3 Tips for Dealing With the Stress of MarTech-Driven Marketing

As a marketer in today’s data-driven world, it is very hard to keep your head on straight. With thousands of martech solutions in the market vying for your attention, combined with the pressure to make data-driven decisions and justify expenses, it is easy to become overwhelmed by martech-driven marketing.

As a marketer in today’s data-driven world, it is very hard to keep your head on straight. With thousands of martech solutions in the market vying for your attention, combined with the pressure to make data-driven decisions and justify expenses, it is easy to become overwhelmed by martech-driven marketing.

The result is a constant feeling that you are falling further and further behind. While that may be, it is also likely that you are in good company as this is a common anxiety among most marketers.

Here are three tips for dealing with the anxiety from tech-driven marketing.

Understand and Acknowledge the MarTech-Driven Marketing Landscape Is Needlessly Complex

It’s not your job to sort it out. There are thousands of martech solutions out there and you can’t/shouldn’t keep up with all of them.

If you did, you would hardly have time for your day job. It is better that you understand the technologies as broad capabilities (such as marketing automation, CRM, content management systems, etc.) then focus on determining if you need that capability and why.

Then carefully select vendors with that capability to work with on specific solutions.

Ignore the Noise and Get Back to Marketing Strategy

Too often, marketers are letting the marketing technology world dictate how strategy should be run.

For example, when discussing lead development strategy, I had a client tell me that their marketing automation vendor was looking into it. This is akin to having your building materials provider design your dream home. Some may offer basic design services, but the result is likely to be staid and semi-custom, at best.

Similarly, most martech companies do not want to be in the business of developing your marketing strategy, but they oftentimes are forced to do so in order to get you comfortable with leveraging their technology.

No one wins in this scenario, and what often results is a generic marketing strategy.

The key is to understand what broad martech capabilities are relevant for you and to build a custom go-to-market strategy that reflects your brand’s vision and purpose.

Then incorporate data-driven capabilities — and lastly, evaluate a specific solution.

Don’t Be a Slave to Your Data

I often hear marketers ask, “How can we better leverage all this data?”

This is like starting your holiday shopping by asking, “How can I leverage all of the available retailers out there?”

The more sensible questions should be: “What do I want to achieve and how can data help me get there?”

Then, look into your own data to determine if the relevant data is there. If it isn’t, don’t fret. Many times, the relevant data is cheap to generate, and you should begin to understand what it is you specifically need and how best to generate it.

Concluding Thoughts About Tech-Driven Marketing

After many years in consulting with Fortune 500 companies on marketing data and technology strategy, I can confidently tell you that the vast majority of marketers feel overwhelmed and not in control.

What I can also say is that most marketers do not struggle with what to do; rather, they struggle with what not to do.

With a torrent of marketing solutions available today, it is easy to lose focus. Successful marketers understand that martech solutions affect how you think about marketing and customer strategy execution. However, they also understand that smart, brand-centric strategies drive solution selection — not the other way around.

Creating a Culture of Wow Customer Experiences

I have urged many companies to differentiate on the basis of wow customer experiences, because the bar is so low. It’s also easier for a small and mid-size company than a large company to perform outstanding CX, because you can instill customer-centric values from the top down, as well as hire and promote based on the customer experience they are providing to both internal and external customers.

Recently, I had the opportunity to attend two user conferences in two weeks. Both of the companies hosting the conferences are fast-growing high tech companies. One is a hybrid multi-cloud management platform and the other provides an artifacts management platform for DevOps teams.

The segments of IT in which both of these organizations compete are rife with competition, yet both companies are growing quickly and are delivering consistently outstanding customer experiences. One has an NPS score of 92; the highest I had ever heard of was 83 from USAA. The other has 97% customer retention and 245% upsell to current customers.

Both of these organizations understand the importance of listening to customers and helping them find value in their technology investments. In talking with customers and employees alike, it’s obvious these companies are differentiating themselves by providing wow customer experiences.

