Become a confident digital marketer

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Digital marketing has become a big headache for most marketing professionals. A recent study of over 1000 marketers conducted over August and September this year claims that only 9% of total respondents said that they ‘know their digital marketing is working.’ Even worse ‘66% of marketers feel digital is critical to their company’s success and yet less than half feel highly proficient in digital marketing.’

Commissioned by software company Adobe and produced by Edelman Berland, the report is called Digital Distress: What Keeps Marketers up at Night. The reports states that the majority of marketers lack confidence in their digital proficiency and don’t believe their company’s marketing programs are effective.

If you can identify with statistics above and know that digital marketing is important to your organisation, but go into a cold sweat when someone mentions social media or big-data, then the following simple ideas for you.

It’s not about where your customers are – it’s about what they want

Your customers no longer have loyalty to a channel. This sounds obvious, and it is, but it’s amazing how many times it gets overlooked. Marketing used to be simple. Everyone read the paper and watched TV so that where you put your messages. But today that has all changed. Your customers have endless choices when it comes to media consumption. Sure there are a billion people on Facebook but that is in no way comparable a billion people watching the Olympics on TV.

The consumer moves quickly through the digital space and only engages with what they deem to be valuable. So stop looking at audience numbers first. Relentlessly focus on what your customer wants. Design a reason for them to engage with your brand. Do more than just try to entertain them, provide real value.

If you start by saying “I need to get a Facebook strategy because that’s where everybody is” then you have failed already. If instead say “I have great value proposition for my market and now I need to work out how to make it work on Facebook” then you are on the path to success.

Completely ignore technology

For the technologically terrified out their this will come as a great relief. The best thing you can do to make sure you digital marketing efforts work for you is to ignore technology altogether and focus on what you do best and think about the customer.

There are hundreds of products on the market for you to spend your budget on, and some very talented sales people willing to help you spend on their product. The best advice I can give is ignore them. There is no magic bullet. No piece of software that will fix your problems. The only thing that works is spending as much time as possible getting in sync with your customers.

Digital marketing isn’t about social media, big-data or marketing-automation. By themselves that’s just smarter spam. It’s about how your customers interact with every digital touchpoint. So focus on your market. Understand what they want. And design experiences that will delight.

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Data is not the new oil – it’s the new soil

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At Working Three we spend a lot of time helping our clients see the world from their customer’s perspective.

To help you do the same I pose one simple question: are you comfortable with how much data companies hold about you and what they are doing with it? If your answer is “no” you may want to consider how the conversation about and approach to consumer data is developing in your company. Then ask yourself  “would I want to be our customer”.

Not long ago companies began waking up to the fact that people everywhere were generating huge volumes of data. Data that could be collected and used to understand people in ever finer detail. The phrase “data is the new oil” started to spread like wildfire across the web. The buzz around “big-data” emerged .

Oil is valuable. If you find, collect and store oil it will remain valuable. Data is a very different thing. Data is generated when people do something. It is a record of an event. That means it starts losing value almost as soon as it is generated because it ages. We can see trends and obtain insights but to get real value from data it must be used in real time. Simply gathering and storing data is a pointless exercise.

Most companies have large quantities of consumer data, and have the ability to generate a lot more. Access to data is not the issue. Getting value from it is. And so many companies are currently investing heavily in techniques to consolidate the consumer data they have and then use it to run marketing and communication programs.

From a business perspective that sounds great – a new way to communicate with your customers and it can be adapted to suit them. But this brings us back to our first question. As a customer are you comfortable with this? Companies try and convince themselves that people don’t really care, but of course they do.

Customers are not entries in a database. They are the people who are creating the data. They feel like that data is theirs. They are certainly not comfortable with it being used to send more “personalised” spam. Their actions created it and they want to get value from it.

And this is where the real opportunity actually lies. As a business leader try to avoid thinking about data as an asset to be mined. Think about it as the raw material you can use to offer value to your customers and build a better relationship. As London based author David McCandless said “Data is the new oil? No: Data is the new soil”. It’s the place where your customer relationships can grow.

Generating business value from consumer data isn’t about technology at all. It’s about how you use data to create a fantastic experience for your customers. If you can help your customer get value from their own information they will reward you for that effort. If you continue to use data to spam your customers or  provide value to your company, you may find yourself wondering where everybody went.

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Sephora’s world leading digital platform

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As an increasing number of consumer-facing brands begin to think about how all of their digital touch-points work together to provide a consistent experience, best practice examples are being focused on by marketers. Some of those examples are stand-outs. American beauty brand Sephora is a great example of a cosmetics retailer that doesn’t use technology to overtly focus on the transaction, but to develop how customers interact with their brand. By using technology to focus on customer needs and making their lives easier, they have gained a powerful following that has resulted in sales, fierce loyalty and passionate advocates.

Using data to improve customer relationships

Sephora took a leadership position early on and quickly moved beyond the hype of social media. It is now a brand that uses insights gained from customer engagement to invest in intelligent personalised interactions. For example, Sephora uses Facebook primarily for customer service, and invests more in Pinterest as a marketing platform focussed on inspiration and communication. In other words, they have a specific and clear strategy for each social media platform.

The marketing team at Sephora noticed that Pinterest users were saving their favourite beauty products and inspiration onto boards, organically driving new referrals to their site. To improve discovery and reach, Sephora implemented initiatives such as direct pinning from product pages, direct pinning from targeted emails, and competition campaigns. Their first direct-pin email campaign attracted over 14,000 repins and a 60% growth in Pinterest traffic referrals.

