Editor’s Note: While this piece was written for the promotional marketing audience, the author’s discussion of data and customer experience is relevant to all marketers.
When I used to be heavily invested in music, teachers would often say, “The more you put in, the more you’ll get out.” This is true with my career, in my relationships and with my health. This is equally valid with regard to digital information. For example, the more online digital information I knowingly or unknowingly provide through browsing habits, forms I fill in, subscriptions, purchases, games I play or any corner of the Internet I visit, the more I get back. And delving a little deeper, it’s interesting to discover that my returns are tangential to my online patterns.
Have you ever noticed that after you’ve been researching a particular product, it “magically” appears as an advertisement on an unrelated website? That marketing tactic is called retargeting. Had I named the tactic, I may well have called it “echo marketing,” because what we “shout” into our Internet browser echoes back at us in fascinating ways. Those of us that shout the loudest endure the most intense echoes.
Not surprisingly, the majority of human beings don’t do a lot of changing in their adult years. For the most part, we create patterns and routines that provide us the comfort of habit as opposed to the discomfort of change. It’s a survival mechanism that must date back to our ancestral days: Repeat what works, or die by repeating what doesn’t. Thus, it’s ingrained in us to perform habits that result in the least amount of hardship. And as the years have gone by and survival has become less of an issue in the technological age, the instinct is still there, but the cost is progress.
What companies inspire you the most? Which individuals motivate you to be your best self? Chances are that the companies and the people that inspire you are evolvers. According to Fortune, the world’s most admired companies in 2018 were Apple, Amazon and Alphabet. Apart from starting with the letter “A,” these three companies embody the spirit of innovation, evolution and change. These are companies that are dismantling the very walls and mountains, whose colossal size create the largest echoes. Unwilling to suffer the same fate as Blockbuster Video or Toys R Us, evolvers aren’t interested in an echo. They’re more interested in following the sweet sound of unencumbered curiosity.
In math, the equal sign is flanked by two expressions that share the same value — a universal concept that’s largely accepted by society. But what’s interesting is that we’ve begun to apply the equal sign to behavioral equations that are becoming shockingly accurate (though never as absolute as in pure mathematics). It is in this fascinating environment in which we find ourselves today. Here’s an example: Someone who visits antique car websites frequently = someone who is interested in antique cars. Though this may be correct or incorrect, we can add to the equation to increase the probability of its accuracy. Here’s the new equation: Someone who visits antique car websites frequently and shops for antique car parts online = someone who has an antique car. Again, though it may be correct or incorrect, the likelihood of its accuracy increases.
When we start to accumulate and add variables such as when this person browses antique car websites, how long they browse for, how often they browse, what specific pages they navigate, and what their age and gender is, the equation becomes eerily precise. What I’m getting at is that we’re now capable of creating a personality profile for every browser. As an advertiser armed with this kind of knowledge, it becomes quite simple to launch appropriate messages to the person behind the profile, thus adding a song to their echo chamber.
We can view this reality in many ways. One way to see it is to accept the efficiency of the system in that the information that interests us now comes to us automatically. In other words, I get what I need. What an amazing time to be alive, right? Or, we can see it a little differently by understanding that our habits, in this technological age, are putting us in a prison in which reality is only what we know. Those who choose to see it this way may contend that this myopic view of the world is potentially quite dangerous and doesn’t encourage open-mindedness and curiosity.
As a supplier (as well as a marketer), I must ask myself, does the possession of data come with a responsibility, not only for the obvious safekeeping of said data but for how I use it? Of course it does! Today, I’m using your precious data to fulfill the needs you already have, and I’m using it to broaden your horizons (and my own as well). What our company is attempting to do with data is to create opportunity. We can do that by highlighting which products your customers are likely to want. We can do that by showing you the evolutionary patterns your customers are exhibiting, which results in new roads, which lead to new destinations, hitherto uncharted. We’re using data to learn what we don’t already know — and I find that exhilarating and exciting. Soon, we’ll be able to move into new products categories that we’d never imagined getting into, catering to the needs of our customers.
And this is precisely why so much is being made of customer experience (CX) these days. Cultivate the right experience for your customer and you’re golden. But miss the mark, and you’ve lost a customer. Blockbuster Video failed to understand the changing needs of its customers and ultimately failed to provide the time-appropriate experience that they demanded. Using data in a responsible, ethical and creative manner can both feed the echo chamber and enrich it.
The companies I admire the most in our industry are those that are category designers. They’re not fearful of failure. They take calculated risks and attempt to use creativity and foresight to create positive change, by orders of magnitude. Engineering and reengineering are part of their constitution. They are the masters of their echo chambers because they fill them with winning formulas, and they’re bold when composing new songs. They’re not afraid to transform their chambers by moving and manipulating walls to create new acoustics. Our industry is in the midst of the greatest transformation in its history. Using a combination of technology, experience, insight and curiosity, we’re reading minds. Telepathy isn’t a dream anymore; we’re already doing it. Scary? No way! If you’re like me, you’re building the most beautiful cathedral you can imagine. You’re an architect. You have a voice. Use it.