5 reasons marketers are embarrassed by their customer relationships

Marketing strategy, data utilisation and technology complexity are all hindering the one-to-one marketing quest

This year’s Oracle Marketing Cloud Interact conference brought together 1100 marketers to discuss the role of modern marketing, and the key ingredients, including technology, CMOs need to get there.

A completely different but related theme that was simultaneously circulating around breakout sessions and CMO’s discussions with customers at the event: Embarrassment.

Why embarrassment, you ask? There are several contributing reasons but the overarching one is this: While all marketers are excited about personalising and improving customer interactions across the entire buyer journey, many of them are nowhere near obtaining this goal. They are struggling to get there, and it’s making them cringe.

Today, most of the marketing community has accepted connected customers and technology innovation are fuelling a marketing revolution, and they appreciate what it takes to be a modern marketing leader. You won’t, for example, find many CMOs who don’t believe in the value of technology, data, collaboration, digital smarts and looking at customer interactions as a two-way, timely, and value-driven exchange.

Yet with this comes an awareness of the immense complexity of making this happen.

Here, we present five reasons why marketers are feeling awkward but excited about the modern marketing challenge ahead of them, and how they’re endeavouring to overcome them.

1. Personalising content is only just becoming a reality in email

It was evident from presentations by Comcast, JC Penney and Verizon, as well as CMO’s chat with Ticketek and Telstra, that marketers are largely still getting their personalised email ducks in order.

For Nine Live chief marketing and commercial officer, Cameron Hoy, bringing context to Ticketek’s email content and personalising its communications is about treating customers as people, not as a channel. Yet this ability to personalise content and unify customer experiences regardless of online or offline interaction is one of the hardest things to do. Hoy for one, admits that he’s nowhere near where he wants to be yet.

Historically, Ticketek sent out email communications that the genre-led and based on transactional information.

“We have always engaged on a channel basis and from a marketing perspective using transaction data,” Hoy explained. “The challenge is to start to recognise people as people, and to communicate outside of that transaction environment.”

Of course, email is only the start of the journey to personalising engagement. Ticketek is working on bringing all customer information into a centralised database so it can unify communications across all channels, but Hoy admits it’s an incredibly difficult task.

“The marketing organisation is very siloed, so it’s no wonder we have that [type of] view of the customer,” he said. “But we want to unwind that. Today, you still need people functionally responsible for getting stuff out, but we need to re-engineer the marketing team from a customer-centric view.”

2. No one has really joined the dots between customers across channels to deliver consistent brand experiences

In his keynote speech, Oracle general manager of Marketing Cloud, Kevin Akeroyd, highlighted a recent Harvard Business Review report that found 77 per cent of customers don’t believe they have any form of relationship with brands.

“If we don’t fix those relationships, we aren’t going to achieve what we want to achieve,” he told attendees.

Yet joining the dots between what a customer looks like and responds to, and what they want through email communication versus social, or physical shopping experiences versus mobile, is another matter. There are organisations doing great things in email, or in social, but the majority don’t have it right or consistent in all areas.

One big stumbling block is the disjointed and campaign-driven approach being taken to marketing activity.

Comcast VP of acquisition marketing and on-boarding, Luci Rainey, who showcased the three-year journey her organisation has been on to improve and better target the customer on-boarding process, stressed the huge cultural, process and divisional upheaval required to make its customer newsletter dynamic and personalised.

“A lot of the touchpoints were in separate groups and sometimes those other groups don’t want to change,” she said. “Changing templates is a lot of work and we also needed to work with IT. We had to build that trust with our partners, and now have intersected group that get together to get this stuff out the door.”

Rainey’s team is now looking at how to make the personalised email-led approach a multi-channel one.

“You need to crawl, walk, and then you can run,” she advised attendees. Rainey said the ‘run’ phase to come was about achieving predictive modelling of customers on behavioural-based segmentation, dynamic frameworks, and orchestrating the same approach via mobile and social channels.

“It’s a lot just to stand up, but you have to start somewhere. We are now walking, have plan for six [on-boarding email] tracks by product mix, triggered by behaviours. It’s not just digital; there’s also the collateral to customers which is still sent as direct mail. That’s a lot of integration to work through, and whole teams had to come together to really integrate this.”

3. CMOs either can’t get their hands on the data they need to create seamless customer experiences, or they don’t realise what they have

Linked to points one and two is the ongoing challenge marketers face in tapping into the right customer-related data sets. This is the first and biggest step in truly recognising and responding to customers across multiple channels, and it’s hugely challenge. Making data insights even harder is the fact that marketers don’t have responsibility and/or control of all the data sets needed to make this happen.

Sensitivity and security concerns around data sharing within organisations is proving one problem; data sitting in disparate systems and siloed teams is another.

Many marketers at the event admitted they still haven’t aligned their website data with social and mobile channels, or CRM with external data sets. But as Oracle’s Akeroyd pointed out, “if you don’t solve the fundamental data issue, everything else is a unicorn”.