I have urged many companies to differentiate on the basis of wow customer experiences, because the bar is so low. It’s also easier for a small and mid-size company than a large company to perform outstanding CX, because you can instill customer-centric values from the top down, as well as hire and promote based on the customer experience they are providing to both internal and external customers.

Where do you start? With employees. While it’s important to meet monthly, quarterly and annual sales goals, you can make the argument that providing a great customer experience is more important; especially if you’re selling a product or service from which the consumer can select another provider at any time.

A great CX starts with your employees. Are they more concerned with making sure the client is happy with the experience they are having with your product or service or making their sales goals? If your customers are happy, you’re going to make your sales goals – maybe not this month or quarter, but over the long-term.

Happy customers generate more revenue and help you attract other customers. They serve as references, provide case studies, testimonials and referrals; thereby reducing, or amplifying, your marketing investment.

Engaged, empowered employees help provide a great CX. Do your employees know that’s what you expect of them?

The 3 Big Challenges Marketers Face When Building a Marketing Tech Arsenal

It’s household knowledge that digital technology is continuously disrupting the practice of marketing. New tools mean new capabilities to reach and engage with potential customers in new ways. An expanding number of platforms and devices makes the prospect of providing seamless customer experiences an ever more difficult task. Meanwhile more technologies dictate that marketing tech stack integrations are becoming more complex. Yet nimble and savvy marketing tech adoption is one of the key factors for staying competitive in any market, today and in the foreseeable future.

That’s not all to scare anyone. But it’s worth taking stock of the fact that marketers have a tall order in front of them when it comes to evaluating and implementing new digital marketing technologies.

There are a combination of factors that make marketing tech adoption difficult. The sheer volume of potential solutions means that sorting through the noise and finding those tools that are relevant to your business objectives is a time suck. That’s certainly a big one, but an undue amount of time has been spent in blog posts and at industry conferences shocking marketers with intricate vendor-scapes while other challenges may go overlooked.

In this post, we’ll evaluate some of the common hurdles marketers face when it comes to adopting and implementing new technologies and consider some ways they can overcome those hurdles. With a better understanding of exactly what the challenges are, in future posts we’ll dig further into developing a process for optimizing your tech stack and explore some of the key business objectives marketers are trying to address with technology in 2018.

Editor’s Note: This blog post marks the launch of FUSE Digital Marketing, a weekly newsletter (subscribe here) and annual VIP executive summit (learn more here) that explore the strategic adoption of marketing technologies. Both aim to dissect the modern martech stack and explore how the right technologies can enable marketers to achieve business objectives.

Challenge #1: Omnichannel Customer Experiences Are Complicated by Content, Data & Technology

The vast array of devices and platforms where customer touchpoints occur mean that the need for marketers to provide seamless, omnichannel customer experiences is both more important and more challenging than ever. Doing so requires a well-oiled technology stack optimized for cross-platform data integration, 360° customer views, and AI-based automation that drives engaging content and offers.

But let’s dig a little deeper and uncover what’s at play when it comes to omnichannel marketing. Just how important is omnichannel marketing to marketers and what’s holding them back?

In the research report Omnichannel Marketing: The Key to Unlocking a Powerful Customer Experience, Target Marketing asked marketers how important providing an omnichannel experience is in their industry. 74% of marketers said it was important, fairly important or very important. The research also revealed that most marketers are not confident in their ability to deliver omnichannel experiences: 48% feel their company provides customers and prospects an “average” omnichannel experience, while only 33% say it’s “good” or “very good.”

Beyond lack of budget, which is considered the number one challenge, marketers see omnichannel marketing as fundamentally a technology problem, with “accessing data across channels” and “recognizing a customer on different channels or devices” as high-ranking challenges they face in this effort. When asked what they are doing to improve omnichannel customer experience, marketers’ top two priorities are “improving integration of existing technology systems” and “investing in new tools and technology.”

 

To address omnichannel challenges, marketers are “improving integration of existing technology systems” and “investing in new tools and technology.”