Analytics data from their 200,000 followers is now used to determine the content that their customers want. This, coupled with their focus on sharing beauty expertise has resulted in nurturing an audience that spends 15 times more money on Sephora.com on average than their Facebook fans.

Mobile First

Since becoming mobile optimised and releasing an app in 2012, mobile orders increased by 167%. This now accounts for a third of all Sephora.com traffic.

The Sephora app has been downloaded more than 2 million times and is focused on simple, personalised shopping online, as well as enhancing the in-store experience with features such as barcode scanning to unlock ratings and reviews, and being able to quickly look up personal purchase history. They have taken the best of the website experience and embedded it into a mobile augmented reality experience.

The whole customer journey

Though clearly excelling online, this doesn’t come at the expense of store traffic. Sephora uses the entire customer experience, online and offline, to drive loyalty. Their “Beauty Insider” loyalty program has attracted 10.6 million customers and centres around not just useful digital services, but experiences that customers can enjoy in stores such as beauty classes and shopping events.

The retail industry has been disrupted by digital technology, but Sephora proves that a solid customer experience strategy can open new revenue opportunities without cannibalising the bricks-and-mortar business. They have focused on designing great experiences and providing value to their customers at every opportunity.

But if there is one lesson to be learnt from this brand it is to plan well, be patient and invest wisely. Spend the time building a relationship with your market and the rewards will be significant.

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Cutting through the complexity of digital customer experience

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The era of the shiny widget maybe coming to a close. At Working Three we work with a wide range of customers on digital customer experience strategies. These customers range from large retailers and consumer goods companies to national sporting organisations and even multinational software companies. What these companies offer varies greatly. But we are hearing a constant message about digital communications from all of them: “Can someone please simplify everything!”

CEOs, CMOs and other business leaders are very aware that digital communication is important. A recent McKinsey & Company report looked into five digital trends: big data and advanced analytics, digital engagement of customers, digital engagement of employees and external partners, automation, and digital innovation. Customer engagement was the highest-ranked trend. In fact 56% said digital customer engagement was at least in the top 10 of company priorities. The issue many of these same people are facing is complexity – particularly if they don’t feel like a ‘digital native.’

To make matters worse it feels like everyone claims to have “the solution” you’ve been looking for. Go to any marketing or communications conference these days and there are hundreds of software providers and App developers touting the latest shiny thing to fix all of your communication woes. They may be very slick at selling their product but in the end it needs to be used properly to realise its value.

And this is why digital customer experience [CX] design is so vital to an organisation. Get the strategy wrong and you’ll end up wasting time and money. Get it right and you’ll have a platform for sustainable growth. Most brands don’t have the kinds of marketing budgets that global companies like Nike and Procter & Gamble have but investing in CX doesn’t need to cost the earth – in fact it should save you money.

The early research and design stages of a CX strategy can both an enlightening and a frustrating experience for a business owner who is eager to “get moving”. It is time well spent though as it gives you the opportunity to really see your business through your customers eyes.

From there you need to roll out prototypes to test and refine your ideas. Don’t expect to get everything right first time – and don’t put all your eggs in one basket! As these things are happening you’ll need to work through all of the back-end complexity. It is likely that many parts of your business will need to work together to achieve success. So don’t ignore the internal communications aspects.

You’ll also need to define how technology will be used and what role it will play. Your CX strategy will rely on, and be underpinned with, technology but it is not a technical role. In the end you are using technology to communicate. So make sure you train communications resources in the technology, not the other way round.

Most importantly keep things simple. There’s lots of ways to waste your money, but only careful planning will ensure that you don’t.

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Ikea is doing augmented reality right

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When it comes to delivering a digital customer experience there are thousands of things that a brand can invest in. Over the last few years many companies have jumped into digital and mobile a bit too quickly and have spent a huge amount of time and money on digital experiences that have a very limited lifespan, or simply don’t work at all. One technology, augmented reality, has simultaneously caught the imagination of brand marketers and been the source of many failed digital projects.

Delivered through smart phone applications, augmented reality has been touted as a way to interact with customers by overlaying the viewer’s real environment with digital messages and applications through the phone’s camera. Swept up in the excitement of new technology, many marketers have invested in augmented reality projects in an isolated, point-solution fashion.

So when a company thinks about the digital customer experience from end-to-end and then finds a genuine reason to use augmented reality it becomes a case study that stands out from the pack. Ikea’s 2014 catalogue is one such example.

It’s not easy for a company to make their printed catalogue a memorable experience, and at first glance, this years’s Ikea catalogue appears to be nothing out of the ordinary – pages of products and ideas. But if you view it with the Ikea app it comes alive, and by doing so Ikea has transformed the traditional catalogue into an engaging experience for their consumers. To see how it works check out the following video:

So what lessons can you take from this for your business? There are three.

Create integrated media experiences
The rapid adoption of smart phones has forever changed the way that your customers consume media . The fact that the majority of your customers have this new technology within arm’s reach at all times is a great opportunity to create an integrated experience. Use it to make your printed material come to life and engage your audience. If you see every brand touchpoint as an opportunity to engage digitally, everything you do will become interactive.

Customers value utility
The way that customers perceive value is changing. Consumer data is valuable and your customers know it. To manage this evolving world today’s marketers need to think beyond the traditional customer value propositions of offers and discounts. Digital experiences give you the opportunity to create utility, create an experience that is genuinely useful. Think carefully about any investment in developing mobile apps .You may get people downloading your app if its gimmicky, but ensure it has utility and your customers will keep it on their phones.

Look for opportunities to surprise and delight
If you can help your customers see your brand in a new and exciting way then even the most mundane of marketing touch-points can take on a new life.

