By Samuel Greengard
As organizations scale up business initiatives, data points replace physical touch points. Duplicating—or, at least, approximating—human interaction becomes more difficult…and the stakes are magnified.
Nowhere is this fact more apparent than within digital marketing. Consumers and business buyers, alike, are now bombarded with emails, and many of these messages are poorly crafted, misdirected, and, often, completely off target.
Last names appear instead of first names, messages beckon with items that a person has just purchased, or the sheer frequency of messaging is overwhelming. Worse, messages arrive at the wrong time or in the wrong place. In some cases, there’s an overreliance on digital communication when conventional mail or the telephone would produce better results.
“Too often, businesses fail to put customers first. They fail to view things from the customer’s point of view and ensure that the message truly speaks to them,” said Shayla McKnight, Marketing Automation Manager for PFL.
The fallout can be significant. Despite increasingly powerful business intelligence (BI) tools, predictive analytics software and machine learning (ML), many organizations struggle to harness the value of data. It isn’t uncommon to wind up in a digital automation loop that promotes speed over results—and actually pushes customers away.
Prior to the Internet and the introduction of massive databases, companies knew relatively little about B2B and B2C customers. Nevertheless, in many cases, those customers established deep and lasting loyalty to their brand through the products or services they offered.
Of course, loyalty and branding haven’t gone away but the rules, boundaries, and framework for marketing and sales have been transformed by digital technology. With more choices than ever and the entire Internet a click or two away, buyers are squarely in the driver’s seat.
Accenture Interactive reports that 91 percent of consumers prefer to engage with brands that provide relevant offers and recommendations. The consulting firm say that the top challenge for businesses is the “burden of choice.” In simple terms, this means learning how to uniquely serve everyone without overwhelming anyone.
How can businesses take their marketing initiatives to a higher level? How can organizations ratchet up their marketing IQ? Said McKnight: “It’s critical to understand people, meet them where they are at in the product lifecycle, and engage with at the right time and in the right place. Organizations that personalize and contextualize their communications increase brand love and engagement.”
To be sure, customer relationships are not a one-way street. Personalization and contextualization require a focus on filtering and interpreting online and offline data points to extract relevant insights. It isn’t simply about moving faster, it’s about picking up the right signals to move faster and smarter.
When businesses shift their thinking accordingly, they’re equipped to sprint past marketers caught on the automation treadmill. The resulting two-way dialog might include opportunities to fill out a more extensive customer profile, perhaps in exchange for a coupon or reward points. It might include an opportunity to define the types or frequency of emails a person receives.
This means using the tools available to work more effectively, McKnight noted. It isn’t enough to simply use a business intelligence platform (BI) or a data services like Google Analytics. It’s vital to plug in social media data, recent browser or app data, a record of interactions and purchases with the company, and other data collected both online and offline.
Accenture found that 83 percent of consumers are happy to share their data in exchange for a more personalized and relevant experience. Yet the opportunity to forge stronger ties with customers doesn’t end there. It’s important to let customers know how their data is used and allow them to define what is used and in what manner.
This requires more than simply checking a box to ensure that an organization is complying with privacy standards such as the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA). When organizations combine good data stewardship with relevant messaging, “People are a lot more willing to share their data. Relevancy and transparency lead to trust and brand respect,” McKnight explained. At that point the dynamics suddenly shift. It’s finally possible to connect with customers on a deeper and more meaningful level.
Within this hybrid framework, a business can discover a more evolved strategy that blends and orchestrates digital and physical communications seamlessly, including during the prospecting process. Suddenly, it’s possible to tap the power of physical mail to complement digital communication. This might include sending a brochure or a product sample that makes an impact and boosts brand affinity.
Lost in today’s focus on digital technology is a simple fact: more than 90 percent of all transactions continue to take place in the analog world. Oftentimes, people want to touch and explore things before buying them. A positive image of a brand may lead to a sale now…or months down the line.
In reality, consumers and other businesses don’t distinguish between online and offline interactions. They’re simply looking for a flawless experience that simplifies business. The bottom line is that when a business fully understands context it can serve up the right experience at the right time.
This might be handling a task through an online channel but also knowing when to have a video meeting or a visit with a customer. To succeed, it’s vital to boost organizational intelligence—and better connect the digital and physical worlds—so that it’s possible to take the customer- nurture process to a higher level.
When organizations reach this higher state of business evolution, marketing and sales teams can craft messages, calls, and mailings that truly resonate with customers. Personalization and contextualization aren’t stuffed artificially into a handful of rigid personas. They’re real-world tools that transcend automation and deliver a human touch.
Only then is it possible to blend the online and offline worlds and deliver an experience that resonates deeply with customers. As McKnight observed: “This is how you drive successful engagement.”