For several years now, we’ve been hearing about "Big Data" and "Personalization," but lately there has been a subtle shift in the conversation. Clients and agencies alike are focused on the realization that the industry is in a state of transformation. Studies show that 35% of B2C marketers in the US find that building a comprehensive view of a customer across all platforms is an "extreme challenge." Instead of providing clarity, access to mountains of data has created a fragmented marketplace.
Unfortunately, too many brands have tried going the route of speaking to everyone, creating 500 versions of creative and letting consumers choose what they like best. Depending on my browsing history—or that of my kids—on any given day I can get multiple versions of the same ad, none of which compels me to buy. This has effectively become the new version of "Spray and Pray" that was used before we had data to work with. It’s not only ineffective; we’ve reached a point where the granularity of available audience data far outstrips the ability of most creative agencies to develop assets to support them. This is evident in the masses of retargeted ads we see containing nothing but a plain white background with a single product image. This type of experience is far from personalized, and translating it to social or CRM channels feels even more generic.
At the same time, it’s becoming clear that the brand experience needs to go beyond the ad that people see. According to a RightNow Customer Impact Report, 86% of consumers say they will pay up to 25% more for a better customer experience. Undoubtedly, audience-based marketing is an opportunity for brands, but it creates a challenge we have never encountered before. Instead of speaking at masses of people we don’t know, we now have the responsibility to create holistic brand experiences for people that we do know.
Smart marketers know that they need to transform their approach and create a more effective brand experience at every touch point. Some are doing this well, such as hotel and cruise lines that use their data for a targeted consumer interaction, from click to conversion to onsite recommendations. Forward-thinking retailers are beginning to provide a seamless experience from online research to in-store purchase, while loyalty programs allow them to provide a personalized experience in future interactions. But despite some inroads, most brands are simply not using their data effectively.
Sometimes, just thinking about the mounds of available metrics can actually hold marketers back. We need a better way to listen, to understand consumer desires, and answer them with a message that’s rooted in a brand truth—not just test and learn metrics from 30 days ago. The fact is it’s difficult to glean value from short-term results based on a single metric. Brands need a strategy to identify and connect with the slice of consumers who not only provide growth and value, but who will connect with our brands for the long haul.
So how does a modern marketer approach this issue? How does one masterfully overlay different data points to give the best returns, connect with consumers, build a brand, and simplify data management?
The hard truth is, there is no easy way into this new world. Changing the way we look at consumers means a complete change in the way brands and agencies think about the hard work of marketing. Long-term success will require a complete rewiring of company processes and mindsets, but there are interim steps that brands can start to take now.
First, stop trying to talk to everyone all at once about everything. Seriously. Just stop. The abundance of data and the ability to talk to more people than ever doesn’t give us a free pass to get away from the basic art of marketing. There is value in using data to discover customer stories, but data is not the story. Strong creative work is required to bring the story to life.
Second, stop listening to your data as individual voices. Instead, take the opportunity to listen to what consumers really want. By grouping actions and opinions with shared elements, a new picture of who your consumer is will start to emerge. It may be one you recognize, or you may find new segments that are ready for exploration. It’s possible that these segments may not even know what they want. But by listening to the signal over the data we can create stories, connections and in some cases new products to address those needs. By favoring denser communities over individual voices, we can get back to the art of storytelling that motivates consumers in compelling ways.
Third, remember that technology is not a replacement for good strategy. Don’t grasp at shiny objects in the hopes of being "innovative" without understanding how your target(s) will respond. Use your data to take informed risks on your content, but use trusted media and tactics to spread that message at scale.
It’s time to stop talking about all the possibilities of what we can do with data, and start using it to get back to what we do best. Brands and agencies may feel as though they have lost control of the audience, but the answer is well within our grasp. Great creative rooted in strong data will do more than create ad campaigns; it will transform companies.