Data is the New Creative

Data is the New Creative

Using data to enhance relevance and personalize the customer experience.

“The aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well the product or service fits him and sells itself.” –Peter Drucker

MModern marketers are awash in tools to pursue business objectives. Digital channels such as SEO, email, social, PPC, programmatic, retargeting, mobile, live chat and more have achieved widespread adoption and have matured downstream enough to be affordable for even small and home-based businesses.

Inherently data-driven, digital marketing is more than simply using lists to target audiences through digital channels. Thinking of digital marketing in such manner limits it to little more than the equivalent of direct mail through a digital channel. To take advantage of the power of digital marketing, marketers need to think of data as the new creative.

Evolving from Demographics to Intent

Marketers have used data to better target prospects for decades. In 1973, Peter Drucker wrote in his seminal book, “Management” that “the aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well the product or service fits him and sells itself.” By the 1980s, marketers were using data to categorize businesses and consumers into segments based on demographics, psychographics, firmographics and other common characteristics. Doing so helped marketers narrow the focus of their efforts upon those segments they felt would be most receptive to their messages. Today, Claritas classifies American consumers into 68 different clusters:

The downside of using demographic data for segmentation is that demographic models are not good predictors of consumer intent. The best we may hope from using demographics is a higher propensity for the target audience to be interested in a given offer.

For example, within financial services, a segmentation model based upon the two primary demographic selects of age and income yields clusters as shown in the following table:

Using this demographic data, marketers may narrow the focus of their outreach to target those consumers who have a propensity for the product or service they are promoting. For example, marketers promoting automobile loans may wish to focus on the Credit Driven segment because they are 2.5 times more likely than the general population to be interested in a new or used vehicle loan. By targeting consumers within that segment, marketers may be more efficient with their marketing spend; however, there is still a tremendous amount of waste in the spend because demographic data does not give insight regarding the timing of the offer. We do not know if a consumer is in the market at any given point in time by using demographic data alone.

Behavior Yields Intent

The advent of digital channels such as search engines and websites provided marketers with insight into consumer behavior at the moment of interest. Google calls these “Micro Moments” of consumer engagement, where a person is actively engaged in searching for information, acquiring knowledge and weighing next steps. Micro-moments are moments when people expect an immediate answer to something they want to know, go, do or buy.

The quest for information reveals consumer behavior from which marketers may derive intent. The opportunity to capture attention from a consumer actively engaged in searching for a solution is a magic moment. No matter where the consumer is in the sales funnel, acting upon this data to capture attention, create interest, nurture their evaluation and ultimately convert the sale is more easily achievable – if data is at the center of the marketer’s toolkit.

Search engine marketing tactics allow marketers to tap into the “live data” available to capture attention from consumers who are lower in the sales funnel and potentially in acquisition mode for a solution. Search Engine Optimization (SEO), as well as PPC advertising through platforms such as Google AdWords or Microsoft Bing, allow marketers to target keywords that are indicative of intent. This allows marketers to skip past the awareness and interest phases at the top of the sales funnel and be closer to the point of action where a sale may be precipitated.

The Need for Nurturing

With the amount of money now being spent on PPC advertising, it is clear that many more marketers are attempting to reach consumers at the point of action. However, research tells us that upward of 81 percent of consumers will perform some form of online research before making a purchase decision. If your digital marketing efforts stop at the point where you have motivated a click by your target consumer, you have not fully leveraged the ability for digital marketing to nurture your prospect along their buying journey.

Once you have captured a website visit, the challenge is to nurture that prospect along the buying journey toward the purchase decision. This will often require multiple touch-points that may involve all the following marketing tools:

  • Remarketing
  • Website personalization
  • Lead capture forms
  • Live chat
  • Direct mail follow-up
  • In-store recognition
  • Call center outreach

Please note that the last three bullet points involve offline channels. This may occur if the digital lead capture efforts were successful in expanding additional contact information with email, phone number or mailing address. Lead capture is becoming increasingly sophisticated with data enhancement capabilities such as IP address geo-mapping and marrying first-party data with digital channel engagement. Just because a website visitor has not provided you with additional contact information, this no longer precludes marketers from targeting a prospect with an offline offer.

Are You Leveraging First Party Data?

When a known user visits your website, do you recognize them? Are you able to associate their online activities and behaviors with the first-party data you already have, such as prior purchases and other key demographics? First party data is a treasure-trove of insight about your existing customer and the next best product you should offer them. Yet few marketers have connected the dots to link online website visits to first-party data and present products and services that are relevant to the customer’s situation.

