Addressing the Critical Pieces of the Digital Marketing Puzzle

3 Massive Marketing Challenges for 2014

By Rob O’Regan, Editorial Director, eMedia Vitals

In a world of always-on smartphones, tablets and social media, it’s never been easier for marketers to stay connected with customers and prospects. It’s also never been more challenging, as the competition for consumer attention and the ability for customers to tune out unwanted messages have advanced significantly.

Three challenges stand out above the rest for 2014: corralling customer data, creating cross-channel consistency, and investing in compelling content. For many marketers, one or more of these challenges may ultimately prove to be unsolvable. But that can’t keep them from trying, because each is a critical piece of the digital marketing puzzle.

Corralling customer data

Forrester analyst Melissa Parrish says 2014 will the year “that marketers begin to turn big data into smart data.”We’ll see.

There’s no denying that big data is a big opportunity. IDC predicts that spending on big data technologies and services will grow by 30% in 2014, surpassing $14 billion. But IDC notes that demand for big data analytics skills will continue to outstrip supply – meaning that marketers will continue to be better at collecting data than they are at mining it for real insights.

“Attention to data is growing, but there’s still not enough, and that will continue to be an inhibitor to growth,” Kathleen Schaub, VP of IDG’s CMO Advisory Service, said in a webinar last month. One of IDC’s top 10 CMO predictions for 2014 is that 80% of customer data will be wasted due to immature enterprise data "value chains."

This waste falls into four categories:

  1. Missing data. Conversations between salespeople and prospects often is not captured – just one example of the gaps that exist in customer profiles. "Marketers need to think about what it means to know everything about customers, and then identify the most valuable pieces and figure out how to get them," said Schaub. "It's a future view, but at least companies need to be thinking about this."
  2. Unavailable data.  Critical customer data is often locked away in departmental silos, inaccessible to marketers. "Data comes in a lot of forms and formats, and it has to be aggregated quickly and efficiently" for it to be useful, Schaub said.
  3. Junk data. IDC's data group has found that as much as 80% of data collected has no meaning whatsoever. "Being smart enough and having tools to differentiate between the signal and the noise is another important part of data management," said Schaub.
  4. Late data. "Between every click on your website or click on one of your emails and a response to an offer is an opportunity for data to be used [more effectively],” Schaub said. “If you have the data but it's not available to your systems in real-time as it applies to the digital dialogue, it's pretty much useless."

Check out these four suggestions from Nate Silver on getting headed in the right direction with big data.

Creating cross-channel consistency

The gaps in marketers’ big data strategies makes it virtually impossible to deliver a seamless experience across all customer touch points – in-person, phone, web and mobile. The problem is that many brands have spent the past year or more talking about the importance of “customer experience.” They are likely to face a backlash if they don’t start putting their words into action by making it easier for customers to move among channels without having to share the same information over and over again.

Ingrid Lindberg, chief customer experience officer at Prime Therapeutics, told 1to1 Media that it’s getting harder for companies to “fake their way to the top”:

"The brand myths will be penalized. There are an awful lot of companies talking about their exceptional experiences or the importance of the experience. Experience is the new 'it' word. The reality is, talking about it doesn't mean you're delivering what you promise." 

Integrating media silos presents both an opportunity and a challenge for CMOs in the year ahead, according to IDC’s Schaub. “The aspiration to know what customers want at every single touchpoint is impossible in today’s silo’d orientation,” she said. Teams that have traditionally been dedicated to specific program types – such as advertising or direct marketing – will be forced to collaborate, sharing budgets as well as data, to develop a more complete understanding of customers across different channels.

Schaub said this shift will cause plenty of fireworks, not just internally, but also with the vendors and agencies that are serving those individual marketing teams.

Addressing buyers’ demands through a more integrated approach, supported by better analytics, will help to improve marketing efficiencies, she said. For many marketers, however, any semblance of cross-channel consistency remains a distant dream.

Investing in compelling content

Part of a seamless experience involves delivering relevant content and messaging to customers. This will requiremarketers to raise their content marketing game. “It’s not just about producing more content,” Rich Vancil, group VP of IDC's Executive Advisory Strategies, said during the IDC webinar. “More is not necessarily better.”

Content relevancy includes many factors: where a customer or prospect is in the buying cycle, how they consume media, even their location and the time of day. The oft-repeated but hard-to-achieve goal: deliver the right message at the right time through the right channel.

It’s also important, Vancil noted, to measure the payoff: how much is read, internalized, shared or acted on? For B2B marketers, this means moving beyond treating everyone who downloads a white paper as a hot lead that requires an immediate follow-up call.

Marketers also need to consider the many distribution channels available to them for their content, including their own corporate website, email, social media and, increasingly, third-party media sites that are embracing the native advertising trend.

Marketers that are developing native ad programs must resist the urge to create “soul-destroying” advertorial content disguised as editorial. Joe McCambley summed it up best for Adweek: “Like all advertising, some native will be great, but most will be unremarkable.”

Writing anonymously for Digiday, one agency exec counters that brands simply don’t have what it takes to truly act like a publisher. “On average it takes a normal brand using a normal agency between three and six months to get one piece of content approved and published,” the exec wrote. “HuffPo publishes about 500 pieces a day. Figure that out, ‘Math Men.’”

There’s likely a middle ground that marketers can find to deliver compelling content on a consistent basis, without aspiring to be the Huffington Post. To do so, they’ll need to invest real resources in content development – quality content is not cheap – and transition from brand police to brand catalyst.

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