woman with a quizzical  look  on her face
PHOTO: Sherise

Thirty years ago, marketers were guided mostly by their gut. They had an intuition, based on experience, of which messages and offers would resonate with different audiences. Selling a vacuum cleaner? Your gut told you the audience was mostly middle-aged women. A lawnmower? Middle-aged men. If he lived in a rural area, you might offer him a discount on a tractor mower. Affluent and urban? Your whisper-quiet, self-propelled model.

We now know that gut-based marketing doesn’t work. Men cook, women mow the lawn, and even affluent people are selective about how they spend their money. If you ask most marketers today, they’ll tell you they’ve long since replaced gut marketing with data-driven decisions. But data-based decisions are still a form of segmentation, which is only slightly less outmoded than gut-driven decisions. You build a campaign using data-based segmentation, then build another on slightly different and newer data, ad infinitum. Eventually, you end up with a bunch of different campaigns based on multiple segmentation models that are more or less competing with each other.

Amazon and Netflix, by the way, don’t bother with data-based campaign segmentation. Instead, they use real-time decisioning and campaign orchestration to create personalized offers and recommendations, which is what customers want and expect today.

Data-Based Decisions, Decisioning and Orchestration Explained

Decisioning starts with data, but it doesn’t end there. Unlike data-based campaign segmentation, which never looks beyond the current campaign, decisioning is a process with a long-term view toward creating the next best experience. For example, decisioning may use machine learning to improve and refine campaign offers over time to an individual consumer. With data-based campaign decisions, you’re more or less throwing darts at the wall. Decisioning builds a logical chain that pulls the customer through the sales funnel.

Orchestration is a continuum of experiences that are stitched together toward specific goals. For example, a marketer might orchestrate experiences to turn an anonymous user into a known user, a known user into an engaged user, an engaged user into a buyer, and a buyer into a repeat buyer. The most important aspect of orchestration is the setting up of goals and defining what constitutes a successful campaign. To do this, you’ll need closed-loop feedback to measure your campaign results. This is where tools such as cross-channel attribution models and identity resolution models are crucial, because they help accurately measure success.

Related Article: Decisioning: The Only Way to Accelerate Analytics to Value

Don’t Use Your Gut. Don’t Just Trust Your Data. Do This Instead.

So, should your marketing organization be focused on decisioning or orchestration? The answer is both and neither. Orchestration and decisioning are very effective processes, but they’re not a silver bullet. It’s the tools behind decisioning and orchestration that are essential for success. You need to be aggregating and unifying your data. You need to use technologies like machine learning to uncover new and often counterintuitive insights about your customers so you can serve them the right piece of content or offer that will create the next best experience. You need to be able to define meaningful campaign goals and measure campaign effectiveness in real-time. And you need attribution models that connect the dots between insights, actions and results — even when those dots belong to different channels and campaigns.

We’ve come a long way from the “art” of marketing to demographics-based segmentation to data science. Yet the creeping sense that most marketing campaigns are more or less a placebo persists. As marketing and technology disciplines merge, measurement has become more important than ever. Marketers need to look outside their familiar box of tools — segmentation, reporting, analytics — to dig deeper into content affinities, hidden correlations, and changes in an individual’s customer journey. Your gut may tell you one thing, your data another, but ultimately, it’s what your customers are telling you through their actions and behaviors that matters most.

Editor's Note: Read the previous articles in this three-part series