The great thing about weaving technology into the overall customer experience is that it gives you a whole new set of tools to draw from – and countless ways to creatively deliver a message.

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Become an e-commerce pro

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For most of us Christmas still feels like it is a long way off. For online retailers the festive season is approaching like an out of control freight train. Its no secret that retail brands have been hurting in recent years. The Global Financial Crisis quickly changed consumers spending habits at the same time as digital communications was changing the marketing and product discovery landscape. The result, brand loyalty has been eroded and consumers have been flocking to online shopping to quickly and easily compare prices and offers.

Many brands have realised that the world will not return to the way it was and have responded to this “new normal” by investing heavily in e-commerce and online marketing. The e-commerce space is maturing quickly but it can still be confusing to know the right formula for your customers.  So let’s explore the three key principles that e-commerce sites need to master this year.

Device optimisation
Making your site look great and function well on mobile devices is no longer optional. A recent Econsultancy report said that “62% of companies that designed a website specifically for mobile had increased sales”. And a Margin Media report stated “48% of users say that if they arrive on a business site that isn’t working well on mobile, they take it as an indication of the business simply not caring.”
You can go down the “responsive design” path, meaning your site will adjust to suit the available screen space, or you can build specifically for mobile devices. Either way your customers will be visiting your site on their mobile phones so the investment will be worth it.

Communication automation
When it comes to converting potential customer interest to sales communication is vitally important. In the world of e-commerce, where the shopper is in control of how and when they shop, automating the points of communication are essential. Spend time mapping out the times where sending a helpful message can make a difference. For example when someone signs up to your site, when a customer puts items in a cart but doesn’t go all the way through to purchase, letting a customer know how shipping is progressing, and  following up after a customer does purchase are all moments that can impact your brand. And it makes a difference. A recent study from Gartner noted that  “…Companies that automate lead management see a 10% or greater increase in revenue in 6-9 months…”

Social media integration
According to Nielsen “…approximately 46% of online users count on social media when making a purchase decision…” So social media should be integrated deeply into your e-commerce website. It should be thought about as an essential tool – and not as an afterthought. Levi  increased web referral traffic by 40% after  integrating social media to its site. Adding social integration gives your customers a chance to talk about you and refer your brand easily. Who wouldn’t want that?

Of course getting an e-commerce site to work well takes a lot of time and effort. But time and effort spent on these simple areas will produce a great return. And you have time to get them all running before Christmas.

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Getting more from what you have

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It’s difficult to find a consumer facing business that is not being disrupted by the rapid pace of digital evolution. Social media has altered customers’ expectations of the quality of services and communications they receive, smart phones and mobile apps are changing the way people search for products, and the continued rise of e-commerce models is changing the way people buy those products.To address this environment businesses must decide where to focus the majority of their energy – on acquiring new customers or finding ways of getting more out of the customers it already has. I will examine the latter.

For many businesses, particularly larger ones, the return on customer acquisition programs has declined significantly. The “digital disruption” is one major cause. But since the GFC many businesses are experiencing increasing competitive pressures in their markets, a slowing in customer growth and rising costs to acquire customers. As businesses encounter and recognise this point of “entropy” they have begun to focus on how to generate more revenue from the customers they already have.

For these businesses a digital customer experience plan can form the sharp end of a marketing strategy that can generate huge value. A well thought through and executed plan will both leverage any data and insights that already exists about your customers and also identify what data points are most valuable in determining your marketing strategy and how to get collect them. Developing a digital customer experience plan will inevitably shift the organisation to a ‘ customer centric’ marketing strategy.

Developing and executing a customer centric marketing strategy is transformational for most businesses. It nearly always identifies untapped revenue streams, begins a process of increasing customer lifetime value and more generally changes the direction of marketing strategy in a way that significantly improves margins and increases cash flow. And there are “indirect” benefits that usually flow from such an approach. One of the most significant of these is that customer acquisition costs fall due to an overall rise in customer advocacy. As the company increases its focus on existing customers many aspects of the overall customer experience begin to improve. As customer satisfaction scores go up and the number of customer advocates increase.

In the book “The Experience Economy” Joe Pine and James Gilmore describe how businesses can achieve sustainable profitability by focusing on the needs of the customer and tailoring experiences to suit them. They compare the emergence of the trend to create revenue from customer experiences to the rise of the Industrial Economy. To quote the authors: “…the growth of both the Industrial Economy and the Service Economy brought with it a proliferation of offerings that did not exist before imaginative companies invented and developed them. That’s also how the Experience Economy will grow… Those businesses that regulate themselves to the diminishing world of goods and services will be rendered irrelevant. To avoid this fate, you must learn to stage a rich, compelling experience…”

The world we now live in is in the process of becoming forever changed by the perfect storm of technological change and the aftermath of the GFC. Your customers are still willing to spend, they just want the right reasons to do so.

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The age of the customer

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Customers have never had so much power. The rapid adoption of technologies, such as search engines, social media and smart mobile devices, has moved us from an information poor world to one that is information rich in less than two decades.

Access to immense amounts of information is having a dramatic impact on the way business is done. It is enabling customers to redesign traditional value chains, putting themselves at the centre. They are no longer passive consumers- they are active and vocal.

For enterprises this presents much more of an opportunity than a threat and has given rise to a service industry focusing on customer experience design. Becoming “customer-centric” is now the catch cry of leading brands. But how do brands move beyond the talk and undergo the transformation?

