Data Will Lead Marketers Into a New World in 2020

What will be so different in this ever-changing world, and how can marketers better prepare ourselves for the new world? Haven’t we been using data for multichannel marketing for a few decades already?

The year 2020 sounds like some futuristic time period in a science fiction novel. At the dawn of this funny sounding year, maybe it’s good time to think about where all these data and technologies will lead us. If not for the entire human collective in this short article, but at the minimum, for us marketers.

What will be so different in this ever-changing world, and how can marketers better prepare ourselves for the new world? Haven’t we been using data for multichannel marketing for a few decades already?

Every Channel Is, or Will Be Interactive 

Multichannel marketing is not a new concept, and many have been saying that every channel will become interactive medium. Then I wonder why many marketers are still acting like every channel is just another broadcasting medium for “them.” Do you really believe that marketers are still in control? That marketers can just push their agenda, the same old ways, through every channel? Uniformly? “Yeah! We are putting out this new product, so come and see!” That is so last century.

For instance, an app is not more real estate where you just hang your banners and wait for someone to click. By definition, a mobile app is an interactive medium, where information goes back and forth. And that changes the nature of the communication from “We talk, they listen” to “We listen first, and then we talk based on what we just heard.”

Traditional media will go through similar changes. Even the billboards on streets, in the future, will be customized based on who’s seeing it. Young people don’t watch TV in the old-fashioned way, mindlessly flipping through channels like their parents. They will actively seek out content that suites “them,” not the other way around. And in such an interactive world, the consumers of the content have all the power. They will mercilessly stop, cut out, opt out, and reject anything that is even remotely boring to “them.”

Marketers are not in charge of communication anymore. They say an average human being looks at six to seven different screens every day. And with wearable devices and advancement in mobile technologies, even the dashboard on a car will stop being just a dumb dashboard. What should marketers do then? Just create another marketing department called “wearable division,” like they created the “email marketing” division?

The sooner marketers realize that they are not in charge, but the consumers are, the better off they would be. Because with that realization, they will cease to conduct channel marketing the way they used to do, with extremely channel-centric mindsets.

When the consumers are in charge, we must think differently. Everything must be customer-centric, not channel- or division-centric. Know that we can be cut off from any customer anytime through any channel, if we are more about us than about them.

Every Interaction Will Be Data-based, and in Real-time

Interactive media leave ample amounts of data behind every interaction. How do you think this word “Big Data” came about? Every breath we take and every move we make turn into piles of data somewhere. That much is not new.

What is new is that our ability to process and dissect such ample amounts of data is getting better and faster, at an alarming rate. So fast that we don’t even say words like Big Data anymore.

In this interactive world, marketers must listen first, and then react. That listening part is what we casually call data-mining, done by humans and machines, alike. Without ploughing through data, how will we even know what the conversation is about?

Then the second keyword in the subheading is “real-time.” Not only do we have to read our customers’ behavior through breadcrumbs they leave behind (i.e., their behavioral data), we must do it incredibly fast, so that our responses seem spontaneous. As in “Oh, you’re looking for a set of new noise-canceling earbuds! Here are the ones that you should consider,” all in real-time.

Remember the rule No. 1 that customers can cut us out anytime. We may have less than a second before they move on.

Marketers Must Stay Relevant to Cut Through the Noise

Consumers are bored to tears with almost all marketing messages. There are too many of them, and most aren’t about the readers, but the pushers. Again, it should be all about the consumers, not the sellers.

It stops being entirely boring when the message is about them though. Everybody is all about themselves, really. If you receive a group photo that includes you, whose face would you check out first? Of course, your own, as in “Hmm, let me see how I look here.”

That is the fundamental reason why personalization works. But only if it’s done right.

Consumers can smell fake intimacy from miles away. Young people are particularly good at that. They think that the grownups don’t understand social media at all for that reason. They just hate it when someone crashes a party to hard-sell something. Personalization is about knowing your targets’ affinities and suggesting — not pushing — something that may suite “them.” A gentle nudge, but not a hard sell.