“You won’t get there with Web analytics, or an automation database,” he said. “We’ve made remarkably little progress on this compared to 1990 – we’re farther away from this than ever, and it’s really hard. Now we are becoming a really heavy load on IT. We want IT to make it powerful and give us the data, but they’re spending too much time bringing databases together. And we’re passing on this dysfunctionality to the customer – it’s blatantly apparent.”

Oracle advises brands to first tap into ‘frequency and recency’ customer data to start their personalisation efforts. From there, other types of internal and third-party data can be brought into to refine activity and improve engagement.

On the flip side is utilising data you can already access for personalisation. Verizon Wireless director of digital CRM and direct marketing, Patti Rutkin, who spoke about the company’s efforts to personalise e-newsletters, described its customer data assets as an “embarrassment of riches”.

“We have so much data at our finger tips, it’s overwhelming,” she said during her presentation. “What we want to do is get the right product and information to the right customer and at the right time. So how do we best leverage our data sources in order to do that?”

To find the answer, Verizon’s CRM team first focused on three things it wanted to achieve: Customer satisfaction, loyalty and revenue growth.

“To do that, you need to have an ongoing dialogue with your customers,” Rutkin said. Verizon does that in three ways with its newsletter: By providing an on-boarding dialogue and engagement with the customer, using the newsletter as a communication vehicle for product launches and campaigns, and providing targeted information and offers to the individual based on their unique behaviour.

The data sets Verizon tapped into to achieve these three aims included email behavioural data, purchase data, online and offline activity data, product intent data, and demographic and segmentation data.

“We started out with a lot of data… we have a lot of long-standing relationships with our customers, so we know a lot about them already. But we also realised we had a lot of untapped data – billing was the tip of the iceberg,” Rutkin said.

“That was where Brian [Knollenberg, Oracle Marketing Cloud] and his team could help us tap into data assets in a more structured way.”

Knollenberg outlined three tips for marketers looking to get a better handle on data usage. The first is to inventory any available data and line that up with values and goals.

“Don’t make it overly complicated – how can you use what you have to make email and communications personalised?” he asked attendees. His second piece of advice is not to bite off more than you can chew.

“You have to be able to execute,” he noted. The third thing is to iterate and improve based on the results each time.

“Only go forward from there,” Knollenberg said.

4. Marketers know they should understand technology, but they don’t yet

With more than 950 technologies available to the marketing industry today, marketers are overwhelmed with technologies choices, and how to best utilise them. But the historic view of sourcing best-of-breed solutions has left a complex and disintermediated mix of solutions that only add to the siloed nature of customer interactions.

As technology matures, and the need to be more customer-centric dominates executive discussions, marketing departments are going to need to better integrate these solutions and insights into a centralised and holistic view of the customer. That was certainly the message from Oracle. But that is going to need some serious investment, and serious technology smarts to achieve.

It’s not all the marketing leader’s fault; there’s the challenging issue of finding appropriate resources alongside the technology investments required to contend with. According to Brad Rodrigues, the senior vice-president and general manager of digital and community at LeapFrog Enterprises, staff investments need to be factored into every marketing tech investment yet are all-to—often left out.

“It’s easier to sell technology to the executive team – software can be capitalised – but there is also the headcount that must follow,” he told attendees during a customer panel presentation. “Getting that hired is a different story.”

The best way for CMOs to access these skillsets and ensure they get the most out of technology systems and data is to partner with the CIO. At Oracle Marketing Cloud Interact, Virgin America’s CMO and CIO shared the stage to describe how the concept of ‘techmarketing’ is allowing their teams to better collaborate, minimise animosity, and build solutions that succeed.

“Dean [Cookson, Virgin America CIO] knows things that I don’t, so getting together to create effective marketing is crucial,” the airline’s CMO, Luanne Calvert, commented. “Having collaboration and working in a startup mode is vital to this.”

5. Aligning marketing to business results is still a problem

While some customers at Oracle Marketing Cloud Interact shared figures around the success of their efforts to date, what was noticeably absent was the hard business impact ROIs.

Verizon, for example, said its switch from one-size-fits-all email to personalised newsletter content lifted engagement rates by 65 per cent. Up to 59 per cent of customers who engaged with an on-boarding email are also less likely to cancel a service.

“These are huge numbers,” Rutkin said. "But do they ultimately tie back into the business KPIs and objectives?"

For Telstra general manager of customer communications, Keiron Devlin, any structural changes, investments or internal partnerships he needs to make in rolling out the telco’s ‘first 100 days’ customer management program have to tie into hard business results.

The initiative is being driven across multiple functions by Devlin in partnership with Telstra’s director of CRM, loyalty and digital marketing, Nick Adams.

“If I walked in to my boss and said I needed resourcing and funding for my team to increase my open rates on emails to 60 per cent, I wouldn’t get in the door,” Devlin told CMO. “Nick and I went around to all the business unit leaders and stated our benefits to our business case, to a revenue savings and customer call reduction, a Net Promoter Score benefit, and a revenue benefit.

“It’s a commercial discussion. The days of us marketers talking about open rates, click-throughs and so on, are gone.”

Follow CMO on Twitter: @CMOAustralia, take part in the CMO Australia conversation on LinkedIn: CMO Australia, join us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CMOAustralia, or check us out on Google+: google.com/+CmoAu

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