There needs to be a new wave of technology and digital experiences to take advantage of these emerging market forces. Businesses need to move beyond the usual “surveillance marketing” suspects consisting of CRM, Big-Data analytics and marketing automation tools. These will continue to play a part but a new generation of software designed for the benefit of the consumer and focused on developing mutually beneficial relationships is needed.

Businesses are undergoing a “big shift”. On the one hand social media and mobile technologies have ushered in a new and exciting era where consumers are looking for meaningful digital experiences and are flocking to innovations that give them control. On the other hand businesses are reeling from the effects of “digital Darwinism” and the aftermath of the global financial crisis. They are having to alter the way they engage with the markets they play in.

Businesses are investing in advertising software, big-data and digital marketing techniques in an effort to better understand their customers and generate demand. But customers are becoming increasing fatigued by marketing and wary of companies using their data. The result is that the gap between enterprises and their customers is widening – not closing.

Almost every day an article about consumer data appears in the mainstream press. Whether it’s the NSA looking at the personal communications of millions of people or businesses using big data analytics to design more effective marketing it seems that everyone is under surveillance.

Businesses need to find a new way to develop trust with their customers. Data analytics and “AdTech”, in their current form at least, will only erode trust as consumers feel increasingly spied upon.

Consumers want to see value from the relationships they have with brands. While there needs to be a wave of innovation to fully capitalise on this shift in consumer demand and behaviour you don’t need to wait for it to arrive. If your brand has a Facebook page, CRM or a loyalty system you have data that you can unlock.

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Rethinking customer loyalty

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Customer loyalty programs have long been a staple of enterprise marketing activities. The thinking has always been that rewarding repeat transactions – the behaviour most desired by the brand running the program – will drive revenue and long term brand interactions. In other words, brand loyalty can be incentivised and measured. But there is a problem, one has to assume that repeated transactions are a proxy for the more emotional concepts of brand affinity and loyalty.

According to a recent study by Edgell Knowledge Network, retail respondents expect that, by 2015, loyalty program members will make up 58% of total revenues. At the same time those retailers also reported that customers who are members of their loyalty programs don’t seem to be any more brand-loyal than those who aren’t. Additionally, 81% of those retail loyalty members don’t even know what their program benefits are, or how and when they will receive them.

So clearly there is a problem with the way that the majority of customer loyalty programs are designed. While they are effective at measuring the transactional patterns of a customer they miss the mark when it comes to the other key moments that really define a loyal customer. Simply put, they only value transactions not the entirety of the brand-customer relationship.

In today’s environment, a customer-centric strategy that rethinks the way that brands approach customer loyalty programs is becoming essential. This is especially true for those brands who are focused on retaining current customers and developing new revenue streams. One must first understand the customer relationship before new revenue streams can be identified.

So how does a business expand its loyalty program to measure and incentivise other forms of positive brand behaviours? To start with it is important to map the customer’s pre- and post-purchase behaviours. This will help identify the moments of truth for your brand. They may be how the product is used, how often the customer engages with brand promotions or if they are a brand promoter online. Each brand will have different “moments of truth” that define the customer relationship.

Fortunately many, if not all, of these activities happen online today. This means they can be identified and measured. The trick is to do it without stalking your customers. For many brands this may be the space where they can extract real value out of social media as it can be the glue that ties an expanded loyalty program together.

Of course getting a loyalty program up and running that focuses on the real brand-customer relationship takes thinking, planning and a lot of work. But consumers are now looking for much more from the brand they interact with. My team and I hear this everyday from both our clients and the feedback from their customers.

The market is speaking, and the old style loyalty programs aren’t doing the job anymore. There is a significant competitive advantage to be gained by developing a program that looks beyond the plastic card and treats every customer as the person they are.

After all, who has room in their wallet for another useless pice of plastic?

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How does your customer experience your brand?

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Customer’s today are dealing with a complex array of digital channels and messages. Social media, websites, mobile apps, email and in-store digital displays are all playing a part in the brand experience – and on top of this is the different types of content each of these channels distribute like text, audio, interactivity and video. From a brand’s perspective the communication space has become so fragmented and is evolving so fast that most digital strategies are out of date before they are signed off. For many businesses trying to deal with this complexity they have started to move beyond channel based strategies and towards more holistic multi-channel Customer Experience strategies.

Another factor influencing the need for businesses to focus on the entirety of the customer experience, from end to end, is that reached a point in their development where customer acquisition is not the core measure of success. Obviously as a business is scaling up acquiring new customers is key to success, particularly for consumer facing brands. But as a company matures, and the market they play in becomes more competitive, retention becomes as important – if not more so. Retaining and understanding current customers is the key to discovering new revenue opportunities and increasing the overall lifetime value of each customer.

This is where Customer Experience strategy and design becomes vital for the businesses continued growth and success. While a marketing focused digital strategy will focus mostly on the awareness raising aspect of the customer journey a Customer Experience strategy looks at whole process – and is designed around developing long term relationships.

As a business leader there are essentially two ideas to get your head around if you are about to start down the path of a Customer Experience, or Customer-Centric, strategy. The first is learning to think like a customer. This is not as easy as it sounds. For example your marketing and branding will have set expectations about how they will be treated and what the customer will receive. From there the customer will interact with your brand in some way. The result of this interaction will be the experience the customer has, and this well elicit and emotion, ranging from delighted to angry, which will determine how the relationship they have with your brand will evolve. They more you understand this journey the better you can manage the resulting relationship.

And this brings us to the second concept – that customer experience design needs a process. The customer journey discussed above is the first step. Then you need to do deeper discovery, build out some concepts, test and validate and finally implement. This is not something you design and push out to market as a finished product. You need to be agile. The end result is all about your customers so they need to be part of the process.