Imagine how much more powerful your online effectiveness would be if your website recognized an existing customer and dynamically rearranged the content to present the next best product for that customer. Data allows modern marketers to put their best foot forward with relevant content and offers that are keyed to the interest that brought a visitor to your digital content. Higher levels of relevance equate with higher levels of engagement.

The Death of the Anonymous Visitor

As the Tealium video suggests, the tools to associate first-party data with someone who would otherwise remain an anonymous visitor is a powerful addition to the marketing tool chest. Companies like BlueConicMarketo and Adobe Marketing Cloud provide tools to marry anonymous digital interactions with the first-party data that unlocks marketing nirvana.

Multi-Channel Customer Journey

When marketing teams begin visualizing how data may power the interactions an organization envisions for its prospects and customers, the possibilities become much more powerful.

In the example below, what starts as a digital journey is transformed into a multi-channel opportunity to engage with a prospect and use first-party data:

  • Website personalization
  • Email automation
  • Direct mail automation
  • Call center engagement

There has never been a more exciting time for marketers to use technology to engage with prospects and customers. And data is the key to unlocking the potential for your organization. Data is the new creative.

About the author:  David Eldred is the President and Chief Brand Technologist of Sine Cera Marketing, a boutique marketing consulting practice based in Sherwood, Oregon. Sine Cera specializes in helping businesses create and maximize their digital presence – as well as offering a full range of marketing consulting services, including social media marketing, social selling, search engine marketing, website design, and mobile marketing solutions. 

Prediction: The Sixth “P” of Marketing

Prediction: The Sixth “P” of Marketing

What if you could predict who your next best customer will be?

“If we have data, let’s look at data. If all we have are opinions, let’s go with mine.” — Jim Barksdale, former Netscape CEO

The evolution of marketing never ends and today, technology continues to drive innovation and efficiency in the marketing function. In fact, for the first time, I believe technology is now capable of empowering savvy marketers to add a sixth “P” to the marketing mix. What is the sixth “P” of marketing? Prediction!

What if you could predict who your next best customer will be? Better yet, what if you could predict what product or service that customer is interested in? This is not only possible using the tools available to the modern marketer, but I purport that integrating prediction into your marketing toolset will make the difference between surviving and thriving in today’s digital world.

Casting Nets vs Shooting Lasers

Using the right tool makes any job easier and marketing is no different. Most modern marketers have incorporated digital marketing into their toolset. And most consumers now engage with digital platforms as part of their buyer’s journey.

81% of customers research online before setting foot in a store or calling.

Websites were an early digital marketing tool designed to cast a net that might pull in customers. Marketers recognized early-on that customers did some form of research online before setting foot in stores. Thus, websites evolved from being corporate brochureware to more interactive experiences. Today, deep content and stronger calls to action make the modern website a richer digital experience than ever before. And many companies now enable online purchasing to occur without ever setting foot in a physical store.

But that’s no longer enough.

Why cast a net when you can shoot a laser that targets precisely who is interested in your product or service?

Google calls this the ZMOT or the Zero Moment of Truth. The ZMOT is the decision-making moment when we as consumers decide what to buy. We may be influenced by any number of marketing deliverables:

  • Website content that provides a deep understanding
  • Ratings and reviews of other customers
  • Social engagement and exposure
  • Sales enablement in the micro-moment
  • Brand awareness and discoverability

As more and more marketers hone their skills in all the tools of our digital age, the unfortunate reality is that cycle duration has become shorter and shorter.

“71% of consumers made a purchase within a week of awareness or desire.”

What does this mean for the modern marketer? Today, you had better be shooting with lasers to win your next customer instead of casting an ever-less-effective net.

The New Marketing Model: Predict Your Next Customer Using Data

Prospects fall into one of three distinct groups:

  • Prospects who are unaware of your company or product;
  • Prospects who recognize your brand;
  • Existing customers who are looking for a solution.

A Marketing Automation Platform (MAP) is a great tool to use data to engage with each of these three groups and more precisely predict what they are interested in — and who they are. This is the essence of leveraging data to Predict your next customer.

If you haven’t yet selected a MAP, you may be interested in the process I used when evaluating which Marketing Automation Platform was right for my company. Selecting the right MAP partner is an important step, so don’t rush through the journey.

How A MAP Enables Prediction

At its most basic level, a Marketing Automation Platform taps into the data of customers and prospects who interact with your sales and marketing channels. By helping you know who is evaluating your online information, you can use that data to stay in front of that prospect throughout their buyer’s journey — automatically.

