When former New York Yankees great Yogi Berra said "the future ain't what it used to be," he could easily have been describing the continually evolving state of online marketing (or marketing generally). The future used to be "more of the same." Today, it's more likely "something different every day."

Although the goals of marketing haven't changed, the focus has shifted. The web has made effective marketing less about establishing links between customer needs and vendor solutions and more about iterative, consultative conversations between buyers and providers.

Perhaps the most obvious evidence of this evolution is the spectacular growth of social networking. Companies large and small are leveraging (or attempting to leverage) social media to target, engage and retain customers and to optimize their approaches to these efforts. Customers, meanwhile, are increasingly using social networks to explore, compare and comment upon current, past and prospective products and vendors in a variety of markets.

There is a significant opportunity for marketers today to forge new, mutually beneficial and profitable long-term relationships with customers. The challenge is to do so in ways that meet customers wherever they are, and communicate with them in whatever modes they prefer. Marketers need to provide a targeted, rich, interactive and consistent multi-channel experience for customers. Achievement of this goal requires that marketers utilize social computing and understand its power for enabling effective targeting, engagement, optimization and retention using the web.

Priming the Pipeline

Modern technologies enable organizations to monitor the growing galaxy of social networking websites, pinpoint potential customers and understand what the market is saying about organizations, brands, products and services. Marketing can then use preference and sentiment information gathered and analyzed from those sites to nurture and follow up on leads and to create targeted offerings that win the hearts and minds of customers.

User-generated content and other interactive technologies can help companies to implement social capabilities on their own websites as well, enabling commentary on products and services and interaction among site visitors. The result is an experience on the site that is rich and engaging for the site visitor.

When this on-site experience is also integrated with external social networking communities that individuals are a part of, both to disseminate site content and to target site content to individuals based on their profiles or preferences from the external communities, the result is an engaging experience for the customer across multiple touch points that will help drive loyalty to the organization and the success of its marketing initiatives.

The more seamlessly and comprehensively an organization can engage users visiting their website (whether it is via traditional web browsers or mobile devices), the more effective their marketing and customer experience programs will be. Through online efforts, using social computing as a key enabler, marketers can more accurately and completely understand the problems, issues, needs and desires of customers, and more effectively tailor their targeted marketing efforts both online and offline.

Targeting Socially

Social media can be especially helpful to online targeted marketing campaigns. Such campaigns depend upon accurate, comprehensive user profiles. These are leveraged to classify or segment website visitors according to their demographics (age, gender, etc.), purchase history, stated preferences, on-site behavior or other types of data. User profiles enable organizations to deliver a more compelling web experience via personalized content, offers and recommendations to site visitors. Through targeted marketing, organizations can forge deeper relationships with customers and increase sales and loyalty.

Social media enriches the pool of information that can be gathered and incorporated into users’ profiles, including the interests, preferences, and personal or network likes and dislikes, revealed on social networking sites. Adding information derived from social media sources to targeted marketing profiles is a key enabler of online engagement efforts aimed at winning and retaining customers. Through content targeting technologies for the web, organizations can automatically deliver a targeted experience for visitors on their site using this information.

However, while the benefits of harnessing social media information for targeted marketing are real, so are the challenges that marketers face. These include tracking users across multiple channels, gathering and analyzing relevant information, making that information accessible and actionable, and having the technological foundation to use all of this information to execute targeted campaigns.

Managing Multi-Channel Engagement

To monitor and analyze social network user behavior effectively, marketers must measure qualities they are probably not measuring now, such as sentiment, influence, relevance and context. In many cases, gauging these qualities will require new analytical tools that must integrate well with the organization’s existing web presence as well as all relevant systems and processes in use for managing customer and prospect information.

In response to these needs, marketing decision makers increasingly want and need their organizations' key customer engagement systems to work together. These include solutions for web content management (WCM), enterprise content management (ECM), online content targeting and optimization, social computing, mobile web support, digital asset management (DAM) and more. Fortunately, modern technologies enable such integration, providing a firm foundation for customer engagement initiatives.

Sparking Your Own Metamorphosis

Targeted marketing that embraces and leverages the increasingly social and multi-channel web is an imperative for sustainable success for most businesses -- a "when," not an "if." The right steps and solutions will help you to build a firm strategic foundation for responding to and taking maximum advantage of the challenges and opportunities for customer engagement.

Sidebar: The Right Technologies for Driving Customer Engagement

What are the technologies required to drive customer engagement? Here are some of the key enablers:

  • Web content management (WCM) -- A scalable, easy-to-manage, high-performance foundation that enables non-technical users to author web content and campaigns, and marketers to manage that content centrally across a potentially large and global web presence.
  • User-generated content (UGC) -- Capabilities for adding comments, ratings, reviews and blogs to websites, with built-in enterprise-class moderation and management of UGC.
  • End-user personalization -- Support for use of gadgets on sites to enable end-user personalization of site content and functionality.
  • Mobility support -- Easy-to-use tools that simplify and automate extending the corporate web presence to thousands of different mobile device types and form factors, so that organizations can provide a rich and consistent experience for site visitors across mobile and traditional websites.
  • Targeting and personalization -- Capabilities for establishing customer segments and targeting site content to visitors, based on their profiles, set preferences, behavior, location, device type, social networks and more (or any combination of the above), to provide the most relevant and compelling online experience possible. Integration with external social networks is becoming an important aspect of targeting.
  • Built-in optimization -- Analytics that produce easily interpretable and actionable measurement and tracking of the effectiveness of web content and experiences delivered, to enable rapid iterative optimization and valuable management insights.
  • Digital asset management (DAM) -- Efficient management of all digital assets, including video, images, audio and more, for rapid repurposing, transformation and sharing. Requirements include close integration with the WCM platform for easy use of digital assets in the online channel.