At a time when companies aren’t just selling products and services but also competing for customers’ time and attention across a vast digital playing field, creating lasting relationships is Job No. 1 for many CMOs.
That means starting meaningful conversations, offering relevant solutions, and communicating a genuine concern for consumers and their wants and needs, according to John Boris, CMO of Shutterfly. This practice—often referred to by some as “people-based marketing”—has taken hold because, “quite simply, it works,” Boris told CMO.com. But how to successfully create and maintain that one-to-one relationship? Easier said than done.
“People-based marketing is knowing your customers and understanding their behaviors,” he said. “Consumers are savvy, and they are inundated with marketing messages at every turn. Effective marketing is not about pushing your message or product but about understanding a consumer’s problem and offering them a solution when and where they need it.”
According to Asa Whillock, “identity czar” at Adobe (CMO.com’s parent company), people-based marketing is about more than one-off personalization efforts. Rather, it has gained popularity partly because it enables marketers to converse with prospects, customers, and VIPs on a regular basis.
“Marketers want to be able to greet customers and give them offers or compelling experiences that are both interesting and continuous,” Whillock said. “By continuous, I mean they’re a sequence of interactions, which takes the person along a journey with the brand.”
The Device Dilemma
People-based marketing is, in large part, enabled by the ability to tie devices to individual consumers. However, cross-device tracking is an issue that requires brands to have a strong and reliable attribution model to understand consumption choices, according to Shutterfly’s Boris. He also noted that mobile’s various data sources make it all the more complicated.
“The majority of emails are opened on a mobile device, [and] the vast majority of social media investment is on mobile. It is, therefore, imperative that marketers gain insight into cross-device behavior,” Boris said.
But that can be complicated: The average U.S. consumer owns 7.2 Internet-connected devices, yet marketers typically can identify only one of them during a Web visit, according to data from Adobe Digital Insights (ADI). This gap means that many marketers have a limited picture of customers and an even more limited ability to activate relevant cross-device experiences.
Because of the myriad of devices that consumers are using today, marketers have been challenged in providing “continuous” experiences, Adobe’s Whillock noted. The sequence of interactions that makes for a continuous interaction is unquestionably disrupted, he said.
“People-based marketing is treating someone as one person, across multiple devices, and still giving them that delightful experience. That’s really the focus,” Whillock said.
The good news is that marketers understand the importance of untangling this device dilemma. According to a study by technology company Signal, advertisers are already embracing people-based media: Twenty-five percent of media buyers said their clients spend more than half of their budgets on addressable media. Further, Signal found, 92% of media buyers said they and their clients will increase these media buys in 2016.
The Signal study also found that 83% of companies that are employing a people-based approach have seen improved click-through rates, and 60% said they have seen higher conversion rates.
Shutterfly’s Boris took the cross-device argument one step further, saying that marketers need to be thinking about tying such data to the individual, vs. tying it back to devices, with the latter being the more common practice nowadays.
“By focusing on devices, you’re limited in your view. When you look at attribution, you need to understand how frequently your customer is on mobile and desktop, where they are engaging with your product, and their motivations for purchase,” Boris said.
Power Of Persistence
The key to employing a people-based marketing approach comes down to a combination of people, process, and technology, Boris said.
“Team members not only need to have the right skill sets, but they also need to share a customer-centric mindset,” Boris said. “Of course, it is then critical to establish the right processes to enable successful execution, as well as empower the team with the right tools and technology needed to make the decisions.”
People-based marketing is no easy feat, added Kathy Menis, SVP of marketing at Signal. Having the ability to recognize consumers is a challenge in and of itself, as is layering on the device dilemma. And it doesn’t end there.
A big part of people-based marketing is having the right technology. The problem is, today’s marketers are working with different platforms, from different vendors, which aren’t integrated, which means they have a plethora of data sources. “Getting your head around all of that data can be a huge challenge,” Menis told CMO.com.
“It’s hard to take ownership of customer data and to be able to manage it in such a way that you can collect it and connect it at a profile level that’s persistent,” Menis added. “Persistent means that it’s durable and stable, and that the marketer has the ability to recognize that consumer, to target them, to re-engage them. There needs to be that continual, always-on component to it so that, over time, marketers have the ability to provide more relevant and personalized experiences.”
Not only are marketers troubled by what their integrated technology stack looks like, they’re also struggling with how to run the marketing organization in a customer-centric way. According to Menis, it’s anchored around having a single view of the customer. Part of the issue: Only 6% of marketers have this streamlined view.
“That’s a big problem,” Menis said. “If the advertiser doesn’t recognize the consumer, they don’t have that unified view, and, in a sense, it gives them a handicap across all of their offline and online marketing.”
A single view of the customer is possible only when an organization is aligned from within, Menis stressed. Companies need to think about what happens internally to build this persistent view and make it the core of everything that happens.
Next, companies should think about where they need to make investments, what processes have to be in place, and what types of integrated technology is going to enable the experiences that companies want. There’s no one-size-fits-all answer, Menis said.
“The power of the persistent profile isn’t even just an advertising context; it drives intelligence for the data and analytics teams, obviously to the marketing team and the digital media team, but there’s implications even into the future in terms of product innovation,” she said.
Respect For Privacy
People-based marketing also must factor in the privacy angle, Adobe’s Whillock said. As marketers work on linking various devices to an individual consumer, the need for transparency is imperative. Marketers need to make their customers and prospects better understand which devices are linked and where it is happening.
“That’s been the hardest part so far,” he said. “Consumers need to understand what’s going on, but technology has evolved so quickly that it’s hard to determine if consumers really understand what’s happening with their data.”
Marketers also need to be transparent about where this cross-device data is being used and where it came from, Whillock added.
To that end, Signal’s Menis recommended that brands refer to the guidelines and standards of the Network Advertising Initiative (NAI), a self-regulatory association dedicated to responsible data collection and its use for digital advertising.
It’s clear that the opportunities with people-based marketing are plenty, but all of the experts interviewed agreed that people-based marketing is still in its infancy as marketers struggle with device ID, technology, internal issues, and privacy.
“People-based marketing is in the early stages, and it will certainly grow in importance as technology advances. Reaching people with personalized messages and information at the right time on the right device is powerful,” Shutterfly’s Boris said. “If brands use the data responsibility, under the premise of [using data to] create a better customer experience, a people-based marketing approach is an incredibly powerful tool."