With ample amounts of data all around, it may be very tempting to show how much we know about the customers. But never cross that line of creepiness. Marketers must be relevant to stay connected, but not overly so. It is a fine balance that we must maintain to not be ignored or rejected.

Machine Learning and AI Will Lead to Automation on All Fronts

To stay relevant at all times, using all of the data that we have is a lot of work. Tasks that used to take months — from data collection and refinement to model-based targeting and messaging — should be done in minutes, if not seconds. Such a feat isn’t possible without automation. On that front, things that were not imaginable only a few years ago are possible through advancement in machine learning or AI, in general.

One important note for marketers who may not necessarily be machine learning specialists is that what the machines are supposed to do is still up to the marketers, not the machines. Always set the goals first, have a few practice rounds in more conventional ways, and then get on a full automation mode. Otherwise, you may end up automating wrong practices. You definitely don’t want that. And, more importantly, target consumers would hate that. Remember, they hate fake intimacy, and more so if they smell cold algorithms in play along the way.

Huge Difference Between Advanced Users and Those Who Are Falling Behind

In the past, many marketers considered data and analytics as optional items, as in “Sure, they sound interesting, and we’ll get around to it when we have more time to think about it.” Such attitudes may put you out of business, when giants like Amazon are eating up the world with every bit of computing power they have (not that they do personalization in an exemplary way all of the time).

If you have lines of products that consumers line up to buy, well, all the more power to you. And, by all means, don’t worry about pampering them proactively with data. But if you don’t see lines around the block, you are in a business that needs to attract new customers and retain existing customers more effectively. And such work is not something that you can just catch up on in a few months. So get your data and targeting strategy set up right away. I don’t believe in new year’s resolutions, but this month being January and all, you might as well call it that.

Are You Ready for the New World?

In the end, it is all about your target customers, not you. Through data, you have all the ammunition that you need to understand them and pamper them accordingly. In this age, marketers must stay relevant with their targets through proper personalization at all stages of the customer journey. It may sound daunting, but all of the technologies and techniques are ripe for such advanced personalization. It really is about your commitment — not anything else.

4 Mistakes Multichannel Marketers Make and Lose Customers

Most businesses today understand the importance of multichannel marketing. They invest in SEO, PPC, social media, and even trade shows and conferences. However, if your hard-fought marketing budget is not able to increase your customer base or pool of prospects consistently, then you can be sure your funnel has developed a few holes in the wrong places.

Most businesses today understand the importance of multichannel marketing. They invest in SEO, PPC, social media, and even trade shows and conferences. However, if your hard-fought marketing budget is not able to increase your customer base or pool of prospects consistently, then you can be sure your funnel has developed a few holes in the wrong places.

Unfortunately, both B2B and B2C businesses are guilty of making sales-killing mistakes again and again; oftentimes, putting off customers without realizing it. These simple blunders could cost your business big-time, hurting growth opportunities and diminishing returns from existing customers.

Here are four pitfalls you should be wary of while implementing an integrated, omnichannel marketing strategy, so that you don’t lose any targeting opportunities. All of these tips apply to the technology, methods, and tactics that are currently used by entrepreneurs, companies, and marketers, cutting across industries and geographies.

Preferring Safe Over Sorry

Taking risks is a big part of running a business, and something that many entrepreneurs are used to. However, once they start experiencing success and growth, many begin to shy away from taking chances.

In the long run, many business owners admit that playing it safe was one of their biggest mistakes. In terms of marketing and sales, going the safe route can actually hurt your brand. Why? Because it is simply boring.

According to a study by Adobe, 54% of marketing experts know that they should be taking more risks, and an alarming 82% of companies believe that they need to reinvent their branding in order to succeed. Remember, your customers’ needs and mindsets are constantly changing. If you rely on the same tactics, the same advertisements, and the same marketing messages, people will eventually get bored and your results will diminish.

multichannel graphic
Credit: Adobe on SlideShare.com

Reassess the methods and tools you use for audience analysis, and take a look at how the demographics have shifted over the years. Compare your past results with your current numbers to see if there are any noticeable differences. It may be time to take some risks, try something new, and see what happens.