 

To be fair, the quote-unquote “omnichannel customer experience” is not just a marketing objective — it’s the objective of anyone trying to provide consistent experiences across digital platforms and understand how audiences move and behave across those platforms. For years it’s been an objective (and thorn in the side) of publishing and media companies, which have large-scale audience and butter their bread by cultivating very granular information about these audiences.

The comparison to the media business can also be useful because it speaks to why omnichannel customer experiences have become simultaneously more difficult and more of an imperative. If omnichannel can be boiled down to two fundamental principles, those are experience and data.

First let’s look at experience: With content as a major form of currency in the brand-customer relationship, the customer experience extends much further up the funnel today than in days past. It’s the reason why content marketing expert Robert Rose argues that marketers should be focusing on audience, and not customer conversion, when developing a content marketing strategy and supporting technologies.

Sticking with publisher analogy, the introduction of content can be both a gift and a curse: A gift because “audience” interactions with content reveal valuable granular data about buying interests and intentions, which can drive coveted personalization efforts that yield higher conversions. A curse because connecting behavioral data to an individual across platforms is no easy task.

It’s no surprise then that we’re seeing a lot of interest in identity management, journey tracking, and anti-journey-hijacking solutions to keep track of users, as well as tools like CDPs that enable a 360-degree view of known users and the ability to develop user profiles enriched by behavioral data. Analytics tools that extract further insights, especially AI-driven predictive capabilities, will continue their growth in popularity.

Of course, limitations on data-driven marketing like GDPR will alter the data exchange between brands and consumers, namely by raising the threshold for that exchange. GDPR will simply accelerate the need for “owned” audiences that marketers have permission to communicate with (often earned by providing content), some of which will become your customers. And though painful at first, GDPR will actually play in favor of some marketers’ high-level concerns about brand safety and ad fraud when the brand-consumer relationship is much more transparent and explicit for all parties.

Challenge #2: Organizational Bureaucracy & Shadow MarTech

Unfortunately, developing a 360-degree view of customers from the topmost part of the funnel down to the purchase and onward isn’t just a technological challenge. It’s a deeply organizational challenge.

Marketers face a couple internal headwinds when it comes to technology adoption — such as the lack of understanding by senior management or lack of talent to apply martech — but perhaps the strongest is bureaucracy.

At many large companies, web technologies are part of gigantic enterprise systems that tend to be rigid and/or slowed by bureaucracy. Getting a WordPress site approved through corporate IT can be a nightmare. Especially when it comes to providing cutting edge customer experiences, marketers need to be super agile — able to stand up a blog, digital magazine, or microsite in short order — to respond the market or experiment with ideas without huge investments and long lead times.

Many marketers are forced to rely on their organization’s IT system and watch the nimble upstarts pass them by. Or they’re going rogue and creating what is often called a “shadow IT stack” or “shadow martech stack.”

Whether by design or by necessity, we know that martech purchasing happens across organizations. Target Marketing’s 2017 report The Marketing Tech Buying Process revealed that although brands are buying more marketing technology than ever, it’s often with minimal input from other departments. 64% of marketing technology purchases are made by individuals or single teams. Fewer than 50% of purchasers conduct formal requirements assessments. And the IT department is only involved in the marketing technology purchasing process 53% of the time.

One of the downsides of this fragmented martech buying approach is that the organization doesn’t reap the full benefit it would if the marketing stack and all its rich data was fully integrated with enterprise systems. Think of all the data points revealed through social media interactions, behavioral website data, email preferences – all of which can be used to track and cultivate consumers through the sales funnel and then continue engagement. And the existence of shadow martech stacks means companies aren’t seeing the optimal ROI, and as a result more likely to stifle future martech investments.

The Layered Approach to Marketing Tech Adoption

The layered approach to your content marketing tecnology stack.
Robert Rose advises a “layered approach” to the technology that powers content marketing in order to prioritize flexibility in the piece that must be more responsive to the customers, and formal input in the pieces that must integrate with other IT systems.