“Remember, 81% of customers research onlinebefore setting foot in a store or calling.”

Even more importantly, since 71% of consumers made a purchase within a week of awareness or desire, your Marketing Automation Platform is one of the only tools that enables you to stay in front of that prospect until they have triggered their Zero Moment of Truth (ZMOT).

“Staying in front of a high-intent prospect is critical to winning new relationships and generating more sales.”

Data Is The Fuel That Powers Your MAP

Are you leveraging your first-party data? First-party data is data you have collected about your audience — often your existing customers. It comes from a variety of sources:

  • Behavioral data: actions and interests users demonstrate on your website
  • CRM data: information users share with you, or from past purchases of your products
  • Social data: data pulled from people who interact with your brand on social media
  • Cross-platform data: information gleaned from mobile web or apps

Harnessing your first-party data and making it available to your Marketing Automation Platform is crucial to your success with the sixth “P” of marketing: Prediction. It often contains your most valuable insights to your existing customers and users. Why?

  • First-party data contains information about which of your products your customer is interested in. How do you know? Because they clicked on it!
  • First-party data tells you who the prospect is as well as their online and offline contact information.
  • First-party data can tell you how engaged the prospect is in your solution, by scoring their interactions in real time.

Three Mistakes To Avoid With Marketing Automation

The first mistake to avoid when putting your Marketing Automation Platform to use is to limit your communication to digital channels. The modern Marketing Automation Platform is a cross-channel personalization tool:

  • Personalize your website to focus on the solution that is of most interest to your prospect based on their first-party data
  • Personalize your email to stay in front of your prospect with a cadence of digital outreach that can reach them virtually instantly
  • Reach out in the offline world to stay in front of prospects via direct mail where they live or work — or both!
  • Call your prospect and engage with them via a meaningful conversation that is fully-informed about the product or service they are interested in.

In financial services, I mapped a typical buyer’s journey that identified how we would use Marketing Automation to engage with prospects across all four channels: website, email, direct mail, and call center.

Another mistake marketers must avoid is not to stop at the point of purchase. Congratulations! You’ve worked hard to identify your prospect, stay in front of them throughout their buyer’s journey and were successful in being the winner of their ZMOT. Don’t stop there!

The modern marketing funnel doesn’t stop at the point of purchase, but rather it expands each new relationship outward to form the “trumpet” of retention, expansion, and advocacy. Use the first-party data within your Marketing Automation Platform to ensure your buyer adopts your solution completely. Onboarding new relationships serve not only to counteract buyer’s remorse and apathy but also to move them further along the loyalty journey.

  • Use first-party data to identify the next likely product or service your customer may be interested in
  • Use “big data” analysis to identify “look-alike” audiences to pull in more prospects who resemble your best customers
  • Use propensity modeling to expand their relationship with the best products and services for their demographic, firmographic, or life stage they fall within.

The third mistake to avoid can be the biggest one of all: does your organization make it difficult for your marketing team to access and use the first-party data you already have? Organizations that put barriers in front of their marketing team’s access to data make the job of the modern marketer that much more difficult.

The good news is that technology continues to enable easier and easier access to data for marketing teams. A typical MarTech stack for the modern marketing team may include all the following tools:

  • CRM — (Customer Relationship Management) to allow enterprise-wide input of key customer and prospect interactions and communications;
  • CMS — (Content Management System) to allow the marketing team the ability to control website environment without tech-team involvement;
  • MAP — (Marketing Automation Platform) to automate the marketing communications function at scale and in real time;
  • CDP — (Customer Data Platform) enables easy access to first-party data by non-technical members of the marketing team;
  • Analytics — serve as the linchpin of your MarTech stack. Because if you can’t measure it, you won’t know what is effective.

Prediction Is Possible

It is an exciting time to be a marketer! Never before have so many tools come together to make the life of the modern marketer easier. Now go have fun using your laser to predict your next customer and generate more efficient selling for your organization.

About the author:  David Eldred is the President and Chief Brand Technologist of Sine Cera Marketing, a boutique marketing consulting practice based in Sherwood, Oregon. Sine Cera specializes in helping businesses create and maximize their digital presence – as well as offering a full range of marketing consulting services, including social media marketing, social selling, search engine marketing, website design, and mobile marketing solutions. 

The Hidden Danger of Digital Marketing

The Hidden Danger of Digital Marketing

Are you investing in your company’s future or buying a short-term transaction?

