For the past decade companies in general, and consumer brands particularly, have been aware of a shift in how the customer engages its marketing. Initially when analog gave way to digital channels, technically oriented departments owned systems to manage code, data, rules and processes. Experiencing bottlenecks, many businesses moved the responsibility to CMO’s; who, out of necessity, invented conduits between their own resources and technical staff who created the tools.
What resulted was a realization that no single department capable of owning the customer experience; this remains largely the case today. What many companies are facing is various divisions working diligently within their own practice area, completing tasks as needed but not as part of a holistic customer experience. Often a positive user engagement is stumbled upon, rather than being purposeful. Outside of a physical product, the digital assets that brands manage are in and of themselves merchandise, albeit not standalone.
This is a byproduct of old school marketing and advertising structures where silos of skills were allowed and often times encouraged. Sometimes traditional departments have been merged, other times new ones created resulting in cross trained professionals over time, yet, silos remain. The result has been an opportunity lost pertaining to cross-valued information. The marketplace, which has been rapidly evolving in recent years, has been one of consumer education, not just consumption. Brands are no longer allowed to simply compete within their own vertical. The digital experience permeates every aspect of consumer life and as such, the competition for their time is beyond the purchase paradigm.
Equally important to realize is that digital has tentacles into every unit of a company. The value of user experience is a new commodity that is blurring the lines of P&L’s and brand values. Exposure, access and advocacy have become measures of success in parallel with units sold, upsell, cross sell and repeat customers. In turn, the challenge for companies should be as operationally focused as it is on ideation of product and campaign.
The most effective approach to move digital within a company from an antiquated to a modern approach is a strategy simple to understand, and requiring vigilance to accomplish: take the silos and lay them on their side: create a pipeline. A marketing assembly line if you will.
Digital is rooted in technology so a systems framework is essential to the success of the digital experience. The single idea, that technology facilitates digital marketing, is often times the antithesis of how marketing departments (usually the owner of the digital experience) see the process working. This is an opportunity lost. In years past, the tactics of marketing and advertising were limited to analog channels: billboards, print ads, radio & television commercials as well as well as in store and events. Within these constructs the marketing professional was forced to ideate content, constrained by capabilities of the channel. This should no longer be the modern model.
Companies should be finding opportunity at the intersection of creative and technology where inspired concepts are informing the system required to execute and technical capabilities inform creative concepts. An intersection where media buys and device centric apps can generate data about the audience, informing channels and marketers, who never thought to ask for the information. A pipeline allows this to occur more naturally and with great efficacy because the strategic and tactical value of human resources can be greater utilized.
Technical systems employ a layer of process called abstraction, where the data point itself isn’t important. The data’s label and value, and thus its scalability, is of core prominence. This is what programmers know and marketers struggle with. This concept when properly employed creates an extensible network of data driven possibilities that marketers are only beginning to see realized.
And data isn’t enough on its own. Reports alone are just files being stored somewhere. Rather teams of people who are able to not just parse and sort the data, but also interpret it are extremely valuable and should heralded. This exercise is how the user experience is offered back to the ‘idea’ people who should use it as a backstop from which to make the messaging: creative, conceptual or literal.
The technical system alone isn’t the answer. Global brands have another challenge; one which cannot be answered solely by having a tool to render digital experiences across time and space. Global brands are required to have an appropriate experience for different types of consumers. Consumer segments are no longer as straight forward as gender, class, race and age. Smaller segments can be created nearly as easily by a digital ecosystem where data can be sliced and diced any which way. But just because you can identify 300 unique consumer segments, doesn’t mean you should. Generally speaking marketing departments aren’t equipped to with the personnel to create content or a valuable experience for cross-sections so vast.
The idea of creating a user experience expansive enough to make every customer feel completely unique is something not even the largest and most forward thinking brands can achieve. However, reversing the process and informing the system the consumers attributes who should have a unique experience, even identifying the degree to which all customers should have a slightly different experience, can enlighten the pipeline to process the right information at the right time, for the right person.
In order to achieve this pipeline approach, let us assume the technical pieces are in place. The exercise required is one where an inventory of personas, business goals and consumer goals are determined, valued and employed to establish the digital marketing framework. This is the abstraction within marketing itself. Similar to data abstraction process that developers undergo, this marketing framework allows professionals to make decisions, which are uniformly categorized. Initial pushback has been that it would create limitations for marketers, but my experience has been just the opposite. Instead of all disciplines working within their own tool set to manage message, medium and meaning – it is shared. Ideas become connected and more powerful. The brand is positively impacted by having all of their digital components driven by the same personas of consumer, the same channels of distribution and the same powerful technical framework of delivery.
The truth of the matter is that digital marketing is as much about setting up the operational aspects of the business to support the creative and technical structure. You can have a Ferrari at your disposal, but if you can’t drive stick you’ll only burn out the clutch. Conversely, hire Mario Andretti and give him a Pinto and you’ll never get north of 85 mph. Just like our mobiles are a blend of hard and software, digital marketing is a blend of creative and technology.
That isn’t to say that if a brand isn’t set up like similarly now it cannot experience change. It can, in fact they all will, for better or for worse. The aptitude of the resources, or willingness of leadership to bring in the right resources will drive the pace of change. For companies who are in their infancy as well as those who have legacy systems dominating marketing operations, the change can be difficult. But in the end those brands that can generate a consumer perception of caring, value and luxury will win against their direct competitors as well as outside brands they compete with simply for the attention of their consumer.