 

First off, marketers need to make the case and executives outside the marketing function need to recognize that marketing tech should be better integrated into enterprise systems without stifling the agility and flexibility that martech requires. Cross departmental communication and collaboration that might not have previously occurred are a necessity, but even more important, is a joined mission and strategy between marketing and IT.

To this end, Robert Rose suggests a “layered approach” to martech adoption. First, consider which parts of the tech stack need to be most flexible and require less dependability. These are the technologies that shouldn’t require as rigorous vetting nor be considered long-term, foundational technologies. “Content-driven experiences are today’s media buys: Flexible, lightweight and even disposable,” said Rose in his keynote at the FUSE Digital Marketing summit (then called FUSE Enterprise).

On the other hand, consider which parts of the tech stack need to be more thoroughly thought-out and approved, such as core data management technology that needs to be scalable, dependable and standardized, and fit into your company’s IT infrastructure. These need to be done methodically, involve all the stakeholders, and will likely be picked by the IT department, not marketers (though hopefully with apt input).

Challenge #3: Developing Tech Expertise

Another core challenge to martech adoption, and the closest to home, is that marketers themselves need a great understanding of the many technologies they could use and how they work together. However, being a technology expert is a relatively new competency for marketers and one that many may not have or are working to develop.  At the very least, marketers haven’t been preparing to be technologists their entire careers. “Being current on technology and able to put it into place with the right business processes to use effectively is now as important to the marketer as it is to someone in the IT department,” says Target Marketing editor-in-chief Thorin McGee. Or if not being a technology expert themselves, knowing enough to understand the underlying business objectives of a given tech tool and having a collaborative relationship with the technology department is a must for marketing executives today.

Once a technology is purchased, the common lament is that the tool is grossly underused. The Target Marketing Omnichannel report found that not enough marketers are investing in personnel or training to support their tech acquisitions. According to McGee, “This is evident both in the quantifiable questions, as well as the open response queries.  Marketers repeatedly cite lack of skilled personnel as an issue. Without proper training and know-how, the tools are not going to help. Invest in your people.”

Marketers should build more training into their martech strategies as well as implement more formalized processes (like Rose’s layered approach above), to ensure greater collaboration among key stakeholders and greater ROI for their tech investments.

In subsequent posts we’ll further explore processes for focusing your martech adoption strategy and look at specific business objectives marketers are keen to address with technology. Sign up for the weekly FUSE Digital Marketing newsletter to keep up on the latest martech insights.

Technology Makes Direct Mail Irresistible

With great ROI, marketers continue to use direct mail. However, direct mail marketing that works today is vastly different than five years ago. Take a look at the pieces you are getting in the mail, they are more targeted, personalized and engaging than ever before. Technology has allowed us to increase ROI even more.

With great ROI, marketers continue to use direct mail. However, direct mail marketing that works today is vastly different than five years ago. Take a look at the pieces you are getting in the mail, they are more targeted, personalized and engaging than ever before. Technology has allowed us to increase ROI even more. By adding technology, you can draw attention to your mail piece and create a wow factor.

Here are four ways to use technology in your next direct mail campaign:

1. Sound Chips: You can add sound to your mail pieces! Record any message you want, then when your prospect or customer opens it the sound starts to play. Most people have seen this mechanism with a birthday card. Check out an example below.These are not super expensive and can increase your response rates.

2. Video: You can add video screens to your mailers. When your customer or prospect opens the mailer the screen is right there and it can either launch automatically or when they push a button. Want to see how they work? Check this out. Keep in mind that these are on the more expensive side.

3. Augmented Reality: You can have an image come to life and be manipulated by your prospects and customers with the use of your mail piece and a mobile device with an app. This is a very powerful way to engage them. Many marketers think that this is very hard to do and expensive, but it does not have to be. You can create a great user experience without breaking your budget. Check out this example. How can you create an awesome experience?