“The single greatest threat facing marketing at the moment is short-termism: the dominant focus on this period’s or quarter’s sales.” – Peter Field

Attribution has always been a difficult challenge for marketers to answer to the satisfaction of CFOs. After all, it’s nearly impossible to track the effect of traditional advertising on television, radio, billboards and public relations on conversion rates and sales volume.

On the surface, digital marketing does not seem to suffer from the attribution conundrum. After all, every click and visit is eminently more trackable than traditional media. As a result, companies large and small have been flocking to digital marketing. As the chart below shows, the compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of digital advertising has exceeded 19.5% between 2002 and 2016.

Even more eye-popping is that just one year after mobile search volume eclipsed desktop search, mobile advertising spend eclipsed non-mobile advertising in 2016 with CAGR of 98%. Clearly, the siren call of digital marketing is appealing to more and more marketers and their organizations.

But is Digital Marketing Killing Your Brand?

If you’re like many marketers, you’ve ramped up your digital marketing initiatives by leaps and bounds. Your company may now be engaged in all the following digital marketing activities:

  • Website redesign
  • Search engine optimization
  • Pay per click advertising
  • Programmatic display ads
  • Email marketing
  • Blogging and content marketing
  • Social media marketing
  • In-app mobile advertising
  • Geo-fenced smartphone targeting
  • Marketing automation platform
  • And more!

To keep up with all your digital marketing initiatives, you may have already changed the staffing structure of your in-house marketing team, and outsourced certain marketing functions to third-party providers. Indeed, it seems clear that the role of the marketing generalist is nearing extinction, with specialization becoming ever more granular. Prior to 2007, the role of social media marketing specialist didn’t even exist. Today, certification in marketing automation platforms like MarketoHubspotAdobe Marketing Cloud and more are hot commodity skills for which to acquire and hire.

And your CFO is likely much more happy with the reporting coming from your digital marketing initiatives. Indeed, reporting is now a functional expectation of the marketing role with executive summaries being fed to senior managers detailing the number of clicks, visits, fans and user-generated content your campaigns have generated. Cost of acquisition (COA) is now a metric that is not only used but asked for by management of companies who have become enamored by the power of digital marketing.

And therein lies the danger. Short-termism: a phrase coined by Peter Field, “the Godfather of effectiveness.”

The lure of immediacy can become insidious for marketers and the companies for whom they work. Tactics begin to become more important than strategies. And due to the fantastic reporting available within most digital marketing tools, the noise from all the tactics may drown out the fact that a coherent strategy may not be driving the engagement initiatives. Companies may not even realize how much they are killing their brands – before it’s too late.

“Strategy without tactics is the slowest road to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” – Sun Tsu

Consider the shift toward digital and the effect upon marketing budgets. Growth of 19.5% per year over 14 years comes at a hidden cost: simply, that traditional media is shrinking as a percentage of the budget and in some cases being eliminated altogether. Why would that be a bad thing? Because in general, traditional media is a brand-advertising strategy, whereas digital media can easily become a transaction/conversion-oriented tactic.

Marketing budgets are shifting more and more toward digital, as the fuel to feed the clicks and tools for the digital marketing spend. To gauge whether your organization is veering toward short-termism, ask yourself these three questions:

  • Am I being asked how much PPC spend it will take to generate a certain sales volume?
  • Am I being asked for reporting on my digital ad buy on a weekly basis? Daily?
  • Is my marketing budget at risk if I cannot attribute sales volume to each initiative?

Each of the above is signs of short-term thinking. Short-cutting the TOFU in order to increase your BOFU opportunities must be carefully considered, as companies cannot survive on BOFU alone.

  • TOFU = Top of Funnel
  • BOFU = Bottom of Funnel

The Marketing Mix

Building a marketing budget that balances short-term opportunities with long-term brand building initiatives is a critical strategic investment that organizations must retain. In decades past, marketers did not have to fight the digital short-termism that is creeping into boardrooms, c-suites and senior management in today’s digital marketing age. That has changed now that empirical clicks and data can disrupt the fuzzy investments of brand building; nevertheless, brand-building remains vital to organizational long-term success.

So what is the “right” marketing mix for most organizations?

Brand-building needs to remain the dominant investment in the modern organization. Brand-building is an investment in the future of your company. It will always be difficult to qualify because attribution is difficult to quantify. Your CFO may become increasingly resistant to such arguments, but it is important to continue to battle for the budget necessary to make the brand-building investments that are right for your company’s healthy future.

As much as everyone would like, digital marketing is not the silver bullet that makes all other marketing investments futile. Digital marketing is one element of the marketing mix. It grows in weight each year, as more and more consumers and businesses are engaged with online media. But it cannot yet displace traditional media channels of television, radio, print, billboard and public relations.

