Forrester: Digital change means embracing contextual marketing

Analyst firm's Shar VanBoskirk says a marketing strategy based around value-driven interactions is vital in meeting customer expectations

Shar VanBoskirk, Forrester
Shar VanBoskirk, Forrester

Marketers should be leading digital disruption in their organisations but need to embrace contextual marketing if they’re going to be successful at it, Forrester’s head of marketing profession research claims.

According to the analyst firm’s vice-president and principal, Shar VanBoskirk, modern marketing strategy is about switching from traditional marketing goals, such as building brand awareness, managing media and demand generation, to building value-driven customer relationships. The only way to do this is by taking ownership of customers across the buying lifecycle and putting individuals at the centre of your strategy using context, she said.

“This [contextual marketing] is about creating a virtuous cycle of customer actions, where you are stimulating interactions which create enough value for the customer that they then provide better insights to you,” VanBoskirk told attendees at this year’s Oracle Marketing Cloud Interact conference. “These in turn provide greater clues as on how you can better relate.”

Previously, marketers focused on customer segmentation, but contextual marketing is about customer recognition, she said. “You also go from communicating your brand promise, to demonstrating your brand promise through utilities who express who you are.”

Technology is vital in driving contextual marketing activities, VanBoskirk continued. She explained Forrester’s approach to this new age of data-driven marketing involves three elements: A context marketing engine, which powers campaigns that drive interactions across the entire customer lifecycle; an insight and automation brain to identify the right places to establish these interactions; and a supporting data layer which feeds insights into the engine fuelling interactions.

VanBoskirk then turned her attention to the state of digital strategy in organisations today based on recent Forrester research, noting that digital skills are currently out of sync with the responsibilities of staff.

For example, while high priorities for marketing teams today include search optimisation and social media, the skills teams have most in abundance are website development and maintenance.

“Organisations tend to be very good at the execution aspects, such as keeping the website running, but they don’t tend to think about the high-level functions and what sort of company they want to become,” she commented.

So what does it take to lift an organisation’s digital game? VanBoskirk outlined several steps.

The first is prioritising functions, not organisational structure. To do this, the best digital marketers utilise three key functions: Strategy, governance and execution, VanBoskirk said.

“Strategy determines how digital is changing your business,” she said. “This is not the group that thinks about website media properties, but those who focus on who you want to be in the digital future and reinvent the business model to create more value for your customers.”

Governance, meanwhile, has two functions, VanBoskirk continued. “One is creating consistency across all experiences with you, but also to make sure what you execute aligns back to your digital strategy,” she said.

Execution is about ensuring the programs run in all key customer moments. “It’s not just about communicating through different set of channels, it’s about figuring out how traditional communications should be adjusted because of digital disruption,” VanBoskirk added.

The second overarching step is assigning digital leadership to the part of the business it affects the most. VanBoskirk claimed a huge impediment to digital progress is the authority issue.

“Think about where the greatest disruption is and assign authority to that person or group,” she advised. Most commonly these are sales, marketing and product functions, she added.

VanBoskirk’s third piece of advice is to audit current digital resources against the key tenets of strategy, governance and execution.

“This will help you identify the people you need, and what we often find is that these are not necessarily the ones on the digital team,” she said. For example, strategy experts in other line of business, or those with experience in governance, could prove the best contributors to digital strategy.

- Nadia Cameron travelled to Oracle Marketing Cloud Interact 2014 as a guest of Oracle.

More from the conference: Oracle: Marketers are overwhelmed by complexity of technology
Virgin America's CMO and CIO come together with 'techmarketing'
LeapFrog marketing chief: Marketing tech spend needs to be balanced with staff investment

Nadia Cameron travelled to Oracle Marketing Cloud Interact conference as a guest of Oracle.

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