4. Data: You have so many options now to enhance your data or just take advantage of the data you already have. Segmenting like people together allows you in send more powerful messaging to the right people. You can profile your current customers to find prospects who are most like them. Then you take your data and create variable data mailers with targeted images, as well as copy and even design if you want to. The power of your data is only limited by you.

Technology doesn’t have to be a big budget item. You first need to plan out what you would like to do, then figure out the costs. Now you are ready to create your marketing campaign plan.You need to think strategically, starting with your goals. Creating direct mail using technology is a great driver of response when used correctly. Your best bet is to consult with your mail service provider; they will be able to help you with postal regulations and other aspects to save you money.

Keep in mind you still need to consider the basic requirements of good direct mail. A good list, an eye-catching design and a strong call to action are a must to drive response. If any of these are lacking, you will not get the response you wanted. Make sure to provide instructions on the mail piece as to how your prospects and customers can use the technology. Don’t forget to provide them with great content to view. If the content is not well designed or planned out then the whole process will be a waste of time. Are you ready to get started?

Survey: Marketing Leaders Responsible for More Than Ever

The early results from our Marketing Leadership Survey are in, and a shocking percentage of marketers say the job has changed dramatically in just five years. Marketing leaders have acquired (or been loaded with) more responsibility in almost every area.

The early results from our Marketing Leadership Survey are in — there’s still a week to go, so don’t forget to take it yourself and enter to win a $100 AMEX gift card! — and a shocking percentage of marketers say the job has changed dramatically in just five years. Marketing leaders have acquired (or been loaded with) more responsibility in almost every area.

Have the roles and responsibilities of marketing leaders changed in your organization over the past 5 years?
Credit: Target Marketing and NAPCO Media Research

More than half of respondents say marketing responsibilities has changed greatly or completely over the past five years. And five years really isn’t that that much time, essentially since 2013. All this change has happened in less time than Snapchat’s been around.

Looking specifically at how responsibilities have changed, the movement has only been in one direction: up. In fact, after our first survey email, the “much less responsibility” answer column has yet to be touched, and even “less responsibility” has only been selected a handful of times.

Notice that orange does not appear on this chart, and there are only slivers of light blue. | Credit: Target Marketing and NAPCO Media Research

The area of marketing responsibility expanding the most is technology, where over 80 percent report increased responsibilities. That comes as no surprise, as marketing technology is expanding and marketers are controlling, or at least demanding, more and more enterprise technology spending.

Metrics/reporting and data responsibilities aren’t far behind, with over 70 percent of respondents saying those responsibilities have increased.

Surprisingly, none of those lead the “much more responsibility” column. That went to Innovation, where over 40 percent of our respondents say they now have much more responsibility.

How do those answers stack up to your own evolving roles and responsibilities? Take the survey and let us know, and you’ll be entered to win $100!

And keep an eye out for the final report we’ll be putting together from this research. These are only two of the insights we’re developing; the final report will include how marketing leaders are spending their time, how they’re spending their money, how they base their KPIs, whether or not they feel respected in the corporate hierarchy, and more!

Marketing AI Is Overhyped, and That’s Good

Today, marketing AI is a know-it-all with a short resume. Just like Big Data and personalization, it is also a catch-all phrase that is becoming harder to define. As a result, it is no surprise that most marketers are rolling their eyes at the topic. Nevertheless, this is also the time to take the topic seriously, unless you plan to retire into seclusion in the next few years.

AI
“artificial-intelligence-2228610_1920,” Creative Common license. | Credit: Flickr by Many Wonderful Artists

Today, marketing AI is a know-it-all with a short resume. Just like Big Data and personalization, it is also a catch-all phrase that is becoming harder to define. As a result, it is no surprise that most marketers are rolling their eyes at the topic. Nevertheless, this is also the time to take the topic seriously, unless you plan to retire into seclusion in the next few years.