To prove the theory of integrated marketing consider the following:

  • Direct mail may generate a 1% response rate
  • But couple it with targeted email and response rates may increase +1% to +2%
  • And by threading in outbound phone contact, response rates may increase +2% to +3% or more.

Integrated marketing remains as true a multiplier as ever and the Rule of Seven is an adage that no marketer should forget. Only, in today’s world, where people have attention spans less than the average goldfish, exposure to advertising often means that more than seven marketing touches are required:

  • The 1st time people look at an ad, they don’t see it.
  • The 2nd time, they don’t notice it.
  • The 3rd time, they are aware that it is there.
  • The 4th time, they have a fleeting sense that they’ve seen it before.
  • The 5th time, they actually read the ad.
  • The 6th time, they thumb their nose at it.
  • The 7th time, they get a little irritated with it.
  • The 8th time, they think, “Here’s that confounded ad again.”
  • The 9th time, they wonder if they’re missing out on something.
  • The 10th time, they ask their friends or neighbors if they’ve tried it.
  • The 11th time, they wonder how the company is paying for all these ads.
  • The 12th time, they start to think that it must be a good product.
  • The 13th time, they start to feel the product has value.
  • The 14th time, they start to feel like they’ve wanted a product like this for a long time.
  • The 15th time, they start to yearn for it because they can’t afford to buy it.
  • The 16th time, they accept the fact that they will buy it sometime in the future.
  • The 17th time, they make a commitment to buy the product.
  • The 18th time, they curse their poverty because they can’t buy this terrific product.
  • The 19th time, they count their money very carefully.
  • The 20th time prospects see the ad, they buy what it is offering.

“Advertising sells – PR tells – Sales takes the money.”

The marketing budget funds the mix of the appropriate marketing investments to power both long-term brand building and short-term sales activation. Across industries, the right mix of long-term brand marketing versus short-term activation marketing is a ratio of 60%/40%, according to the 2017 report “Media In Focus: Marketing Effectiveness In The Digital Era.”

Peter Drucker, noted economist and business author wrote in the book “Post-Capitalist Society,” “Long-term results cannot be achieved by piling short-term results on short-term results.” At the time, Drucker was commenting upon the quarter-by-quarter results demanded by shareholders of publicly-traded companies; which remains even truer today, as the digital marketing era matures and achieves widespread adoption.

Building competency in the digital marketing tools of our age is a mandate no marketer should ignore. But equally true is that marketers and executives should not lose sight of the long-term brand building that invests in the future health of their companies.

About the author:  David Eldred is the President and Chief Brand Technologist of Sine Cera Marketing, a boutique marketing consulting practice based in Sherwood, Oregon. Sine Cera specializes in helping businesses create and maximize their digital presence – as well as offering a full range of marketing consulting services, including social media marketing, social selling, search engine marketing, website design, and mobile marketing solutions. 

Digital Distractions: Your Antidote for Magpie Marketing

Digital Distractions: Your Antidote for Magpie Marketing

Marketers and business owners today are faced with what can be an overwhelming number of choices when it comes to selecting the right marketing mix for their companies. Not only are the traditional advertising channels still relevant in reaching audiences, but the increasing toolset within the digital space has resulted in an explosion of platforms and activities that are in a constant state of tactical evolvement.

Too often, this results in what I call “magpie marketing,” where marketers flit from one bright, shiny tool and activity to the next. How many businesses or competitors have you seen launch a Facebook page, Twitter account or YouTube channel, post a flurry of content, and then move on to something else while the community they began languishes under infrequent updates?

Equally dire is the well-intentioned re-branding initiative, launched with a fresh, modern logo and brand campaign amid much fanfare, but which fizzles shortly after launch, when internal teams assume the world knows the message, loses interest in the brand campaign and shifts back to product advertising.

When I am approached by businesses suffering from magpie marketing, I find they often have one thing in common: they lack a business plan that sets forth the goals, strategies, objectives, and tactics that are important to their success. We’ve all read about the importance of a business plan in the pursuit of obtaining financing, but the business plan is also the foundation for any successful marketing plan. As Henry David Thoreau wrote, “It is not enough to be busy; so are the ants. The question is: what are we busy about?”