Relying on Imperfect Bots

Saving on customer support by passing on the majority of your customer service workload to an automated chatbot system sounds like a dream come true. If used correctly, these bots answer customer inquiries, resolve issues, and even make sales. This is why the AI-powered chatbot has exploded in recent years, with 15% of consumers reporting that they have used one to communicate with businesses over the past year, according to Drift’s 2018 “State of Chatbots” report. (Opens as a PDF)

However, just because this customer service channel may be working for some businesses, it does not mean that it is a one-size-fits-all solution. When creating a chatbot, the overarching goal is to solve the cognitive puzzle that fills in the gaps between a bot conversation and a human conversation. When a conversation is initiated, in any capacity, there is an exchange of data that sheds light on emotional engagement between the two parties. Take away the emotional exchange, and empathy is unachievable.

Programming an online bot to handle all sorts of customer queries and interpret exactly what someone is looking for does require a bit of technical knowledge and understanding, despite what off-the-shelf chatbot sellers will have you believe. A poorly programmed chatbot could easily result in lost revenue.

Just one bad or frustrating experience with a chatbot will likely push away 73% of customers forever. If a bot is simply not answering their question or simply offering irrelevant information, then it is doing your business far more harm than good.

multichannel chatbot
Credit: SherpaDesk.com

In order to determine whether or not your chatbots could use some help, take a look at some important metrics. Has your sales cycle lengthened? Are fewer leads moving down the buyer’s funnel? Are you facing an increase in helpdesk escalations, despite an improvement in response times? An effective sales bot should be boosting conversions — or at least micro-conversions — so if numbers are shrinking, that’s a definite red flag.

You can also try adding a short satisfaction survey at the end of each chatbot conversation to gather some customer feedback and help identify any weak points that are killing the customer experience.

Ignoring the Micro-Influencer

It seems like everyone and their grandmother is “leveraging” influencer marketing these days, trying to reach the promised (read, purported) 11-times ROI of other digital marketing methods. It is easy to get blinded by the numbers; especially in terms of “reach” and “engagement.” Just because an influencer has a huge following doesn’t necessarily mean that their promotion will help your business.

Micro-influencers (accounts with 100,000 followers or fewer) actually perform better, in terms of audience engagement and actual “influence” — purchase rates. In fact, these smaller accounts generate over six times more engagement than influencers with massive followings. Customers are also more likely to buy a product that is recommended by a micro-influencer than they are to purchase something recommended by a person they know. Additionally, the cost per lead and cost per acquisition is lower than paid ads and regular influencer marketing.

multichannel chart
Credit: Mavrck.com

If your brand has dabbled with big-name influencers in the past, it may be time to consider a partnership with a micro-influencer to reach more relevant audiences. Because these accounts have smaller followings, they tend to be niche-focused, meaning that their content is highly pertinent to their audience’s needs and interests.

Obsessing Over Any One Stage of the Sales Funnel

Marketers love to talk about the importance of the sales funnel and creating marketing plans designed to “nudge” customers through it. While the sales funnel is definitely a great blueprint to guide your strategies, getting caught up in any one phase could spell disaster for conversions.

Remember, every visitor, prospect, lead, or target must go through several steps, go back, forward, and run around in circles before they become a full-fledged customer. They must be introduced to your brand during the awareness stage, learn more about your business and products during the interaction phase, get interested and place their trust in you, and ultimately make and stick to a decision to buy from you.

However, many marketing teams tend to forget this trajectory and get caught up in either building brand awareness so potential customers grow bored, or spend too much time promoting sales jargon that people totally disengage, due to advertising fatigue. If your customers are unfamiliar with your business (thanks to a lack of top-of-the-funnel marketing), the pressure to “Buy Now” will be ineffective.

Keep in mind, it might take up to 13 interactions with a brand before a lead can even be classified as a sales-qualified lead (SQL). Focusing on any one section of the sales journey can narrow the funnel significantly, meaning that fewer people flow through.

Focus a good chunk of your efforts on educating and raising brand awareness. Once people start tuning in, give them more specific information about your content and everything you offer. As you gain serious interest, then it’s time to start talking about price points, deals, and how potential customers can take proper action.

