These multi-tasking consumers typically interact at multiple points along the path to purchase, and the vast majority expect a seamless experience along the way.
It wasn’t always this way, of course. One needn’t look back farther than the late 1990s to find a simpler, more straightforward time in the digital marketing landscape, which focused on display advertising — with search subsequently added to the mix. At that time, everything could be tracked and managed through tags and cookies since most traffic was done through web browsers.
Now marketers deal with a vastly different marketing universe. Since the debut of the iPhone in 2007, and the subsequent mainstream use of smartphones and tablets, consumers now expect marketers to react to them in real time, or very near real time, in whatever channel they choose to interact. This creates significant challenges for modern marketers and requires a drastically different setup, because no longer is tracking and management about tags and browsers, but APIs, SDKs and a variety of applications.
Move Beyond Marketing Silos to Meet Customer Expectations
So how can marketers deliver the friction-free options customers expect? After all, they don’t know or care that solutions were purchased based on a previous model of display-based marketing, or that there are separate, siloed departments for everything from media to customer experience. Thanks to the new always-on, real-time world, they want increased personalization; relevant and timely messaging; and cross-channel targeting even when they are constantly on the move, engaging with brands across multiple devices.
So far, marketers have not been able to support these consumer desires to the extent that consumers expect — not only in terms of interacting with brands directly but what companies can do based on customer information they already have. For example, imagine an airline that serves up an inappropriate ad that clearly doesn’t fit in with what the customer has indicated she is interested in. Perhaps that customer has a yearly WiFi membership with the airline, but when she opens up the airline’s mobile app, a message always pops up asking if she wants to buy internet access — even though she already has it and the airline must have a record of the WiFi subscription.
Since she is already very engaged in what the airline is offering her, to see something so off-base is somewhat insulting. If a company hasn’t used the information she has provided to make her customer experience more personal and relevant, that’s bad for business as well as for consumer experience.
The Biggest Opportunity and Toughest Challenge: Reaching Audiences Across Channels
The solution to the above problem is both the biggest opportunity as well as the toughest challenge marketers face right now: to truly understand the customer across channels. As digital marketing has evolved from just a few channels to an explosion of devices and touchpoints, each with its own siloed team, technology tools and customer data sets, connecting data and resolving identity may seem like a tall order.
A recent Signal study, Solving the Customer Identity Puzzle, found that companies use on average of 12.7 different tools daily to go about their marketing business. Another 9 percent use a whopping 31 different tools. It’s difficult to even maintain that many systems, let alone get value out of them. This high level of complexity is completely invisible to the consumer — if they knew how many different systems are involved in generating an ad impression or marketing to them, they might think marketers are crazy!
Within those systems lies the challenge: fragmented identity. Above was an airline example. Of course, airlines have the benefit of connecting frequent flyer numbers to their customers, which, in theory, should make tying all of a consumer’s different identities together across channels a realistic possibility. But even in that case, execution is still difficult.
So, a company that doesn’t have the luxury of any unique customer identifier across channels has an even more important task to try and come up with a solution that can center around the customer.
The reality is that marketers need help — from across people, process and technology standpoints. They need new tools and skill sets that involve foundational projects which will require a significant time investment and reorganization. The first impulse tends to be to chase the next shiny object— the latest advertising solution or trendy social media tool.
Instead, marketers need to transition from a campaign one-off focus to treating data as a discipline and a priority. There are clear things marketers can do to make sure they progress along the data maturity model and tie marketing results to concrete business objectives and outcomes.
With the right actionable plan focusing on people, process and technology, with wise and well-thought-out investments, marketers can start making significant progress towards catching up with their ever-evolving customers in just one year. These are Signal’s five key recommendations for marketers to set themselves up for success. Some of these steps may occur concurrently, or evolve one into the other. However, all of them are necessary elements to bring to bear in order to reach today’s consumers in the ways they expect.