and are immersed in a digital and Internet-driven world. They blog, turn to Facebook and MySpace for social networking, and often prefer mobile messaging to e-mail. With their spending power they are key to anyone in marketing and advertising.

As a result, Laor offered several ways to successfully market to this group. Three highlights included:

1. Be family oriented. “Family is a huge topic for youth,” said Laor. “They love their families.” As a result, Laor said that when marketers are targeting the youth market, “make sure your marketing has a warm, fuzzy, family feel,” she said. “Market to parents, siblings, the whole household, as well as target with a family-related offer,” she said.

2. Think culture versus ethnicity. “This group knows who they are and are comfortable in their role,” Laor said. “Market to their ethnicity when marketing to youth, but don’t make it stereotypical–make it about culture and passion.”

3. Target them and ask them for information. “This group wants to be targeted to, and are willing to opt-in as long as they get something in return,” Laor said.