Digital technologies are disrupting many industries but for each there are also new revenue opportunities to be had. A Customer Experience strategy is a fast way of uncovering the untapped revenue in your business.

image credit: http://www.typeimageform.com/

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Brands are looking for digital specialisation

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Marketers, looking for measurability and accountability, are continuing to shift their budgets to the digital space. Spending on digital marketing overtook print and radio spend some time ago. More recently, a report from ZenithOptimedia suggests that digital advertising spend will overtake TV as the top marketing category in Australia for the first time this year. So while the budgets are quickly “going digital” the marketers in change of those budgets are increasingly looking for the skills needed to execute digital marketing well.

The “Digital Marketing Outlook” report, released in March this year by the Society of Digital Agencies (SoDA), suggests that digital marketing sophistication is continuing to grow both within agencies and in their client companies. The report attracted over 814 respondents, 84% of which were key decision makers. Of the respondents on the client-side 28% indicated they were going to be increasing agency investments. But there is a shift towards specialisation. 29% of the client-side respondents have a roster of highly specialised digital agencies, in fields such as search, social or mobile, and a further 23% maintain a mix of full-service and specialised agencies.

Traditional full-service agencies are very aware of this shift in demand. In the same report almost one-third of the full-service agency respondents said they thought specialisation was the path to growth. This suggests that agencies can see the writing on the wall and are beginning to reassess their business models.

“Innovate out of house” and “maintain in house” is the way that many clients are approaching risk and cost minimisation on the digital front. Tim O’Neill, MD of digital agency Reactive said that “we’re seeing a trend both in Australia and our International offices that clients are building internal skill-sets, but looking for partners to work in a more collaborative manner than a traditional agency–client relationship”

One skill in particular that is currently sought after is Customer Experience (CX) consulting. Speaking on this topic Tim O’Neill said “marketing teams are becoming more and more aware of the importance of the customer experience in digital campaigns, and considering how investment in CX can help to save money in media spend. I believe the huge rise in CX conversations is directly related to the rise in understanding of analytics & data. Marketers are now well-versed in measuring and optimising conversion rates, which is generally a direct reflection on how good the customer experience is.” He believes this is because clients are moving “…away from short-term campaigns towards digital platforms.”

Nothing could be more true in my opinion. Brands are looking for ways to move away from creating more noise and towards developing more meaningful long term relationships with their customers.

But the client-agency relationship is not driving this trend. It’s the consumers, you and me, that are moving in droves away from anything that is not relationship focused. What we are seeing is the business world responding to a huge shift in consumer behaviour – and it’s only just begun.

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Relationship marketing is coming

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I meet many leaders of large businesses in the course of my job as the CEO of a digital strategy consultancy. Our engagements are revealing an emerging trend. When it comes to understanding customers big data is becoming a big problem.

Many businesses have more data than they know what to do with. They have customer data, social media data, transactional records and many other forms of data – all being generated at mind-bending speeds. The problem is that nobody is really sure what to do with all of this information.

That is because consumer-facing markets are undergoing a big transition. Gone are the days where real customer satisfaction was something of an afterthought. Customer-centricity is the catch cry of 2013. CEOs are aware that their customers now have more power than they have ever had thanks to the proliferation of mobile and social media technologies. They realise that they must put the customer at the centre of the business, and use this shift to transform the way their organisation is run – or risk being disrupted from the outside.

But shouldn’t all this data about customers give businesses the insights needed to become customer-centric? The answer to this question is not as obvious as it first seems.

A business can collect huge volumes of data, and use advanced analytics and modelling techniques to create customer profiles that allow for highly specific messages to be sent to customers.  This is surveillance marketing- the successor to banner ads and other desperate bids for consumer attention. It may create more “relevance” but for the user it can quickly seem like someone is spying on them. That’s because it revolves around personal data and customised messages to make the user feel special – but frequently misses the mark and comes across as creepy.

Most of us have experienced this: The Facebook ads that change when your relationship status changes or you recieve an email that seems to know just a little bit too much about who you are. We start to ask, “what else do they know about me and where did they get their information?

These developments underlie  the emerging ‘big data, big problem” trend. Business leaders know creepy when they see it. They know that if they use all the data they have about customers to hit the next quarter’s sales targets they may actually harm their brand. The market  is shifting again. Both businesses and consumers are looking for a dialogue that focuses on mutual value. They want to move past surveillance marketing. They are looking for relationship-based marketing.

The shape of  real relationship-based marketing  is yet to be determined. But it is certain  that data ‘ownership’ is going to be redefined. A business cannot be truly customer-centric if their customers feel spied upon.

Data will continue to be the focus – but it needs to generate value for consumers and businesses alike.

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Becoming C2B

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An ever increasing number of businesses are reinventing the way they interact with their customers by leveraging the investment they have made in marketing technology software. The proliferation of social media and advances in “adtech” and “big-data” analytics means that brands are now able to gain insights into their customers in ways never possible before. As these insights have started to float to the top of the company management structure, it is becoming obvious that having a customer-centric strategy is an essential part of doing business in the always-connected, post-GFC world. So what does being customer-centric really mean?

Customers have more power today that they have ever had. The immediacy and scale of social media is breaking down old company structures and traditional value chains. The proliferation of consumer data is adding to the pressure. Customer Relationship Management software, or CRM, was originally designed as a Business to Business [B2B] tool that was stretched and pulled until it eventually became a Business to Consumer [B2C] tool. But it was never really designed to manage today’s consumers who are generating (according to IBM) over 2.5 quintillion bytes of data every day – a number so baffling I can only assume it translates into more cat videos than anyone could actually watch in a lifetime.