Most importantly, you need to place emphasis on the transitions between stages. They need to be smooth and organic if you want your sales funnel to function properly.

Fix Your Strategy, Fix Your Sales

Selling is an art form that no one has truly perfected. There are so many ins and outs, little details, and psychological factors that play into it — making it a deeply complex and ever-evolving practice. Online sales add another layer of complication by removing that up-close and personal factor. However, once you’ve plugged the leaks in your sales funnel, you’ll see a larger number of customers coming in and coming back. Good luck!

What’s Next for Marketing Careers in Digital and Multichannel? 

It’s not too early to start thinking about what is ahead for your career with 2017 quickly approaching. What skills should you improve? How can you make yourself more appealing to potential employers, or position yourself for a promotion? To provide you with some direction, I recently spoke to executive digital and multichannel recruiting expert, Jerry Bernhart.

Jerry Bernhart, Principal of Bernhart Associates Executive Search, LLC
Jerry Bernhart, Principal of Bernhart Associates Executive Search, LLC

It’s not too early to start thinking about what is ahead for your marketing career with 2017 quickly approaching. What skills should you improve? How can you make yourself more appealing to potential employers, or position yourself for a promotion?

To provide you with some direction, I recently spoke to executive digital and multichannel recruiting expert, Jerry Bernhart. As principal of Bernhart Associates Executive Search, LLC, Jerry has conducted searches as well as recruited and placed top digital and multichannel marketers, with clients ranging from startups to Fortune 500 companies, for more than 20 years.

Here is an edited transcript of our conversation.

Michelle Robin: How different is searching for a job today than say just two years ago?

Jerry Bernhart: Two years isn’t a lot of time. There hasn’t been a dramatic amount of difference, particularly since the recession. But I can give you some examples of what is going on in the industry today.

Right now, I am wrapping up a recent search for a manager of e-commerce — a really hot segment. When this search started two months ago, I surfaced eight to ten candidates, and I lost half of them in the first four weeks because my client couldn’t move quickly enough. This shows an enormous demand for this type of person.

With another search for a CRM (customer relationship management) manager, I had candidate who ended up with four external offers plus a counter offer. For best-of-breed talent, this is what I am seeing happen often.

Robin: What is your number one tip for job seekers looking to get ahead in their marketing career?

Bernhart: Keep learning. The beauty of digital is it makes it so easy to learn online. There is so much out there and things are moving so quickly, it’s essential to stay on top of things. The day you quit learning is the day you need to quit marketing.

If I could add another thing, I would say to be open regarding location. If you’re not living in a top metro area, look at other places. There are a lot of opportunities out there and you may not find them in your own hometown because you are in a smaller market. It’s kind of like broadcasting. The top news anchors didn’t start in New York City. So for young professionals especially, go to where the opportunities are and expand your scope of knowledge and responsibilities. Do it in small steps though, so you don’t take a big hit on the cost of living.

Robin: How important is your online brand for digital marketing professionals? Do employers actually look at your personal website, social media profiles, etc.?

Bernhart: It’s critical! You should think about your personal and online brand as often as you get your haircut. Think about it, you don’t know how long you’re going to be working at your current employer. You can’t afford to ignore your brand. If you don’t know how to brand yourself, how can you brand an organization?

The first thing human resources people do, even more than hiring managers, is Google you and look you up on LinkedIn. They may have your résumés, but the problem with résumés is you can’t always believe what is on there. So, put your personal URL on your résumé.

I have lots of candidates who have side projects. You can use that as the perfect opportunity to show a potential employer what is going on. I’ve never seen it have a negative impact on someone’s candidacy. In fact, I prefer they are upfront and transparent about it. 

Channel Collaboration or Web Cannibalization?

Multichannel marketers experience the frequent concern that online is competing with, or “cannibalizing,” sales in other channels. It seems like a reasonable problem for those responsible, for instance, for the P&L of the retail business to consider; same goes for the general managers responsible for the store-level P&L. I like to do something that we “digital natives” (professionals whose career has only been digitally driven) miss all too often. We talk to retail people and customers in the stores, store managers, general managers, sales and service staff.