New research by marketing automation provider Resulticks shows that 73 percent of marketers are either skeptical, neutral or simply exhausted by the hype around marketing AI. In addition, large numbers of marketers think that vendors using industry buzzwords are full of it. This is not surprising, considering how most vendors are probably over-selling their AI solution. In the same Resulticks study, only 18 percent of marketers claim that AI vendors are delivering the goods as promised and 43 percent felt they were over-promised.

However, for those of us who have lived through (and even reveled in) industry catchphrases, from “marketing analytics” to Big Data to “MarTech,” these statistics indicate that “Marketing AI” is on a strong growth trajectory. This is because the combination of huge industry-level investments and a few success stories is generally a recipe for a new frontier of innovation. Some time ago, I wrote an article on the VC investments being made in data-driven marketing technology and many of the technology solutions were still evolving innovations, like marketing automation. Today, the phrase “Marketing AI is also heading toward becoming broad and meaningless, with heavy investments in the sector. In a few years, underneath that generic umbrella will evolve smart, pragmatic solutions which will become part of the standard tool kit. For example, under the Big Data and MarTech labels, we now have well-adopted solutions, such as CRM, programmatic buying and marketing automation. While there are still bugs and varying degrees of success, there is also a large body of fruitful use-cases which demonstrate how these tools can be very effective.

So, what is a marketer to do in this environment where marketing AI has yet to evolve to a stage where it is a stable and valued marketing tool? The most important step is to set low expectations and begin to dip your feet in the water. Experimenting now is critical, as new skills sets and operating frameworks will be required to fully take advantage of the coming AI-driven innovations, and building those individual and institutional capabilities will take time.

Shared Accountability — A Frightening Concept

With Halloween right around the corner with all of its goblins and scarecrows, it seems appropriate to ponder the frightening — accountability.

Halloween SEO
“Boo The Penguin Pug,” Creative Commons license. | Credit: Flickr by DaPuglet

With Halloween right around the corner with all of its goblins and scarecrows, it seems appropriate to ponder the frightening — accountability.

As a practicing SEO, my clients expect me to provide advise they can trust and to offer recommendations that are effective. It is my belief that the search marketer must work as a collaborator with the site owners to accomplish their marketing goals.

This does not mean always doling out easy-to-accomplish, short-term strategies that have all of the staying power of Halloween candy. The quick-fix treat will fast turn into a trick if it is not grounded in long-term strategic thinking. Accountability must be shared for results to continue past the turn of the calendar page. The SEO/client relationship does not work if both parties are not willing and able to commit the time and resources to accomplish the strategic and tactical recommendations.

Was It Bad Advice or Bad Consent?

Most SEOs, myself included, will admit that not every project undertaken, every client engagement, every campaign launched was a total, unqualified success.

Not every client becomes a raving fan — much though we would sure love it and work hard to make it happen. I am no longer taking new clients and have the pleasure of taking time to reflect on what has made some engagements a wonderful journey, an exploration into the heights and depths of search marketing success, and others a tough slog in a trackless wasteland.

What separates one from the other? It has not been how difficult the tasks were to accomplish, for all SEO is just technology and marketing. I have worked with as many struggling and stumbling teams as brilliant marketers and terrific technologists. This does not seem to be the deciding line.

What I have come to realize is that projects that didn’t work were not necessarily the product of bad advice, but rather a mismatch of advice and consent. All too often, I have encountered ambitious eager marketers who underestimated the technical challenges that their site presented. They were gung-ho to conquer their marketplace, and didn’t realize the limitations of their technology or team. Sometimes they have encountered a technology roadmap so long that the marketing team’s requirements are an outpost on the map that won’t be reached in this century.

This is a hard realization for those whose results hinge on site changes that no one else considers significant. Sometimes, the mismatch was due to no one realizing just how much real work must go into SEO in a content-driven search environment. Little magic elves don’t create quality content in just a few moments.

The most successful and rewarding client engagements have required a shared set of goals (SEO, marketing and technology) coupled with a real understanding of the task at hand and mutual accountability on all sides for accomplishing the milestones needed to meet the goals. This requires a level of honesty and openness that is refreshing as it is infrequently encountered.