Even the terms “Customer Relationship Management” and “Business to Customer” seem out of place in today’s environment. They both clearly focus on the business being in control, the brand managing the relationship, owning the data and holding it in a central spot. This structure doesn’t work for today’s market. Facebook has given people the power to ‘unfriend’ the relationships that are not working for them.

The customer of today wants control and to feel like she is  managing  her own relationships. And this trend will accelerate. Every time a technology has given more power and freedom to the individual the whole markets follow. Mobile phones, the internet, search and social media have all played their part.

Now a new customer-focused disruption is underway, fuelled by the data that all of us generate each and every day. Business leaders and smart observers know this already. Their conversations are focusing on becoming “customer-centric”, developing a cohesive customer experience strategy and allowing the customer to see their own data. It will soon become a clamour.

We are entering an age where the customer really does come first. We need to come to grips with the customer having more control and actually “managing” the relationship. So I propose using the term Customer to Business [C2B] to describe the technology and strategic frameworks that are evolving to deliver this new world order.

Let’s put the customer first. Focus not on spamming your customers but on providing real value. Don’t waste money on irrelevant marketing and more noise. Stop thinking about data ownership and spend more time on relationships. Put your customer first. Become C2B.

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Are you being creepy?

online-spying-web

When former NSA IT specialist Edward Snowden told the world that the US government was collecting vast amounts of data on all of us in an unprecedented eavesdropping program called “Prism”, Orwell’s 1984 and the omnipresent “Big Brother” came to mind.

Thoughtcrimes and the Ministry of Truth aside, many were not surprised to learn that the US (and likely every other large government) was spying on its citizen’s digital activities.. The volume of data that the likes of Google and Facebook gather about each and every one of us is astronomical.

A recent article in TechCrunch reported that Facebook has been going beyond collecting the data of its users It is also collecting the data of the people who are simply connected to its users, creating ‘shadow’ accounts that can be activated in the event that those people sign up.

Online companies rely on the collection of our data to generate their business. Access to their users is what they are selling to advertisers. If a service is free then we, the users, become the product not the customer. At what point does all of this data collection simply become scary, and how can companies that are investing in digital marketing ensure they aren’t perceived as Orwellian, or “creepy”?

Brands need to realise that they are not Google, and they certainly aren’t the NSA. Many have invested heavily in “AdTech” (marketing automation, data gathering and big-data analytics software tools), but all brands can choose how they deploy these tools.

With the right technology investment a brand could develop a “surveillance and precision targeting” approach to marketing. In fact, many brands are already doing this with varying degrees of success. In the short term just focusing on immediate transactional targets may help your organisation reach its quarterly targets. But to keep hitting the targets you’ll need more data, better models and eventually your brand may start to become a little bit “creepy”. So this approach raises serious questions about brand behaviour in the long term.

Another, more enlightened approach, is to focus on the long term relationship your brand has with your customers. Use the data you collect and insights you gain about your market to develop new digital services for your customers. Use a large percentage of the marketing budget that is likely being wasted on messages that are ignored, and invest it in building software that will genuinely surprise and delight.

The creepy factor has begun to edge its way into marketing because brands can often lose sight of the fun, creative stuff that people actually want to engage with. Technology has made some forms of marketing more about spying, harvesting email addresses and “surgical strikes” than providing real value to customers.

There is nothing wrong with investing in marketing technology. Indeed for most brands they have little option. But it is worth remembering that you are trying to develop a relationship with a person – your customer. So make sure you are investing in the relationship, not just the technology.

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Becoming inbound

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If you want to generate a return on your online marketing effort you can devise all sorts of metrics but in the end there is really only one way to do it. Your brand needs to become relevant to your customers. The marketing author, speaker and blogger Seth Godin put it like this: “Real permission [marketing] works like this: if you stop showing up, people complain, they ask where you went.” In other words you need to develop an inbound marketing approach.

Marketing that just focuses on grabbing people’s attention doesn’t work as effectively as it once did. The media landscape has changed. The customer is in charge of the media they see and how they see it. They are skipping, blocking and turning off ads. Permission marketing, or inbound marketing is different. It is about developing a relationship with your market, seeking their permission to communicate with them, and using data to make those communications as timely and relevant as possible. It’s about generating value for your customers.

The majority of brands are not used to thinking in this way. They are used to being big and loud, and getting lots of attention. It’s not easy to focus on the customer when the company culture has been developed around the brand story. But in today’s environment it is necessary. So how do you do it?

A good place to start is getting to know your customers. Social media analytics tools like Radian 6 can give marketers incredible insight into what their customers are saying. This information can be used to develop a content strategy that is engaging and consistent across social media, websites, blogs and other digital touch points. Once your market is engaged you can offer something in exchange for their data, and you can then use this to surprise and delight them. You build their trust and in return, you will be rewarded.

Any kind of brand can become inbound focused. In the US Oreo cookies created a social media campaign, celebrating their 100th birthday, that generated over 5 million Facebook “Likes” and lifted the engagement numbers by over 100%. The content they created was so interesting that the media began to write about it, which ended up generating over 231 million media impressions. There are many more stories like this. When a brand’s marketing and management teams “get it” the results can be amazing.

If you are a business leader, what is important is to understand is where the conversations are taking place and develop a view of the potential opportunities. If you don’t have a Facebook or Twitter account, get past your fear, or put aside the thought that it will be a “waste of time” and dive in. Develop an opinion and listen to your market.