Multichannel marketers experience the frequent concern that online is competing with, or “cannibalizing,” sales in other channels. It seems like a reasonable problem for those responsible, for instance, for the P&L of the retail business to consider; same goes for the general managers responsible for the store-level P&L.

I like to do something that we “digital natives” (professionals whose career has only been digitally driven) miss all too often. We talk to retail people and customers in the stores, store managers, general managers, sales and service staff. Imagine that … left-brain dominant Data Athletes who want to talk to people! Actually, a true Data Athlete will always engage the stakeholders to inform their analysis with tacit knowledge.

Every time we do this, we learn something about the customer that we quite frankly could not have gleaned from website analytics, transactional data or third-party data alone. We learn about how different kinds of customers engage with the product and their experiences are in an environment that, to this day, is far more immersive than we can create online. It’s nothing short of fascinating for the left-brainers. Moreover, access and connection with the field interaction does something powerful when we turn back to mining the data mass that grows daily. It creates context that inspires better analysis and greater performance.

This best practice may seem obvious, but is missed so often. It is just too easy to get “sucked into the data” first for a right-brain-dominant analyst. The same thing happens in an online-only environment. I can’t count how many times I sat with and coached truly brilliant Web analysts inside of organization who are talking through a data-backed hypothesis they are working through from Web analytics data, observing and measuring behaviors and drawing inferences … and they haven’t looked at the specific screens and treatments on the website or mobile app where those experiences are happening. They are disconnected from the consumer experience. If you look in your organization, odds are you’ll find examples of this kind of disconnect.

So Does The Web Compete with Retail Stores? Well, that depends.
While many businesses are seeing the same shift to digital consumption and engagement, especially on mobile devices, the evidence is clear that it’s a mistake to assume that you have a definitive answer. In fact, it is virtually always a nuanced answer that informs strategy and can help better-focus your investments in online and omnichannel marketing approaches.

In order to answer this question you need a singular view of a customer. Sounds easy, I know. So here’s the first test if you are ready to answer that question:

How many customers do you have?

If you don’t know with precision, you’re not ready to determine if the Web is competing or “cannibalizing” retail sales.

More often than not, what you’ll hear is the number of transactions, the number of visitors (from Web analytics) or the number of email addresses or postal addresses on file—or some other “proxy” that’s considered relevant.

The challenge is, these proxy values for customer-count belie a greater challenge. Without a well-thought-out data blending approach that converts transaction files into an actionable customer profile, we can’t begin to tell who bought what and how many times.

Once we have this covered, we’re now able to begin constructing metrics and developing counts of orders by customer, over time periods.

Summarization is Key
If you want to act on the data, you’ll likely need to develop a summarization routine—that is, that does the breakout of order counts and order values. This isn’t trivial. Leaving this step out creates a material amount of work slicing the data.

A few good examples of how you would summarize the data to answer the question by channel include totals:

  • by month
  • by quarter
  • by year
  • last year
  • prior quarter
  • by customer lifetime
  • and many more

Here’s The Key Takeaway: It’s not just one or the other.
Your customers buy across multiple channels. Across many brands and many datasets, we’ve always seen different pictures of the breakout between and across online and retail store transactions.

But you’re actually measuring the overlap and should focus your analysis on that overlap population. To go further, you’ll require summarization “snapshots” of the data so you can determine if the channel preference has changed over time.

The Bottom Line
While no one can say that the Web does or doesn’t definitively “cannibalize sales,” the evidence is overwhelming that buyers want to use the channel that is best for them for the specific product or service, at the time that works for them.

This being the case, it is almost inevitable that you will see omnichannel behaviors when your data is prepared and organized effectively to begin to see that shift in behavior.

Oftentimes, that shift can effectively equate to buyers spending more across channels, as specific products may sell better in person. It’s hard to feel the silky qualities of a cashmere scarf online, but you might reorder razor blades only online.

The analysis should hardly stop at channel shift and channel preference. Layering in promotion consumption can tell you how a buyer waits for the promotion online, or is more likely to buy “full-price” in a retail store. We’ve seen both of these frequently, but not always. Every data set is different.

