sailing in choppy waters
PHOTO: Torsten Dederichs

Many farers in the seas of marketing were taught to think of the customer as their north star. Marketers and marketing analysts know customer wants, needs, fears and aversions and bring that knowledge to bear when making or influencing business decisions. Because marketers are the holders and evangelists of the truth that businesses won’t succeed unless they align their interests with that of their customers. And if customers don’t benefit from a business’s success, that success won’t last long.

Yet in spite of most marketers understanding this maxim, so many steer their ships off-course. They disregard — or worse, work against — customers’ interests for short-term gains. At what cost? Higher attrition, reputational damage, susceptibility to disruption, and maybe even legal action, among other consequences.

Marketers' abuse of customer trust persists at high levels. Marketers and analysts are currently experiencing a storm-like convergence of challenges, amidst customer data scandals and breaches and following the launch of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). But if there's any benefit to this newfound, not-exactly-glowing outside scrutiny of marketing, it’s a call to self-examination. To re-chart missions and get back on course.

At the core of the customer-level data collection that fuels digital marketing is a tacit agreement — now made explicit by GDPR — that customers give their info but get something in return, and that exchange will be transparent. Maybe the business gets customer-level data which it leverages for better marketing ROI and higher conversion rates, but the customer gets discounts, convenience or improved experiences. A win-win.

Digital marketing should celebrate the positive impacts of recent pressures. Those impacts will enable them to do their jobs better by providing value to the customer while serving their business within the guardrails of appropriate data governance. Here are four examples:

Positive Impact 1: Greater Focus on Privacy and Security

Businesses have long seen the effects of lax privacy and security protocols, but more than ever they are holding themselves accountable for the privacy and security of their customer data. Simply because in the event of a breach, customers won’t let businesses pass the buck to a third party. They expect the business they entrusted their data with to take responsibility for its protection.

One manifestation of this trend is client-side data blocking. Most marketing analysts have never wanted to touch personally identifiable information (PII) if customers haven’t opted in. Many, however, do use cloud-based tools that collect all users’ data, only to then filter out the verboten PII. Though an analyst may never see the PII, any time data is moved it is vulnerable, so we are unnecessarily exposing data to higher risk of breach with this “server-side’ processing. We are also failing to comply with prevalent data regulations like GDPR at the same time.

Hence the rise of client-side data blocking, whereby PII is blocked (or masked) at the browser level so it never enters the third-party tool’s cloud. As behavioral analytics solutions grow more sophisticated and capture more and more customer-level data, it’s important to respond in kind with assurance that PII is not at risk. And while every organization has an obligation to protect its customers’ data, for marketers, not collecting undue PII in the first place is a great way to start.

Related Article: Marketers Are Missing the Point of the GDPR – and the Opportunity

Positive Impact 2: Journey Analysis Maturation Takes Marketers Well Beyond the Conversion Point

As digital marketers and analysts and their enabling technology mature, they look to measure points further from the point of conversion. Why? They know these points are just as important in ensuring a better customer experience and better marketing ROI. Where once digital marketers and analysts concerned themselves with a customers’ behavior between the time they came onto the site and checked out or otherwise converted, they now look at what the customers did before and after (without looking at PII, of course).

For example, if a customer conducts a transaction on a web portal, they may come back shortly thereafter to conduct a similar transaction for a number of reasons. And many of them don’t involve a satisfied customer anxious to give repeat business. If businesses kept up with them beyond the initial points of conversion, they may hear on social media or a voice-of-the-customer tool that the user interface confused them and they didn’t realize they completed the transaction the first time. Or maybe they were retargeted with a push message to come back and complete a transaction they actually just completed due to some faulty plumbing in the business’s marketing automation system. 

Zooming out for a wider view on the end-to-end journey = more insight into the actual CX = more ability to create better, more consistent experiences.

Related Article: Put Voice of the Customer Feedback Into Action With the Usability Approach

Positive Impact 3: Offline Data Enters the Mix for Truer Multi-Channel

Customers expect businesses to know them. If they make a purchase online, then make a purchase at the store, then make a purchase over the phone, they’d expect the business to service all of those transactions on any of those channels, right? In CX paradise every channel interaction informs tailored experiences in all channels — and digital marketers and analysts are closer than ever to reaching that promised land. From point of service, to in-store analytics, to call center, analytics silos are speaking to each other more and more, even when the solutions are managed by competitors.

The ability of new AI-driven tech to capture offline data at scale combined with the free, secure exchange of customer data via out-of-the-box integrations is reshaping brands’ view of the customer. Their preferences and habits on each platform can now inform a holistic multi-channel view. And marketers can use this view to deliver more personalized, warmer experiences at scale.

Related Article: Building Bridges Between Your Online and Offline Data

Positive Impact 4: Social Media Continues to Surge

Digital marketers love social media because they can get to know their customers, listen to them, engage them, get their feedback and measure marketing effectiveness all on the same platform, even on the same day. An emerging wrinkle may make this more difficult however, as the next generation’s tastes are skewing increasingly toward visual platforms (pictures and video) from text-based platforms.

Visuals can be “dark data” for analysts, but as marketing AI technology matures, one can anticipate machines “reading” visual posts similarly to how AI has learned to read the conversational language in text-based posts. An example of the latter might be an AI-based social listening application combing for brand mentions and assessing sentiment so the marketer can amplify or respond appropriately. The promise of AI includes the ability to comb pictures and videos for “mentions” in the form of logos or products displayed, and accordingly judge the sentiment displayed toward them.

So, although the social media world is constantly shifting, the technology enabling digital marketers to live in it has been keeping pace.

Many of the perception and regulatory challenges threatening digital marketing are going to make marketers jobs harder. The challenge is to do more with less – more regulatory burden, fewer data. However, when the discipline emerges from this storm and reaffirms public trust, they may just find themselves back on track toward their destination of better business results through better customer experience, with their customers following behind.