October 10, 2018
The State (and Future) of Digital Marketplaces
Traditionally, marketing has been about broadcasting your generic message to as many people as possible with the hopes that someone will listen. But this approach is about as persuasive as the guy on the street corner dancing to Kanye West tunes and spinning around the discounted tax prep promotion sign. You see it. You got the message. But for most of us, it’s not going to drive action.
However, there’s a new way of doing marketing that’s the complete opposite. It’s about listening to the individual consumer, understanding them, and sending messages to them sparingly, but with incredible accuracy. So instead of a flashing sign with a broad message, it’s a well-crafted, personalized message that works to remind you that yes, you did buy a house this year and yes, you can save $3,500 if you prepay your interest.
Modern brands like Netflix, Uber, and Airbnb are already taking this personalized approach to marketing. They understand the needs of their consumer and communicate with them in a way that doesn’t feel like the old marketing style, but instead truly shows that they know each consumer on a personal level, making them feel like they’re not even being marketed to in the first place.
This personalized approach to marketing can be best explained through the 5 Ws of modern marketing. Consider these pillars as you build out your own personalized marketing campaigns:
“Who” do you want to engage with? The new way of marketing is not about broadcasting to all your customers at once. As a modern marketer you need to select your audience carefully for maximum engagement. Think Match.com instead of Craigslist for dating. Segmentation is typically done by selecting attributes of the desired audience (e.g. age, gender), but the ability to filter on behavioral patterns as well is very powerful for honing in on your audience. For example, you may want to engage with consumers who like to watch “western” movies and who have not used your streaming movie service in a month.
A big challenge faced by the modern marketer is the ease of which they can select these audiences. If your marketing software doesn’t provide you with up-to-date information on each consumer and a user-friendly interface for creating segments, you are probably spending a lot of your time managing lists of users or filing IT tickets to run database queries. Not only is this boring as hell, it isn’t sustainable.
TIP: In order to increase the accuracy of your segmentation and be able to message specific audiences at whim, pick a marketing platform that streams behavioral data from points of interaction with your brand (e.g. your mobile application or website) and allows you to create behavioral segments based on this data on your own. Side note: I also have free tips on maximizing your Match.com profile, if you’re interested.
“What” is the type of message a consumer expects from your brand. Today’s consumer not only expects content that is relevant, but a consistent tone and brand image in all communications. The proliferation of mobile and social applications and continuous demands on the consumer’s attention has significantly amplified the need for relevant messages. Imagine a stranger walking up to you in a store and offering you a coupon for ear wax removal, a gesture that you perceive as very random and out of context. That is exactly what a non-personalized chat or text feels like to the modern consumer that is browsing your online catalogue. It can often have the effect of “Huh, what the hell?” instead of “Wow, that’s great!”. The cost of not personalizing is higher today than ever before because it’s very easy to delete a mobile app or block a brand you don’t want to hear from.
Even with a highly personalized message, it is often hard for the marketer to guess which message is going to work. The same pick up line that worked last weekend at the snazzy club downtown isn’t going to resonate at the country bar on the state line. Or so I have been told. The difference between a winning message and one that doesn’t do as well can be very subtle, and if that’s not hard enough, it can change in a second.
TIP: Make sure your message is personalized with characteristics and preferences of the individual you are addressing, use a consistent tone in your messages, and experiment with variations, just like you should do with your pick-up lines and dance moves as the night goes on (The Robot, anyone?). Any good marketing software will allow you to serve up more than one variant of the content—this functionality is often referred to as A/B or multivariate testing. For instance, Kahuna’s Message Optimization feature can automatically determine which variant is working best before all consumers are reached and use that variant for your marketing campaign.
“Where” does a consumer prefer to communicate with your brand? The prevalent ways of engaging with customers in the 1980s were…wait, who remembers the 80s? Anyways, the 90s saw the advent of email, and by the turn of the century social channels started to emerge. Today, your consumer spends 40% of their time online on social applications like Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat. The problem of knowing “where” to engage with your customer has become very difficult because of the number of options available. The only reasonable way to deal with this decision is to track the preferred “channel” based on responses from the consumer and pick the channel on an individual basis. At Kahuna, we refer to this as channel optimization.
