The way we market has changed. Gone are the days of one-size-fits-all campaigns, massive e-mail blasts, and measurement of direct mail campaigns by their weight. Relying on a “spray-and-pray” approach simply won’t work anymore, because customers expect so much more from us as marketers. Customers now expect their interactions with a brand to have greater immediacy and personalization.
That shift has resulted from the emergence of the broad spectrum of channels that customers now use to interact with us, as well as the fact that customers do not distinguish between offline and online: it’s all one company and one experience to them. They want us to know as much about them as possible, provide them the right services, and make them the right offer, regardless of what channels they use to interact with us. It’s a theme that crosses all sectors and industries as well.
Let’s sum up the landscape we marketers face. The complexity of channels, the volume and complexity of the data, and the sophistication of the customers and their expectations have all shifted. And it’s just going to get more complex and more challenging for all of us. We have to get smarter about how we go about our marketing efforts; it’s simply not good enough to rely on our gut feelings anymore. We need data to guide our instincts.
Changing customer expectations have forced all marketers to use analytics to understand behavioral trends and better personalize our interactions with customers. “For much of the history of marketing, we didn’t really know who was opening the stuff we were sending out,” Tom Davenport, the noted analytics expert from Babson College, told me. “But things have changed. We now know how powerful it is to know who is on the other end of our messages and how they are responding to it.”
At SAS, we define the term “customer experience” as all of the perceptions and interactions a customer may have with an organization. The experience itself is complicated by a much more convoluted decision or buying journey. By the time customers engage with your company—by visiting your website to download a white paper, for instance—they have traveled through almost 60 percent of their decision journey. That means they have done their homework, networked with their peers, searched through research reports, joined communities, read blog posts, and more. Most of that decision journey now occurs in the digital social world. This new journey is a complex maze of influences that spans channels and defies consistency. What used to be a very linear relationship has now evolved into something continuous, where people are at various points in the maze. Our customers are now always on, always engaged, and always consuming information.
The challenge we have as marketers is to ensure that we are present and relevant at that 60 percent stage (or more) of the customer’s decision journey. That challenge continues to grow, as the number of ways in which a customer can connect with your organization in the digital world literally grows daily. Gone are the days when you could simply wait for customers to walk into your storefront to engage with them. Gone, too, is the simplicity of controlling your interactions with your customers through phone calls and snail-mail communications.
In the digital and social world we now live in, we can no longer fully control how or where we can make those connections with customers. Things are going to speed up. Consider the trend in what people are calling the “Internet of Things,” a phrase capturing the fact that just about everything in our lives—from our cars and refrigerators to even our toothbrushes—is now linked together and transmitting data about our habits and decisions. By 2020, estimates indicate that 30 billion devices will be connected to the Internet. Can you imagine how much data will result? Are you prepared to take advantage of it?
Customers now have more choices for who to do business with and how—a trend that some have identified as the other hot buzzword, “omni-channel.” The challenge for organizations, then, is to be present in whatever channels the customer expects to find them in. In the technology space, customers are more informed and educated than they have ever been. Their peer groups also influence them, and not just when they are looking for solutions.
But rather than relying on what we marketers might call a “peanut butter” strategy of trying to be everywhere equally, we need to be more strategic and tactical about our outreach. We must understand customer expectations; data and analytics are central to that effort.
Marketers now have the data and analytical tools to understand, predict, shape, and enhance the customer experience in ways previously unimaginable. As Jill Dyché, vice president of SAS best practices, framed it for me, “The analytics and post facto understanding of customer information we are generating and collecting is quite possibly the competitive differentiator of the future.”
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Reprinted by permission of Harvard Business Review Press. Excerpted from The Analytical Marketer: How to Transform Your Marketing Organization. Copyright 2016 Adele Sweetwood. All rights reserved.