Introducing the G’SOT

For marketers, the value of identifying the goals, strategies, objectives, and tactics (or G’SOT, as coined by Forbes contributor, Mikal Belicove) can’t be overstated: they serve as a touchstone for focusing your marketing efforts and resisting magpie syndrome. Let’s perform a quick review of what each term means, and how it applies to developing your marketing plan:

  • Goal – a broad primary outcome
  • Strategy – the approach you take to achieve a goal
  • Objective – a measurable step taken to achieve a strategy
  • Tactic – a tool used in pursuing an objective

Note how each goal is approached by one or more strategies, which have specific, measurable steps identified; each of which are pursued by a tool put into motion. Thus, if you were the owner of a massage therapy practice, one set of G’SOT for your practice may look like this:

  • Goal: Make our relaxation massage service the leader in sales revenue within the local market by 2018.
  • Strategy: Position relaxation massage as a special event to be shared with friends.
  • Objective: Increase relaxation massage appointments by 40% by end of year.
  • Tactic: Through creative that encourages social sharing, extend special offer discount to prior relaxation massage clients through refer-a-friend group pricing.

The hierarchy above is just one set of goals, strategies, objectives and tactics that would comprise the business plan. Once a full set of G’SOTs are established, the formulation of the marketing plan becomes a much more focused endeavor. Better yet, a management team who regularly revisits the business plan throughout the year can easily determine if they are on track to meet the measurable objectives that were outlined during the planning and budgeting process. Course corrections may then be implemented as needed.

Thus, the business plan moves beyond being a static exercise of the finance team and becomes a dynamic tool with which to direct and focus initiatives – especially marketing. With a solid touchstone like the business or marketing plan, the distraction of magpie marketing can be reduced or eliminated.

Photo credit: Koshy Koshy

About the author: David Eldred is the President and Chief Brand Technologist of Sine Cera Marketing, a boutique marketing consulting practice based in Sherwood, Oregon. Sine Cera specializes in helping businesses create and maximize their digital presence – as well as offering a full range of marketing consulting services, including social media marketing, social selling, search engine marketing, website design, and mobile marketing solutions. 

Marketing + Tech: Our Journey Toward Marketing Automation

Marketing + Tech: Our Journey Toward Marketing Automation

“The world is now awash in data and we can see consumers in a lot clearer ways.” – Max Levchin, PayPal co-founder

Marketing Automation seems to have reached a tipping point: more people are talking about it, vendors are positioning themselves to compete in the space (whether it’s a core competency or not), and internal teams are asking themselves if they should make an investment in Marketing Automation systems.

I’d like to share my insights regarding my own organization’s experience as we wrestled with the evaluation and selection of a Marketing Automation Platform. Before I get started, I’d like to share a relevant story that I call “The Parable of the Ballooning Marketer.”

The Parable of the Ballooning Marketer:

Once upon a time, there was a man who decided to cross another experience off his bucket list and go on a hot air balloon ride. He traveled to Bend, Oregon and rented a hot air balloon. After a quick orientation, up he sailed! It was everything he had hoped: so quiet and serene! He could see for miles and miles and the views were spectacular.

Being inexperienced, however, he floated into a cloud bank and quickly became disoriented and lost. Pondering his situation, he arrived at a plan: he would let some of the air out of the balloon, float down below the clouds, and see where he was.

Executing his plan, he floated gently down and popped out the bottom of the cloud. Below him on the ground was another man who was busy flipping burgers on a backyard grill.

So he called out to the man. “Hello, friend! Can you please help me and tell me where I am?” he said.

The man looked up and replied, “Well, you’re in a hot air balloon, floating about 50 feet above my backyard.”

The man in the balloon sighed. “Thanks, but…” he said. “Wait. You must work in Information Technology. Am I right?”

The man at the grill looked surprised. “Well, yes, I do! How did you know?” he said.

“It was easy,” the man in the balloon said. “You gave me technically-accurate information that was absolutely no use to me!”

The man on the ground smiled. “I see,” he said. “Well, then I bet you work in Marketing. Am I right?”

“Well, yes, I do! How did you know?”

“It was easy: you came to me full of hot air, asked for my help, and when you didn’t like the answer, somehow you made it all my fault.”

Marketing and Technology Should Not Be Siloed Functions

Dysfunctional relationships between Marketing and Technology teams are unfortunately all-too-common in many organizations, as the parable above illustrates with tongue firmly planted in cheek. In today’s rapidly advancing Mar-Tech world, where data is the new creative, Marketing and Technology teams need to work together to harness the power that both skill sets bring to their organizations.

“Data is the new creative.” – David Eldred

The good news is that Marketing and Technology teams can indeed work together to achieve success. Having recently completed such a partnership, I’d like to share some of my thoughts regarding how my organization approached this challenge to select a Marketing Automation Platform.