When it all works together, the results can be truly gratifying. It has been my pleasure to enjoy more than my share of these sweet successes.

In the Land of Shiny Objects

I am honored and excited to become a regular contributor on Target Marketing. I am excited at the prospect of generating vibrant conversations on a set of topics that represent one of the biggest challenges marketing leaders face today. As a marketing consultant at the intersection of data, technology and customer strategy, I have observed — frequently — that there is a vast divide between brand/ customer strategy and data/technology strategy.

shiny object
(Image via The Marketing Moron)

I am honored and excited to become a regular contributor on Target Marketing. I am excited at the prospect of generating vibrant conversations on a set of topics that represent one of the biggest challenges marketing leaders face today. As a marketing consultant at the intersection of data, technology and customer strategy, I have observed — frequently — that there is a vast divide between brand/ customer strategy and data/technology strategy.

Multiple industry surveys report that few executives feel their analytics and technical implementation are well-connected and strategic. Despite the fact that most customer interaction is becoming tech-driven, the abundance of affordable tech options is leading to highly tactical and sometimes confusing customer experiences. The core issue is rarely the technology itself. Most solutions can work just fine at driving greater customer engagement and building brand equity. The real impediments are often organizational and strategic in nature.

The Real Problem in Marketing

Organizational challenges include overall resistance to change, but also the presence of silos where they do not make much sense. Although much has been written about this topic under the umbrella of digital transformation, it’s incredible how challenging the organizational factor remains. I hope to unpack some of the critical underlying factors in subsequent postings.

The strategic issues, on the other hand, are discussed less often. The problem begins with the marketing technology industry, itself. Driven by billions of dollars in investments, the industry has thousands of solutions in the market, each desperately trying to prove its unique value. I refer to this as the “land of shiny objects.” As marketing leaders attempt to navigate this landscape, it is easy to lose strategic focus.

In this blog, we’ll discuss ways in which marketing organizations regain their strategic bearings and leverage their tech stack for both short-term and long-term gains.

Personalization: What’s in It for the Customers?

Too many marketers are personally annoying their customers in the name of personalization. For that reason alone, I am looking for an alternative word for “good” personalization.

personalization-aiAny salesperson would know that remembering a few personal details about a customer or prospect is the first step toward building a relationship. Of course, one shouldn’t be too “salesy,” as anyone can see through manufactured friendliness. Going too far in the wrong direction, the seller can even be seen creepy. That rule equally applies to all types of 1:1 marketing. Just because you know “something” about the person, it doesn’t mean that you “know” the person.

Personalization should be gentle nudges toward relevant products and services for the customers, and it should never be bombardments of seller-centric marketing messages through all imaginable channels. No one deserves such abuse just because she forgot to uncheck some pre-populated checkbox about future marketing messages at some point in the distant past. I bet even marketers feel abused when they open their personal email boxes.

Too many marketers are personally annoying their customers in the name of personalization. For that reason alone, I am looking for an alternative word for “good” personalization.

If marketers think that they are still in control just because they got to have a few tidbits about their customers in some fancy Big Data platform, well, they are utterly wrong. They are not in control at all any more. In the age of multichannel marketing, consumers are trained to ignore things that look even remotely salesy. Age of mobile? Forget that, too. You don’t own that customer just because he downloaded your app a long time ago and forgot to purge it. How many apps do you routinely use on your smartphone?

Modern human beings look at six to seven types of screens every day — as big as a billboard and as small as a wristwatch. Marketers may think that all of those new channels may provide new opportunities to sell. Well, maybe. But only if they do it right. When was the last time an invention of a new channel actually increased demand of certain products (other than the medium, such as the smartphone itself)? During the first dot.com boom, many thought that the Internet would sell more things magically. Now we know better — that people do not buy extra TVs, jeans or sporting equipment, just because there is a new channel through which they can shop.

Yet, most companies created new divisions to handle new channels, as if mastering each domain would attract more customers. No. Maybe they are just annoying their customers using new technologies. Unfortunately for one-track minded marketers, human brains have evolved to ignore unnecessary information from their “personal” point of view.

