So you have the data. Now what?
It's not just about having loads of data; you need to be able to use it. Columnist Jose Cebrian explains why you need to build a solid foundation, shift your focus from the channel to the audience and choose the right technology.
The battle for the consumer’s share of mind and wallet gets more complex every day. And to win, companies are looking to transform their marketing in big ways, armed with a multitude of available data and modern toolsets. All too often, though, the vision is not supported with the technology, mindset and organizational design to fully engage in a people-based marketing strategy.
Further, given the availability of new marketing channels (addressable TV, messaging apps and so on), we need to think beyond customary tactics. And this transformation starts with laying the right foundation; shifting your focus from channel to audience; and layering in the right technology.
Laying the right foundation
The ultimate goals of increased revenue and earnings per share can only be achieved after the necessary groundwork has been laid. In short, you need to invest money to make money. That investment should be targeted in three main areas:
- collecting data;
- analyzing the data; and
- making the data accessible.
Collecting the data. You’re aiming for a 360-degree view of the customer. People say that as if it’s easy. It’s not; but it is a foundational component of any serious marketing capability.
You need to know who you are talking to, especially if you believe that marketing to existing customers is important. I have been lucky enough to work at companies that understand this, but I still see brands that have not yet invested in this fundamental capability.
Once you have the essentials, such as name, address, email and demographics, you can add on more information — either through data appends, connecting anonymous and known IDs on owned properties, or simply asking the customer. Transactional details (purchase dates, categories and so on) need to be available as well. Those are the basics. Seriously. You can do marketing without it, but you’d be missing the boat.
Analyzing the data. Establishing a baseline of data is only the start. Now you have to do something with it: analytics for measuring and informing decisions around marketing communications, product research, customer service and more. A database without analytics is just ones and zeros.
Making the data accessible. Subject to governance policies, the appropriate applications need to be able to access it. Fast. Whether it is your website, your enterprise decisioning system, your customer service applications, your email program or your messaging apps, it’s critical that all of your marketing channels have access to your data so that consistent decisions can be made across those channels.
Shift focus from the channel to the audience
Now that the foundation is laid, you can move toward using the data. An adage says that with two kids, you can run a man-on-man defense, but when you have three, you have to switch to a zone defense. The same is true with marketing at scale. If you have a single customer type and just one or two paths to purchase, you can create customer journeys and map out the experience from end to end.
But the reality is that few (zero?) companies have that customer base. We have customers who may purchase one way one day (direct to site, no research, just click and buy) and a different way the next (purchasing a gift where they compare multiple products on different sites and abandon a cart to return for a purchase later). This calls for the zone defense that’s “channel-agnostic.” That means you focus on the main priorities:
- message anywhere; and
- measure everywhere.
Message anywhere. We are no longer constrained by using direct mail, email, SMS and push for direct marketing. We can market to known customers and prospects on social and display, in addition to more traditional direct channels. Who knows what will be next?
No longer are we constrained to top-performing deciles for direct marketing or limited to emailing “active” people. We can move between channels with relative ease. This requires us to think about our customers as individuals within an audience, rather than just members of an email list or a house file.
Measure everywhere. Today, we tend to spend budget by channel and measure channel-specific attribution. That is suboptimal. Time and time again, when we focus on an outcome and bring channels together toward that broader metric, the outcome is substantially better. Direct mail and email. Search and email. Channel-specific metrics matter as a means to improve, but the overall KPI has to be more important than a channel-specific metric.
To do that, you need to be able to measure across these channels and gauge their relative influence on each other, so that you can make investment choices along the way. That requires analytics. But it also requires a willingness to break from the known. A holistic view of your metrics allows you to make these decisions with more confidence.
Layer in the right technology
This is the flashy stuff. Unfortunately, marketers often start here — adding in tech and tools before they’ve laid a strong foundation. The truth is that these tools are substantially weakened without accessible data.
Only with a foundation of data do you have the ability to layer in key components and choose best-of-breed solutions, based on your objectives. Need to change tools? Fine. You have the data to fuel any of these engines. There are three key points when it comes to technology:
- It cannot make up for a lack of data.
- Without orchestration, it can be wasteful.
- It requires constant testing and learning.
Technology cannot make up for a lack of data. Developments in the area of technology are astounding. Where once there were channel-specific applications, there are now “clouds” that allow us to distribute marketing via several channels at once.
Still, companies get frustrated. They’ve made an investment in a marketing cloud, and as they start to set up audiences and journeys, they are faced with the fact that the clouds can’t help you identify the same person well across several channels, particularly the offline ones. When this information exists in your database, the marketing clouds can function at a higher capacity.
Without orchestration, it can be wasteful. Whatever tools you choose to layer in, you must be able to operate them in a way that is coordinated and on brand. New data will come in constantly, and there must be a “master plan” for what goes where and how the systems interact.
It can be tempting to reach for whatever new, shiny object emerges in the martech field, but I would caution you to understand the full capabilities of the tools you already have and consider synergies to help you get the most out of every tool you implement. Ideally, using the multi-channel metrics and measurement tools you’ve developed, you’ll be able to track impact from day one and make more confident decisions on which tools to keep or cull.
It requires constant testing and learning. That means a willingness to try and fail. And you cannot dismiss the new just because it’s unproven.
I was recently speaking at an event, and Tim Reis from Google showed a chart of 35mm film sales overlaid with digital camera sales. Needless to say, the film sales showed a precipitous drop, and digital cameras went straight up. The point is that continuing to believe in what once worked can be dangerous. Markets shift. People’s habits shift. You need to be ready for where things go, not where they were.
Your ability to collect, analyze and access data is one of the most critical investments you will make. Period. Prioritize it. If that means skipping a direct mail campaign or two, make the decision. There is no third-party tool that will make up for your lack of this critical piece of infrastructure. Once you have access to this data, your marketing becomes bigger than just the channel, and this is where the innovation happens.