Marketing Automation: Has the Time Arrived (For You)?

For my team, the question of Marketing Automation entered our discussions when we began scoping a new website redesign project. We wanted our new website not only to be a dynamic and engaging experience but also to help us present intelligent, one-to-one offers that would be based upon each visitor’s interaction with our content.

I have come to think of this as one aspect of “intent-based” marketing, when a consumer has a specific task or goal in mind and is seeking relevant information to make an informed decision. My thought was that if we could derive each visitor’s intent based upon what they were clicking on our website, we could dynamically present information based on what they were interested in at that micro-moment. Further, should they leave and come back to our website, we wanted to remember what they were interested in during their last visit and use that as our starting point for their subsequent experiences; essentially, re-marketing to them on our own website.

Enter BlueConic: Our First MAP Vendor

BlueConic was a great first Marketing Automation vendor to review, because their core competency of dynamic website personalization spoke directly to our website redesign goal. I enjoyed how they approached mining website interactions to derive intent and allow marketing teams to use the data to segment their customers and prospects and build actionable profiles.

The 2017 Gartner report, “Magic Quadrant for Digital Marketing Hubs” describes BlueConic as follows:

“BlueConic is best-suited to marketers with a mobile or website-dominant customer journey and a rich trove of customer data, such as that found in retail, hospitality, financial services and subscription media sectors. The majority of BlueConic’s customers are midmarket — thanks, in part, to competitive pricing — but it serves a notable share of large enterprises in the cited verticals as well. BlueConic is differentiated by its customer data platform (CDP) positioning, recognizing users whenever, wherever they interact with a brand’s site or app. It delivers personalized content and product recommendations through machine learning, propensity modeling and continuous optimization, and synchronizing that information across other tools in the marketing ecosystem.”

How Our Thinking Evolved

From the perspective of our website redesign goals, BlueConic seemed a perfect fit. We began to visualize how the data generated by BlueConic could create feedback loops as it added more and more interactions to the centralized digital profile of each unique website visitor. As we envisioned using this data, we became more and more excited about the potential to present the right offer at the right time to the right person. It seemed that Micro Moments could now become Micro Marketing and the holy grail of 1:1 personalized interactions at scale.

We also knew from experience that a multi-channel approach to nurturing our prospects and leads was far more effective than any singular tactic could achieve on its own. For example, while direct mail might achieve a 1% – 2% response rate by itself, if we couple it with a high-touch outbound phone call, response rate efficacy could triple or quadruple or more. As we considered the data that could be collected by the Marketing Automation system we were considering, we began to think about how this data could be used beyond the website, into other digital channels as well as offline channels.

To reflect this shift toward multi-channel automation, we updated our vision for our Digital Member Journey by adding other online and offline channels to our marketing mix. This evolution transformed our approach to the project from that of a website redesign to a more robust and holistic customer and member experience project.

Go Broad To Go Narrow

To expand the scope of the Marketing Automation project, we applied a tactic from Design Thinking: “Go broad to go narrow.” Essentially, we applied the following parameters as we dreamed big:

  • Money is no object
  • Current tools are not limiting factors
  • Integration challenges are not relevant
  • Think three to five years ahead

With these parameters as our foundation, we quickly identified all of the ways that we could use data, automation and integration to enhance the customer and member experience and improve the effectiveness of our marketing and sales teams. Our Technology Team contributed to this brainstorming equally, thinking beyond marketing and sales to also include delivery channels and optimization of applications and workflow. This collaborative process helped create buy-in and ownership among cross-functional teams as we visualized how data and automation could become the “dark matter” that would connect marketing, sales, technology, operations and management to unlock the explosive potential of our organization.

“Data is the dark matter that powers intent-based marketing.” – David Eldred

Our final list of potential uses for Marketing Automation was longer and broader than we could implement in the near-term, but having the full vision for how we might wish to use data and automation provided a long-term view for where this project could lead. With the full list of potential uses, we categorized them as follows:

  • PHASE ONE GOALS – Comprised of current strategies and tactics already in use which could be automated through the use of a MAP.
  • PHASE TWO GOALS – Comprised of identified priority strategies and tactics that would require integration with third-party vendors or deeper Technology Team dependencies to implement.
  • PHASE THREE GOALS – Comprised of integrations with third-party vendor relationships with dependencies not yet enabled by the vendor.

Inviting Vendors to the Table

With our organization’s short- and long-term marketing automation goals in mind, we were ready to reach out to targeted MAP vendors to discuss their solution. Since we already had a solid understanding of BlueConic’s capabilities, our goal was to invite three additional vendors to the mix, each of whom was considered to have capabilities to deliver on our Phase One Goals, and potentially to drive longer-term solutions through Phase Three.

