Daniel Parmar, Director, Digital Strategy, Merkle
Today, understanding customers’ motivations and behavior is a challenge, as marketers try to make sense of disparate streams of information and create a holistic understanding that can be used for relevant marketing.
Tomorrow, the marketer’s dream will be realized. By 2020, we will have the ability to track and understand every interaction and have 1-on-1conversations. The ability to identify and communicate with known individuals is possible on Facebook and Twitter, but this will expand to new platforms. Some platforms are going to be ones that we don’t consider today, enabled by the permeation of technology into new arenas including apparel, accessories and appliances, driven by the “internet of things”. As new data becomes available, the individual customer profile is going to be richer, aggregating behavioral, transactional, cognitive, health and other data. It is a given that big data is going to get bigger.
What should we do now for that future?
Marketers are getting better at understanding big data, but we need to get a lot better as we exit the cookie age and enter the individual identification age. Effective marketing will be achieved by those who cultivate and exercise the disciplines of relevance, restraint and responsibility.
Relevance – Effective marketing reflects customers’ lives by understanding them, their needs and being there for them at the right time with a relevant answer – irrespective of the medium. This is difficult and requires integrating multiple data sources into a holistic profile and using that to enable personalized interactions, while being respectful of customers’ privacy.
Marketers will have a greater ability to know a customer’s need, gleaned from this information-rich profile. There is no excuse to have marketing “blasts” without regard to customers’ needs, their relationship with the brand and the prior messages presented. Even today, with the available intelligence and targeting, irrelevancy in marketing communication is widespread. Poorly done marketing is invasive, irrelevant and ill-timed. As a result, consumers are bombarded with irrelevant, repetitive advertising. This is also evident in the metrics measured – attempts at driving impressions and clicks without much thought to whether it is the right customers behind those clicks, or whether there’s a more influential action that can be measured.
The focus is going to be on ongoing conversations, building on previous interactions and not differentiating based on the medium. Else, this would be like a person introducing himself to an old friend by starting the conversation with “Hello, my name is so-and-so”. Even first interactions can be orchestrated with some knowledge of the customer, in a non-invasive way. The ability to tailor and sequence conversations will become more accurate and encompass virtual and physical interactions. The most excellent customer journeys are those that do not differentiate between digital and physical.
Restraint – As marketers, we get excited at the possibility of another new marketing platform, but we don’t always think if that is the right message and channel for that particular consumer. The proliferation of ad technology, while bringing in many possibilities, sometimes reduces a customer to a click or impression. Now, imagine the future as the reach of current platforms is extended to areas of customers’ lives that are yet untouched. This is when the marketer’s dream becomes the consumer’s nightmare.
Restraint will come in to play – a reliance on the ideas, and using that to guide interactions, rather than rushing into every medium. Absence of a properly defined customer journey will result in a chaotic experience. Display advertising gets a bad rap because some advertisers have not been responsible with the opportunities afforded. Just because we can identify and remarket to customers doesn’t mean that we should bombard them with reminders on every site, or send e-mails every day. It needs to be planned, sequenced and systematic.
Responsibility – on the part of marketers will influence the trust that customers have. The opportunities that technology brings can also have negative consequences when misused. Marketers should have a self-appointed mandate to be respectful. This will be an effective way for marketing to drive business results, while increasing customers’ comfort with sharing their information, for mutual benefit.
The evolution of in-home behavioral tracking, outdoor facial recognition and more sophisticated cross-device tracking will drive a greater need for responsibility. The term “cross-device” is expanding from PCs, phones and tablets to cars, smart home systems including appliances, TVs, gaming consoles, fitness trackers and other wearable technology. Marketers should recognize this privilege and understand how to unlock customer value in a responsible way.
As the digital space becomes more mature and regulated, customers will have more of a voice in defining the usage of their data. Studies show that customers are likely to give up part of their privacy for targeted offers. Marketers need to get smarter at leveraging data from every interaction to engage customers strategically rather than invasively. Customers will have more power at defining their engagement with marketers – an omnichannel version of a Do Not Call list.
Relevance, restraint and responsibility are disciplines that marketers need to develop now in order to be ready for the future. There are two possible roads that marketers can take. In both, marketers will have the ability to understand individual interactions, but the difference will lie in the way that this opportunity is used. If the present is any indication, many marketers may choose one path just because everyone else is doing it, or may be eager to rush into new mediums without a defined strategy. Responsible marketers will take the road less traveled, exercising the disciplines of restraint and relevance, and relying on strategic thought and customer centricity.
As we stand before the fork in the road, there is no better time to make the decision to take the right road, for this will determine the future we create. We all know the infamous case of the “Pants that followed me around the web”. Let’s not create a future where this is reprised, only this time as the Pants that followed me everywhere!