Our brains do not process all of the things that our eyes see. Case in point? When you land on a familiar Web page, you don’t always notice most banners that are on the right-hand side. You already know where information you seek is located on a certain page. If all of the banners were removed all of a sudden, you would know that the page looked somewhat empty. But that’s it. Like you would notice a piece of furniture was removed, but wouldn’t know what exactly was missing.

The game is about how we gently make people aware that we may have something that “they” may care for. It is about them, not us. To do that, we have to show them something that is relevant to “them.” To do that, we have to know what they are about. To do that, we need to know who they are, and rearrange all of the information that we have around them. And to do that effectively and holistically, we have to fill in the gap — as we will never know everything about everyone — using modeling techniques. Only then, we can stay relevant to them at any time, and we may deserve some of their attention, if only briefly.

The first breakdown in this chain of events is often the fact that we don’t even know who they are, really. Not necessarily in terms of personal identification, but any ID or proxy of a person that binds personal trails of information. Now, since a cookie, IP address or email address do not really represent a person, we should not give up the efforts to collect personally identifiable information and consents from the target individuals. And that is where the question of “what is in it for the customers?” comes in

Surely, no one would give up cherished PII if she know that she was indeed signing up for all of those irrelevant marketing messages. To most of the consumers, “You will occasionally receive relevant offers from us and our respected partners” really means that “You will have to delete a whole bunch emails from us and anyone who purchased information from us on a daily basis, until you explicitly opt out of every one of them separately.” So, just stating that the messages will be relevant isn’t enough. We should really mean it. And it is really hard to personalize every message to everyone through every channel. It involves lots of work regarding data, analytics, content and various technologies (refer to “Key Elements of Complete Personalization”).

On top of the promise of relevancy, the collection of PII should be a beneficial transaction for the customers. Why should they give up their private information? For future savings? Loyalty points? Coupons for the next purchase? An extra 10 percent discount, right now?

I’ve seen retailers who boast of collection rates over 90 to 95 percent for PII and related behavioral data. The trick? There is no trick. They see the value of personal information in this personalization game, and they are just willing to pay for it. That type of investment, of course, only comes to fruition if the organization has the commitment, means and ability to carry out necessary data, analytics and technology work for complete “customer-centric” personalization. And the first step toward that kind of commitment is to share the benefits of increased marketing efficiency — and the right to exist as a seller in this multichannel environment — with the customers.

We came a long way from “Fill-in everybody’s mailbox with seller-centric mailing offers,” by way of “No emails unless you have double-opt-in,” to “Keep bombarding every customer through every channel until they explicitly opt out.” Modern consumers, who are much savvier in terms of digital technologies, are willing to share their information if, and only if, it benefits them. They will let you know who they are, what they are about, where they are, what they are about to do and even what they are thinking. This is the age of social media, after all.

But if they even remotely feel that they are being taken advantage of in any way, if they think a marketer is acting creepy, or if they think their privacy is violated even implicitly, they will sever all ties with the company in question immediately. Some may even go as far as posting damaging images and other content on social media, or seeking legal action against the violators of real or perceived trust in the data exchange. A healthy relationship is founded on the fair exchange of values, and they will determine what is fair or not.

Marketers are not in control of data and technologies when it comes to personalization. Customers are. Marketers are only temporary custodians of information about their customers. And they have to pay a lease on such information, in the form of real value. Further, they have to act like that lease won’t renew all by itself, either. If the customers feel that there is nothing to gain from that relationship — even without a clear violation of privacy — they will cut it out mercilessly. That is how relationships work.

Like every relationship counselor will say, if you want to maintain a good relationship with anyone, first start listening to her and make the relationship mutually beneficial. Then maybe, just maybe, the customers may allow marketers to talk to them once in awhile.

And figuring out how often is often enough and what is most relevant to each customer? That is the key job of analysts in the age of abundant data.