I am pleased that we settled upon the vendors we did, as they represented a full spectrum of choices from middle-market through enterprise solutions. Our research focused on the following organizations:

Each of the four Marketing Automation Platform providers is represented within the 2017 Gartner report, “Magic Quadrant for Digital Marketing Hubs”. You can read their summary profiles, strengths and challenges within the linked report, as well as those of other companies which compete in this space.

Of the companies we selected to present, two fell within the Gartner “Leaders” quadrant, one within the “Visionaries” quadrant and one within the “Niche Players” quadrant. This gave us a great opportunity to compare and contrast the relative merits of each to deliver on our goals.

Suggestions for Others Embarking upon Marketing Automation

The number of vendors which consider themselves Marketing Automation providers continues to proliferate. From my perspective, many fall within the realm of “catch up” by attempting to extend their core competency into Marketing Automation. Many of these have far to go before they venture outside the “Niche Players” or “Visionaries” categories of the Gartner quadrants.

From my experience, and given the Phase One goals we adhered to throughout the selection process, I believe that any of the vendors we selected for our review could have delivered upon our goals. Therefore, internal priorities, exigencies and budgetary limitations make the selection process unique to each company that embarks upon this quest. There is no “correct” answer to which MAP provider is best for everyone.

However, I do believe there are valuable insights you may glean from my experience, and I offer the following for your consideration as you pursue evaluation of Marketing Automation is right for your organization at this point in time:

  1. Have clear near-term goals firmly in mind: This one element of advice is number one for a reason, as I believe it above all else helped us remain focused on making the right selection for our team. Each vendor, with the exception of Adobe, has a legacy core competency around which they are attempting to extend Marketing Automation functionality. This can muddy the water if you let it, as the vendor will often attempt to expand the conversation to cover those areas where their solution shines best but which may not have direct application to your near-term goals. In our case, we kept repeating our near-term goals, and it helped us discern between our “wishful future” and our near-term reality.
  2. Interview peers who have implemented each system: This is good advice for any vendor contract of size, but doubly so within the Marketing Automation industry. You will uncover pain-points that lead to deeper understanding, considerations you may have missed, and negotiation tactics that will prove invaluable. In our case, we found that some peers which had implemented a MAP had done so without a clear use-case in mind, believing perhaps in the “build it and they will come” approach. In many cases, this resulted in over-buying and under-utilization.
  3. Consider the total cost of ownership for each system: This encompasses not only the purchase and licensing cost of the MAP you select, but also the following additional factors, to name a few:
  • Cost of implementation: Many MAP vendors tout the ease with which internal teams may make use of their tool. Do not discount the cost of standing up the system and getting up and running with actionable systems in place.
  • Cost of third-party support: After implementation, do you have the support you need to fully utilize the system you purchased? Based on a survey by AutoPilotHQ, “44% of marketers are not fully satisfied with their marketing automation systems, the top 3 reasons being that the software takes too long to implement, is difficult to learn and is expensive.” You will need third-party support in order to get the most out of the system you purchase, so factor that into your decision.
  • Cost of internal bandwidth and expertise: Even though the promise of Marketing Automation is to reduce repetitive tasks and free up internal marketing teams for more value-added tasks, the fact remains that to maximize your investment you will need internal buy-in, ownership and resources. Content generation is key and that can’t be automated. Will you need to hire additional staff? Will they need pre-existing expertise, or will they require extensive training? What is the cost of attrition and turnover?

Lastly, don’t forget to negotiate: Remember, all of these companies operate in a highly competitive space and they know you have many, many options from which to make your final selection. I never advocate jerking a vendor around; after all, your Marketing Automation vendor will be a key strategic partner and you want them to be happy with having you as their client. In our case, I truly would have been happy with any of the companies that made our finalist round (and yes, there was more than one). The willingness to walk away from a deal is a powerful motivation tool you have at your disposal. Use it wisely.

So Which MAP Did We Choose?

Thanks for reading this far! We chose Marketo as our Marketing Automation Platform and I am thrilled with the prospect of what lies ahead. If you are about to embark upon this journey, too, I envy you what is within your future: it was a lot of fun to contemplate how we may use our MAP to leverage our organizational effectiveness and I wish you all the best in your deliberations.

About the author: David Eldred is Marketing Manager for Rivermark Community Credit Union, a tech-forward credit union based in Beaverton, Oregon.