7 things high-performing marketing teams do differently around digital marketing and personalisation

CEB's research into digital marketing transformation and personalisation provides insight into what brands are doing differently to succeed

It’s a foolish marketer who doesn’t see digital as a foundational capability for how they perform their job successfully today and into the future. Equally, most would agree increased personalisation of communications and engagement is vital to winning and retaining hyper-connected customers.

Yet according to qualitative and quantitative research undertaken by consultancy and research firm, CEB, there is still a big gap between B2B and B2C organisations that have digital cracked, versus those that haven’t, and between those harnessing data and analytics effectively to personalise, versus those who haven’t quite caught on.

Here, Martha Mathers, marketing practice leader at CEB, now Gartner, taps into insights gleaned from CEB’s 2016 B2C Marcomm Personalisation Survey, supported by other B2B qualitative and quantitative work on digital marketing transformation, to identify the key characteristics of high-performing marketing teams when it comes to digital and personalisation capability.

Share digital and analytics learnings across the function and teams

One stumbling block Mathers believes marketers still face when it comes to digital is that they operate a specialist model, hiring a single person or team to handle capabilities such as social media or analytics.

“When you focus your digital skills in a single person, it’s hard to build organisational capability and get people to the same baseline in terms of overall capability,” she said. “We don’t see the same results from organisations that don’t think about this as a marketing-wide change that needs to be addressed more in packets or as a bolt-on to their existing marketing system.

“Things like social media have been around for some time, and many companies have hired a social media expert. But they’ve not done baseline socialisation of what that person does and how it impacts other areas of marketing.”  

Realise people are more important than tech

CEB, now Gartner's latest personalisation research encompassed a survey of B2C and hybrid marketers, as well as a consumer panel. It came off the back of a large study looking at marketing communication initiatives.

While many brands understood the types of content working well with their audience, where they lacked insight was in applying new technology and data sets to deepen relationships by being more personalised,  Mathers said.

The personalisation study found 14 per cent of the typical marketing budget goes towards personalisation, but just 12 per cent of marketing communications is personalised on average. Marketers, meanwhile, are looking to personalise an average of 54 per cent.  

Those that do personalise are seeing a 15 per cent increase as a result.

“We looked at strategy, technology, data, people, content production, and the channels you launch personalised messaging though, trying to understand among all the different factors, and what is it that has best the chance of getting you to high performance,” Mathers explained.  

“What’s most interesting in this story is what we didn’t find. When we looked at below and medium performers, they had similar systems, data usage, technology and rules specialisation. There wasn’t a noticeable difference until we got to people.

“But when you compare systems of low versus high performers, high performers are 7 times more likely to rate people as the key to success.”

Prioritise system-level thinking over expertise

What’s also apparent is high-performing organisations are embracing system-level thinking. For Mathers, the idea of building centres of excellence doesn’t play out like it would have in the past.  

“These organisations are not necessarily looking for the best data scientist you can hire, it’s more coaching and encouraging the entire marketing organisation to see the potential that analytics can provide and working with those that have a more classical marketing background to understand how to ask the right questions and what analytics can tell us,” she said.

“They don’t necessarily have the skills but coach the whole team about the tools at their disposal and how to use those more effectively.”  

Foster collaboration and adaptability

In addition, high-performing companies most successful in personalising and embracing digital are more comfortable with martech or IT teams having a point of view on strategy or how to approach an aspect of digital marketing, Mathers said.

“They’re more comfortable in opening up that conversation and showed more  collaboration across the business,” she said. “In work we did exploring wider digital transformation a couple of years ago [Closing Marketing’s Digital Gap with Consumers], we found the relationship with IT to be critical.

“That’s not necessarily at a senior level, either; IT managers need to understand the value marketing brings to the table, and share some language with marketing. And from a marketing perspective, you have marketers that are at least comfortable having a technical conversation. That will help improve performance.”  

On top of this, there’s no one dominant approach to leadership or marketing’s remit.

“The marketing function is going through so much change. We’re seeing new types of technology investment, hiring profiles that are different to those in the past and the way customers prefers to interact with a company has changed,” Mathers said. “Our research suggests the dust hasn’t settled on what should be marketing’s remit, where and how they should collaborate with other parts of the organisation. That’s going to continue to evolve.”

Think about customers differently

Another clear distinction between high-performers and low-performers in the personalisation study is their approach to customer understanding.

“They’re going well beyond personas and high-level journey mapping towards a purchase, and to really discrete digital behaviours that produce more impactful opportunity for personalisation,” Mathers said.  

“For instance, several are exploring the ‘icky’  feeling that can come with personalisation efforts if they’ve been too detailed or showing up in a way that make uncomfortable in your shoes.”

An example is eBay, which asked a small group of customers to keep track of emails they received from the online marketplace in a form of qualitative diary.

“EBay had tonnes of data that showed clickthroughs, more browsing and more time onsite, but they wanted to gauge consumer reactions to personalised marcomms,” she said. “It was about getting a real-time reaction and capturing what people felt when they received a message. This helped with appropriate use of personalisation versus unpersonalised and boosted eBay’s relevance substantially.”  

Put your brand in a wider market context

One of the pitfalls brands still fall into is considering the customers only in terms of how they regard them as a supplier, Mathers said.

“Instead, there’s more opportunity to think about how that consumer regards the world around them, daily activities, and behaviours,” she said.

One high-performing example identified by CEB, now Gartner, in its research is US-based condiments producer, Clorox,  which identified micro moments for customers across each of its brand on the path to becoming a very loyal product user. For one its salad dressings, the marketing team found recipe searching to be a high conversion point for the brand.

In the same vein, there’s a huge opportunity to synthesise across data sets today, but the way companies are structured often restricts this practice, Mathers said.

“Data warehouses are separate, they don’t share data across brands, or there are no staff dedicated to taking work from a market research study and combing it with Web analytics, loyalty data and so on,” she said.

“L’Oreal have worked hard to train brand managers trained in the 4Ps and creative to think more analytically, and to ask questions of the data. It’s about giving them the building blocks to continue to interact more effectively and support the analytics team. It’s companies that invest in improving everyone’s IQ in analytics and digital media applications that see the strongest returns.”  

Don’t just consider volume metrics

It’s also a case of measurement. Those early on the personalisation and digital marketing journey are focused on volume metrics and marketing metrics and how their function is performing, while those in the middle of the spectrum start focusing more on how they’re contributing to sales outcomes, Mathers said.

“The most progressive are thinking more about customer metrics,” she said. “One company in the tech space we analysed closed deals, and typical deal, a customer had visited their site 40 times. Early in your maturity you might think that’s fantastic, but this company wanted to get that down, as they were trying to impact the deal cycle and amount of time it would take to get someone to make a purchase.”  

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