man jumping over water
PHOTO: Matt Heaton

As marketers today, we’re in a rough spot. Consumers have little tolerance for us, so our programs are less impactful than ever before (according to the Data & Marketing Association, the average campaign response rate is currently less than one percent). New competitors are coming at us left and right from adjacent markets. We watch CMOs and marketing execs disappear, and wonder if it’s our turn next. It’s all a bit scary. It’s obviously an “evolve or perish” situation, but that seems a few notches above our pay grade, so we do what we know. We stay alive, keeps our heads down, and keep cranking out emails and advertisements.

But to understand the impact of one percent response rates, you have to consider the customer’s perspective: 99 percent of the messages they see from brands are irrelevant — they’re about the brand, not them — a complete flat-line on the “I need to read this” scale. So they stop reading, and stop listening. They tune the brand out. It’s practically self-preservation for them as they feel like they’re under attack, and it’s coming from all sides at once, from every company they’ve ever bought from.

We don’t realize how badly we’re overloading them (or we simply don’t think about it that way), we just know our numbers aren’t high enough to hit our goals. So we try and drive them higher: we pull bigger audiences, create more campaigns, and do more pushing. It’s all well-intentioned, and very human. But it has the opposite effect: we end up conditioning recipients to ignore us, thus validating the idea that our messages are irrelevant, and that we aren’t worth their time, energy or focus. In marketing, that’s a death sentence.

What Are We Trying to Accomplish With Our Marketing?

There’s one question every company needs to ask itself: what are we actually trying to accomplish with our marketing? The answer isn’t “run more campaigns.” Campaigns aren’t an end goal, just a means to some greater end. And despite how we’re driven to behave, the goal isn’t simply to sell products, either — that’s short-sighted. Instead, we have to focus on increasing revenue and profit for the company as a whole (not just a single product or line) and ideally, to increase our Customer Satisfaction Score (CSAT) at the same time.

To make this happen, we have to get out of this archaic, “one-to-many” mindset which has ruled marketing for decades, and deliver what the customer actually needs: an always-on, one-to-one experience. This means understanding what each individual is experiencing, and tailoring our message and approach in real-time, to what’s appropriate for that context. Basically, it all boils down to respect and intimacy: knowing our customers so well that we can deliver the offer, message, service or experience they want, when they actually need it. That’s a huge deal.

With an always-on, one-to-one approach, you don’t wait for campaign execution to reach out. Waiting will kill your performance, and cripple your customer relationships. If a customer has a specific need now, and you know it, why wait? Customers don’t wait to make purchases, cancel service or switch providers, they want things now. If we as marketers can’t give them what they need, they don’t complain, they just move on. And if we aren’t paying close attention, we can have the rug pulled right from under us.

What Needs to Change?

The concept of one-to-one marketing became popular more than 20 years ago, but the technology was never available to make it real. We could see things happening (customers churning, becoming interested in products, getting frustrated with service levels, etc.), but we couldn’t react fast enough to make a difference. It was incredibly frustrating. Now, with the introduction of real-time artificial intelligence (AI), the only remaining challenges are around culture and inaction.

To reap the benefits of always-on, one-to-one approach, the following changes need to happen within an organization, both technically and culturally:

  1. Moving from one-to-many segmentation, to a one-to-one customer approach.
  2. Moving from channel and product-driven targeting, to a central decision authority.
  3. Moving from scheduled push campaigns, to an always-on model that continuously engages customers during their “moments of need.”

This is the foundation for always-on engagement: where every interaction is relevant, timely, contextual and in everyone’s best interest.

What Are the Benefits of an Always-On Approach?

Making the shift to a new engagement model isn’t easy. Corporate culture, processes, technology alignment and a segment or campaign-focused mindset are all major barriers. However, improvements in real-time interaction and AI capabilities have eliminated many of the technology roadblocks, and the benefits can be massive. Organizations that have committed themselves to an always-on approach experience the following results:

  • Increased response – because messages are timely and relevant.
  • Reduced customer churn – because problems are resolved quickly.
  • Reduced discounts – because offers and bundles are personalized for customers.
  • Incremental selling opportunities – because customers don’t have to hide from offers.
  • Increased net promoter scores – because experience are more connected, and personal.

It’s All About Sustainable Relationships

We no longer live in a world where a one-size-fits-all offer will satisfy anyone, especially not an informed, savvy customer. Today it’s all about building a sustainable two-way relationship, then constantly adapting as it grows and changes. Nurturing it, not trying to control it. By leveraging data and real-time context to improve the way we engage, we can move past mass-segmentation and batch campaigns and enable a much more personalized journey.