Start by creating the most actionable customer file you can, integrating the transactions, behavioral and lifestyle data, and the depth that you can understand how customers choose between the channels you deliver becomes increasingly rich and actionable. Most of all—remember, it’s better to shift the sale to an alternative channel the customer prefers, than to lose it to a competitor who did a better job.

Mastering the Complexities of Multichannel Digital Marketing

Integration is like the Holy Grail of marketing. Connecting the dots at the customer level, across channels, devices and owned and non-owned properties is hard, but not impossible. Multichannel marketers must commit to meeting the customer along a matrixed journey. In a session I led at DMA2014 in San Diego last month, we discussed the types of lifecycle marketing, automation and buyer-centric programs that are most effective for drawing marketers out of silos and into a collaborative multichannel approach.

Integration is like the Holy Grail of marketing. Connecting the dots at the customer level, across channels, devices and owned and non-owned properties is hard, but not impossible. Multichannel marketers must commit to meeting the customer along a matrixed journey.

In a session I led at DMA2014 in San Diego last month, we discussed the types of lifecycle marketing, automation and buyer-centric programs that are most effective for drawing marketers out of silos and into a collaborative multichannel approach.

Andrew “Drew” Bailey, marketing principal at FedEx, said that the most important thing is to have a roadmap that is blessed by the executive team. “We’re mapping out a 3-year roadmap for our strategic objectives, now branded ‘Purple Journey’ (color selected from the brand logo). We try not to be paralyzed by our own processes. We still have to keep the lights on while we move things forward.”

Customers don’t think about channels, so why are marketers still clinging to our silos? Silos occur for a very valid, if not a very good reason, said Staples Director of Analytics and Customer Insight James (Jim) Foreman. “You solve a single need, and then new needs are solved by bolting on something to the original solution and you end up with a lot of things duct-taped together,” he said. “To emerge out of the rut, you need to prioritize with people, upgrade your specifications and budget based on the benefits you will earn from the change.”

There is certainly a people-process-technology synergy that has to happen for great customer experience. “It’s a three-legged stool,” Jim said, “But the glue and power comes from data.” Technology has surpassed our ability to use it well, so a key aspect of your IMM and CRM planning has to be that terrible “P” word that all marketers hate because we really want to do it all, “Prioritization.”

“The purpose of marketing has not changed, but the technology has changed,” Jim said. “Now that we are smarter about—and faster to respond to—the customer, the key is to make sure that we still listen to customers and synchronize touchpoints to recognize people across channels. We’ve learned a lot by combing through the data, inserting touchpoints at conversion points (a video watch, certain session length, repeat purchase, email behaviors, change of address, etc.) and encourage customers to engage with us across a richer journey. We greet you at each new interaction, informed with data from the past—which customizes the experience as much as possible.

“That translates to higher share of wallet, as Staples becomes important to both business and personal needs (customer need), both office and technology needs (product offering), and offline and online (multichannel).”

Not all customers are created equal, and a huge benefit of CRM-driven marketing is to treat all customers well, but some customers better/differently. This allows more personal and custom experience, and builds brand loyalty—especially in competitive, price-driven markets.

“We deliver packages really well,” Drew said. “But when there are concerns, customers can be pretty vocal via social media, so you have to do a good job of addressing the needs of all customers, even when you mess up.”

One approach Drew shared: “We encourage all our team members to be patient, passionate and persistent. With a ‘Good, better, best’ approach, we can help employees be the champions of our customers.

“Change happens from the work of champions,” he continued.

The data that matters to us most is our own delivery performance data—we need the ops teams to play well with the marketing team, Drew said. Staples starts with basic Web behavior—views, clicks, purchases—but quickly augments with demographic data from online accounts and the loyalty program. “We find that a mix of data is most helpful to understanding the next-best offer,” Jim said.

Successful multichannel marketing is in large part due to the way each interaction is met and tackled by the various people and machines that make up your company’s front line. Focus on those that move the needle for your business, stick to an endorsed plan of action, and be nimble and open to changing as your customer and market demand.