Picking the right channel every time is absolutely necessary in a world with multiple channels, but the modern consumer expects even more. The modern consumer expects your brand to seamlessly integrate all channels together. For example, if they received a message via email telling them to ditch work and book that flight to Hawaii to go surfing and they took action on it, they expect your next message on Snapchat to be cognizant of that and suggest some local hotspots for dinner and drinks. At Kahuna, we refer to this type of integrated approach of solving the “where” problem as “cross-channel” marketing, as opposed to “multi-channel” marketing in which multiple channels are used, but are siloed from one another.
TIP: Evolve your marketing strategy from a “multi-channel” (or even “single-channel”) approach to a “cross-channel” approach. Once you have aligned your marketing organization around “cross-channel,” you will be better served with a marketing platform built from the ground-up to be “cross-channel” because it’s extremely difficult to achieve the same with disparate marketing systems. Think less time worrying about channel optimization and more time hula dancing in grass skirts.
“When” you communicate with your customer is equally as important as “what” and “where” you communicate. An ill-timed message from a brand can spoil what would have been an awesome engagement experience. No one wants to wake up on a beach after a rowdy night out to an annoying push notification about doing their taxes. There’s also no point in informing someone about a sale on Advil after they have already purchased it. Similarly, a message about a discount flight home on Sunday afternoon becoming available is of no use if delivered at 9am on Monday morning.
Traditionally, marketing tools have allowed marketers to schedule the time and day of sending out a message, but the new way of marketing factors in the activity of the individual consumer as well as external events that make the timing optimal.
TIP: Make an effort to tie the timing of your communication to an event that the individual consumer would benefit from and track when each individual consumer is most likely to respond to a message.
Ever wonder what the natural “way” is in which the modern consumer wants to engage with your brand? As a marketer you generally know which segment of your customers you would like to engage with and you know which engagement goal you are trying to achieve for that segment. However, there’s a lot of guesswork involved in determining the “natural” steps along the way to the goal. To do a good job of determining this you would have to study the organic behavior of everyone who has fit the segment in the past and accomplished the intended goal. But, unless you are Commander Data from Star Trek, I’m sure you have better things to do with your time.
TIP: Put yourself in the shoes of your customer and ask yourself what sequence of steps towards a goal seem natural and intuitive. The present day equivalent of Commander Data is a marketing automation product like Kahuna that learns from past behavioral data and can confirm or disprove your hunches. (Yes, you still are in the driver’s seat, for now).
The 5 Ws of modern marketing combined can create the type of brand experience that a modern consumer expects. As previously mentioned, it’s about listening to the individual, understanding them, and sending messages to them sparingly—but with incredible accuracy. This can only be done by tracking consumer behavior in a unified way and then using this data to learn and optimize the individual’s experience. You also need a way of picking the best combination of Ws which, due to a huge number of choices, is intractable for a mere mortal. Ever wish you had the “I’m feeling lucky” option at times like this? I do when it’s time to order at Waffle House.
Fortunately, there have been some recent technological advances that have come to the rescue. The first is the ubiquity of computational power that simply did not exist in the past. For example, mobile phones are now full-fledged computers that are an extension of your consumer and a perfect conduit for capturing behavior and delivering messages. Second is the tremendous amount of computational power now available in the cloud. This is an enabler for crunching massive amounts of consumer data and employing previously cost-prohibitive artificial intelligence algorithms for predicting what the individual consumer wants.
“No sensible decision can be made any longer without taking into account not only the world as it is, but the world as it will be…” – Isaac Asimov
The cost of not adapting to changing expectations of today’s consumer is too high not to take action. A significant portion of your marketing budget is spent on customer acquisition, but if you don’t keep those customers engaged with your brand you will lose them and never recoup that cost. Contrast this with turning your customers into evangelists that not only continue to pay dividends on your investment but bring more customers into the fold because of the awesome experience you created for them. It’s the type of experience that will get them to tattoo themselves with your brand’s logo as a symbol of membership and belonging. Let’s make marketing great (again?).