The world is changing. The companies that will win in today’s digital environment are the ones who know their customers the best and communicate with them effectively. If your company has developed a culture around the more traditional outbound marketing approach then becoming inbound marketing-focused will not happen quickly. But it may just be the catalyst for the change you have been looking for.

 

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Dear brands. Stop ruining the internet.

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I’m a big believer in the power of technology to change the world. But lately I’ve noticed that the old world and the new world just aren’t getting on that well.

Not so long ago social media platforms were meant to make us all more connected and be the catalyst for customer-centric change in behaviour that would sweep the world. Communication had become more democratic than it ever before and now everybody had a voice.

But some members of the business community simply don’t understand how to use this technology, and they are busy ruining it for the rest of us.

Facebook has become a social platform with around a billion users because it is genuinely useful. Stop and think about it. People are able to connect and organise social, community and work activities in way that has never been possible before. What’s more, Zuckerberg has made the platform open, meaning that for brands and app developers the data is available to use if your customer gives you permission. Facebook’s mission is “to make the world more open and connected” and they are doing everything they can to make this happen.

The problem is advertising. It’s not that there is anything wrong with advertising on Facebook. When done right it’s actually pretty entertaining and can even be helpful. But most brands are not getting it right. They are used to “dumbing it down” and targeting the lowest common denominator. They’re using outdated metrics and old-school marketing techniques. And when these don’t work they blame the platform.

It’s not Facebook’s fault brands don’t know how to connect with their customers. Their advertising products and targeting tools are incredibly sophisticated. If people aren’t engaging with the ads, there is probably a good reason for it.

People are having conversations on platforms that make them feel good. The value they get is in the connection. Most of the time they are treating each other with respect and talking in a human way. As the cartoonist and author Hugh MacLeod wrote back in 2006, “if you talked to people the way advertising talked to people, they’d punch you in the face”.

Brands are busy saying “where’s the ROI of social media?” and it is important to be results driven. But make sure you are also asking “are we creating experiences that people will actually want?”

So listen up brands of the world. Stop trying to change the way that people behave and think. Stop trying to position your brand at the centre of a relationship. Stop writing irrelevant ads.

Talk to your customers and listen to your market. Treat them like individuals. Start thinking about the experiences you can offer that will make a difference to your customers lives. Think about how you can use data to make someone’s life better – not just to spam them. Help make the internet a better place for all of us.

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The state of social media marketing

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A few times a year I like to look at the available statistics for social media usage and develop some insights for my articles. As we are now into the second half of 2013 I thought I’d  go through that exercise again. What became obvious, almost immediately, is that social media is rapidly becoming  an established and important feature of global online activity and modern social behaviour. It is shaping the way we live. So let’s look at the evidence.

The digital analytics company Experian published a report (http://bit.ly/19EoT9c) in April this year that analysed internet usage in the US, UK and Australia. Across all of these regions 27% of all time spent online is spent on social networks, far and away the largest category.

Australian users are one of the highest users of social media world wide. For every hour an Australian spends online 14 minutes are spent on social sites, nine on entertainment and four minutes shopping online. Four minutes of online shopping may not seem much but the report also showed that time spent shopping online grew year-on-year for all regions, and that trend will continue.

Overall the actual proportion of time spent on social networks has dropped slightly. In Australia time on social dropped from 27% to 24%. However these numbers should not be misconstrued as waning interest. Instead it simply highlights the rise in access via smartphones as consumers become increasingly mobile device-orientated.

Figures have  also been published by Hubspot (http://bit.ly/15Cmf13) based on the survey of over 3,300 participants from 128 different countries, including CEOs, agencies, and marketers. They show that companies are realising the return on investment from social media activity. In fact social media lead conversion rates are 13% higher than the average lead conversion rate and are producing almost double the marketing leads of trade shows, telemarketing or direct mail.

The survey also found that 85% of fans of brands on Facebook recommend brands to others, compared to 60% of average users. But the figure I found to be the most telling was that approximately 46% of online users rely on social media when making a purchase decision. This clearly points to social media usage becoming firmly entrenched into customers’ buying journey.

Facebook is still the giant in Australia. In fact, there are now over 12 million Australian Facebook users. What is clear is that internet users are now becoming very comfortable with social media being embedded in their lives. They are using multiple platforms and using them often.

The numbers shown in these reports strongly suggest that every customer- facing brand  would benefit from a well thought through and executed social media strategy and content plan.

So as the new financial year gets underway it is a good time to ask yourself if you are doing everything you can do to get the most out of your digital marketing efforts.

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Pinterest’s part in selling

Pinterest

Many brands have been focusing on and developing their online content strategies this year. Focusing on the performance of different pieces of content has allowed brands to dig deep into the content preferences of their customers. Consumer brands in particular have recognised that pictures and graphics regularly lead to increased engagement, compared with other types of content.

High levels of consumer engagement with image based content is part of the reason that social media platforms like Instargram (now owned by Facebook) and Pinterest have had such dynamic growth numbers recently. A study published in the online publication Fast Company (http://bit.ly/115USYd) recently said that 44% of internet users “…are more likely to engage with brands if they post pictures than any other media.” Even from a commercial perspective, a picture really is worth a thousand words.

Clever consumer brands have been quick to pick up on this trend and take advantage of its audience engagement opportunities. The beauty retailer Sephora is a great example.

Sephora has been quick to adopt digital marketing techniques across-the-board. Social media has featured strongly in their marketing mix for years now. Fortunately for Sephora, its brand naturally aligns with the trend towards image based content. Given that Pinterest now generates more conversion focused referral traffic than Google+ and LinkedIn combined, it made sense for the Sephora marketing team to focus on the rapidly growing social platform.

