For many years, traditional marketing relied on hindsight to predict what might be successful in the future. Marketers relied on statistical data, such as the amount that sales increased immediately after a television ad appeared or how many customers used the discount code that identified the specific magazine in which a print ad appeared. Even surveys and focus groups provided dated information. By the time the results were compiled and forwarded to marketing, consumers had often moved on to the "next big thing," which often contradicted the information they had supplied weeks or even months earlier.
Of all the things that has affected what consumers want from a company, nothing has had more of an impact than technology. In the 21st century alone, there have been numerous technological advances that have been highly disruptive to the marketing status quo. Smartphones, wearable tech, cars and appliances that can connect to the Internet, cloud computing and virtual reality applications are just some of the technologies that are available for consumers, which marketers can leverage from.
Every time customers interact digitally with a company, they leave behind clues that marketers can collect. Sometimes, the data is limited; perhaps all that can be gleaned is the day and time of the interaction, the type of device used or the general geographic location of the user. At other times, users may voluntarily provide their email addresses, phone numbers, age or other personal data. If they make an online purchase, they normally must provide their physical address to have their order shipped or their credit card authorized. Their purchases give you the details on the specific items they bought while their activities on your site (the items they clicked on before making a choice or the length of time they spent on each page) offer insights into their behavior.
What this means is that marketers have unprecedented access to real-time information that they can use to engage consumers in relevant ways. Companies today are compiling massive databases of information on consumer attitudes and customer behavior. However, these databases are not of much use if you cannot leverage them. As one marketer put it, "I have a mountain of bread crumbs, but I can't see a trail. I know I have a lot of information, but I'm not sure what to do with it."
The answer is to use the data to create a better brand experience for customers. There are three keys to harnessing technology for effectively engaging your customers.
- Personalization: Most people enjoy dealing with waiters, receptionists and cashiers who remember their names or some tidbit from a previous visit. If they make a solo visit to an establishment, they are delighted to be asked whether they found tickets to the show they were hoping to see or how their kids are doing. Online customers are no different. When they access your site, they enjoy seeing a personalized "welcome back" message or thumbnails of products that add value to the item they purchased on their last visit. New visitors can also receive a personalized experience that is based on their geographic location as well as data from other sources, such as severe weather conditions in that area or data gleaned from the visitor's Facebook page. Keep in mind that just because the person has not visited your website before does not mean that he or she has not interacted with you. Perhaps the visitor has posted a comment on your company Facebook page or telephoned to request more information. Use this information to provide a personalized experience.
- Automation: There was a time when marketing automation meant inserting the customer's name into a form letter or bulk email. Today, marketing automation means that you can customize a marketing campaign or website for individual customers. Automation goes hand-in-hand with personalization. Your website can literally change for each customer to give every visitor an experience that is based on his or her previous activities, demographic information or online behavior.
- Hyper-targeting: Suppose you operate a retail store that is located in a busy mall and you see a customer passing your storefront. Now suppose that you could react to the customer's presence by saying, "Hello, Jane. Here is a special coupon to help you furnish the dollhouse you bought on your last visit, but it is only valid for the next four hours." It might surprise you to learn that similar scenarios are already occurring through the use of iBeacons that identify the presence of a customer's cell phone and engage him or her accordingly. This is just one example of hyper-marketing. (Think of it as the difference between applying paint with a tiny brush instead of a sprayer. Your efforts will be more focused, and there will be less waste.) Marketers now have the ability to target customers at the most detailed level. Untargeted ads, generic emails and static websites are obsolete. Everything can be tailored to individual customers at every stage of their purchase journeys, including where they are located geographically at the time you choose to interact with them.
The last decade has brought many changes to how marketers must interact with customers. As technology advances, marketing will need to continuously adapt to achieve success. Marketers have only scratched the surface of what can be done through personalization, automation and hyper-marketing. The upper limits have yet to be defined, but they may never be reached if technology continues to offer innovative ways to engage customers.