Their focus on images and Pinterest is paying off. In a recent interview (http://bit.ly/18APzsD) Sephora’s head of digital, Julie Bornstein, said “The reality is that when you’re in the Pinterest mindset, you’re actually interested in acquiring items, which is not what people go to Facebook for.” The interviewee also said that “Pinterest followers spend more money than its Facebook followers, and not just a little bit more. In fact, Pinterest users spend 15 times more on Sephora products than Facebook followers.”

This doesn’t mean you should choose one platform over another. You cannot have an effective social media strategy that’s only focused on Pinterest. It needs to be part of your digital mix. But ensuring you can follow your customers behaviours and attribute interactions to sales figures means you will know how to optimise your content strategy.

For example Sephora has 4.7 million Facebook fans which they see as a “critical early-warning system.” Meaning they know very quickly if their customer base doesn’t like something, allowing the marketing team to pivot quickly. But as far as actual sales is concerned Pinterest is the driving force.

So if you have customer base that is likely to interact with beautiful, insightful or funny images (and who wouldn’t?) you may want to ensure your content strategy is taking that into account. If you want to actually see a return on what you invest on your social media activity then image based content, and the platforms that allow people to interact with it, is something you just can’t ignore.

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The changing face of Facebook

FBwall

I was lucky enough to recently visit Facebook HQ in Menlo Park, just outside of San Francisco. The multi-building campus is incredible and feels like it could have been designed by Willy Wonka, if Mr Wonka was a software developer with a penchant for working long hours. I didn’t lick any walls though so my empirical observations were limited. During the tour I began to think about how much Facebook had changed since it floated a year ago.

In the U.S. Securities and Exchanges letter announcing the Facebook float, Mark Zuckerberg famously (at least in the circles I hang out in) wrote, “Facebook was not originally created to be a company. It was built to accomplish a social mission — to make the world more open and connected.” Billions of dollars, and over a billion account holders later, Facebook is now very much a company, and one that the whole world is watching very closely.

A focus on generating revenues is having an impact on Facebook the company. While Zuckerberg didn’t seem over concerned with profit before the IPO, pressure from shareholders has shifted the company’s focus. Advertising on the platform has evolved very quickly and there are other revenue generating products being tested all the time.

It could be argued that Facebook may have floated a little too early. As a developer lead organisation (the vast majority of Facebook HQ employees are developers) much of what Facebook does is driven by software updates. The Facebook advertising platform has evolved through this method. But the relentlessness of adverting-focused updates has made it difficult for many people, and brands, to keep up.

My view is that Facebook could have done a better job of educating brands about how to best use the social media platform to generate long term value. The data that brands can now access thanks to Facebook is simply incredible. However for many marketers what that data is, how to access it, and why it is so valuable to marketing efforts is simply not clear.

Of course educating the world’s marketers, many of whom are still coming to grips with all the digital channels at one time, takes time and money. The float of Facebook generated the cash needed to accelerate this process and the world is now beginning to catch up. Much of what I do day-to-day is focused on helping my clients make big leaps in this area.

The question that I just can’t seem to shake is “why is Facebook not focusing on education more?” Many advertisers are using the platform the same way they might use Google adverting – without realising that customers are in a very different mindset. While Facebook may be doing a lot to improve the technical aspects of the platform for both users and advertisers, it’s the way advertisers are using the platform that may be part of the reason Facebook appears to be losing account holders.

Facebook’s next big challenge to overcome may have nothing to do with software. It might just be helping the rest of world reframe their relationships with customers – and think like Zuckerberg.

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Being responsible with consumer data

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Social media is changing the way that marketers think about the world around them. Platforms like Facebook are not just new ways of reaching audiences, they also contain huge volumes of data about each individual. Every time a Facebook user “likes” a page or connects with someone else a record of that event is created. Combined with the demographic data that already exists, this activity can tell marketers a lot about the people they are interacting with. If you are interested in seeing what your data profile looks like go to http://www.wolframalpha.com/facebook/.
Al this information and insight to potential behaviours and preferences is part of the promise of big data marketing. But there’s a problem. Now that brands have caught onto the value of this data they are busy trying to collect it in any way possible – and while Facebook allows you to collect data, that doesn’t always mean it’s a good idea. If companies get individuals to provide personal information unwittingly, or use it in ways that don’t add value, then this system for gathering, analysing and utilising data could break down.
The average person knows that companies want his or her data. After all they are asked to provide it all the time. But for many people this is starting to get scary. So how can a brand get what they need but leave individuals  feeling “safe”?
It’s not that difficult. Just follow these four simple rules:
Only ask for what you need
Imagine a world where, as you walked in a supermarket, you were greeted at the door by a bouncer who asked you to hand over your wallet and passport. Nobody would go there. This is how people see forms that ask for lots of information at once. It’s an invasion. They may give you that information but only if they trust you.
So only ask for the minimum information you require.
Describe how the data will be used
Be open and honest. If you are going to email the customer later tell them. When people know they have a choice,  the sense of empowerment can build trust.
Think of it as a trade – offer something of real value
If the data is valuable to you then find a way to reward people for sharing it. And reward every additional piece of information they supply.You are engaging in a trade. They are giving you something and you should reciprocate. It may just be through access to a bit more information or functionality but it is still a reward for the behaviour you are seeking.
Don’t go back on your word!
If you have earned an individual’s trust don’t undo all of your good work by doing something stupid. Treat each person like a partner and you will build goodwill.
The data from social media can be an extremely powerful tool to help drive sales and change the way you think about your customers. But always remember it’s a record of your customers’ life. Treat it with respect.
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