Imagine walking into a store, or talking to any brand representative about your needs; in this human-to-human exchange you have taken the time to provide valuable insight on you, your needs, and the kinds of services or products you want.
In the physical world a good brand rep will quickly understand your intent, customize their response, tailor it to deliver the maximum outcome for you, and then go on to use their specific knowledge to provide insights on additional offerings that suit your commercial requirements.
The very best brand-reps quickly establish rapport and seek to build a relationship that lasts beyond the first sale, or interaction. They know business is a two-way dialogue between brand and customer, and they certainly know the cost difference between acquiring a new customer and maintaining a repeat customer.
Now, imagine if you went back to the same representative, just the next day, or even the next hour, and you had to start the conversation all over again – because the brand rep simply could not retain any previous information supplied.
It would be like doing business with a goldfish.
I’m pretty sure you would walk out the door in sheer frustration, and more than likely fire up Twitter and Facebook and do some good old-fashioned brand experience venting!
Incredibly, this is precisely the scenario that faces most digital customers today. Visiting most websites, or interacting over any digital channel is like the Bill Murray comedy Groundhog Day, where Murray relives the day prior, over and over again.
It’s even more bewildering when you consider the sheer amount of customer intelligence even a simple visit to a website provides; after all we are using the most recorded commercial environment devised in human history. Sitting there in your browser is a treasure trove of vital commercial intelligence – your geo-location, the domain you visited from, the number of visits you have engaged in historically, the date & time, the referral IP number, the campaign you came from and even the Google Adword you used to find the site.
But we don’t listen, and most certainly do not adapt in real-time to understand and personalize the experience to the visitor’s intent. No wonder most sites have horrendous bounce rates.
In fact, the average website bounce rate is 50% - imagine opening a physical business where 50% of your customers opened the door, and promptly turned around and walked straight back out again.
I rather suspect that would cause some serious dialogue and business strategy re-imagining.
So why don’t most digital experiences today retain your information, nurture a commercial relationship and foster better digital relationships, that predictively surface and deliver relevant communications on a one-to-one basis?
Why can’t we have an online business to customer relationship?
The information is all there, either delivered explicitly via lead-gen form response content, survey responses, sales fulfilment information, call centre interactions, POS and CRM/ERP records – or delivered implicitly via online user behavior.
Personally, I think there are three contributing factors at play here:
In other words, right now we are not very good at monetizing customer experience, and that must inevitably change.
Business and marketing spends are tight, and this trend is not likely to reverse – we are all being tasked to do more, often with less.
Let’s look at these items one at a time, and then focus on what to do about it.
Historically, website analytics have been about traffic numbers, pages viewed, time on page, repeat & return visitors, bounce rate, exit points and so forth. While this is great aggregate information it doesn’t tell us what a customer actually did on the website or digital channel.
It doesn’t tell us who they are, what they want and whether they will continue to do business with us.
Sure, many record conversions, but simply as a report, after the fact; the experience is still locked in hard-to-change code.
Most simply do not measure conversion, or that digital Holy Grail – engagement. So we have to rethink analytics. Secondly, these are reports; they typically are not actionable without manual intervention.
So you measure, get some broad insight, and then hire in the UX and development teams, and literally a digital age later you get a result. This is way too late, and way too onerous a cycle to rinse and repeat. It’s time consuming, costly and in no way helps the visitor in real-time.
A far better measurement must contain conversion, and engagement – and those insights must be actionable in real-time.
Let me give you an example of how Engagement Analytics work with personalization and in driving the customer towards conversion.
Someone visits a car dealership site after seeing a campaign on a third party website – they want to buy a car. If we can read the in-bound campaign link, we can establish what type of car they wish from the campaign target. So, the website personalizes before the customer has even seen it – the hero or main banner image swaps out to the relevant vehicle, and other selected content personalizes to show testimonials about the specific car, and that exact car is featured on a “road test” video. This is great, it gives us a way to measure the ROI of the campaign and channel if we can measure the entire customer journey through to conversion.
These customer journey goals are recorded, and acted upon automatically
This is a low engagement customer, at this point.
This simple process aligns the immediate customer experience with the visitor’s intent. I am continuously surprised at how well this simple piece of personalization works.
So at this point we have some idea of who our customer is, and are personalizing based on that. As they return during the sales cycle, the site remembers them individually and is crafted and instrumented to nurture them through their journey – critically surfacing “Calls to Action” that drive the process.
In terms of “lead generation”, right now the visitor is low value – they have not undertaken any significant digital activity that shows progress through their decision making and conversion process.
We also know their geo-location, so phone numbers change to reflect the closest dealer. Google Maps updates to show the closest showroom. The customer sees that they can easily visit the showroom, should they elect to continue.
Now the user reads some testimonials and visits the dealer and specific car’s Facebook sites. Of course, we record this, and now know the customer is in the research phase of their purchase.
The customer has engaged across several channels, consuming deeper levels of content, raising their engagement level a fraction.
At this point, we would give them a lead score, and assign them to the “research phase” of the journey, segmenting them based on purchase funnel placement. The content now shows vehicle range comparisons, what accessories exist for this car, and relevant research content like the safety record for the vehicle is surfaced.
The user now uses a tool to customize their car to specific colors, maybe add accessories, choose transmission type, and a leather interior. This, of course, is a huge indicator of budget and naturally, this activity is recorded. Perhaps they create an account to save or share their customization with a spouse – so now we have a known user who has seamlessly transitioned from an unknown potential to a known prospect.
This is now a high engagement customer – and we have their email address as part of the account creation.
Again, we score these activities, and understand that the time commitment and the implicit data captured on their car customization show them to be a lot more engaged. After all, when they saved their ideal car they supplied contact information – they are now a lot closer to becoming an actual customer, rather than a tire kicker.
Smart companies at this point push this information through to a CRM and deliver an alert to the local sales staff that a lead is warming up.
Digital channels now reflect the customer’s intent, buy car X, and cross-channel marketing comes into play. An email is sent alerting the customer to a Facebook page that contains user-generated feedback on precisely the right car. Voice of the Crowd marketing is engaged, and the website now features a prominent Call to Action about booking the all-important test drive, and surfaces finance deals and a Loan Calculator.
When the customer completes the test drive booking form or uses the Loan Calculator they are a very highly engaged customer – and they have given your sales team everything they need to know to close the deal. Car preference, color preference, accessory preferences, budget, probable loan repayment schedule, and so on.
The cadence of this content marketing strategy is no accident, each step of the user journey is carefully constructed to deliver a complete connected-customer experience. It’s connected by triggering personalization and cross-channel marketing based on goals and conversions undertaken by the customer, in real time.
When you deliver timely, relevant information, it’s not sales – its customer service.
Let’s fast forward to the customer buying the vehicle. Margins on car sales are very low, the real money is in the aftercare, where margins are high – but more importantly, it’s also where a relationship is cemented. Auto dealers want your ongoing business, in fact, their ideal customer is someone who trades cars three times in ten years. They also make significant revenue on services and “leakage products”, tires, oil, oil filters, windscreen wipers, and so on.
The sale is of course recorded in the CRM, so when servicing is due automated reminder emails are generated and sent, keeping the dealer brand top-of-mind for the customer. At 2.5 years into the loan, the site/Facebook/email starts communicating about the new model, for the car type originally purchased and highlights favorable terms to trade the car.
The customer is now a low engagement services and repeat-purchase prospect, and digital communications need to ensure that they return the car for servicing, and not go to a cheaper competitor.
This is a connected-customer journey, and it works.
Understand the customer, track their digital journey, surface calls to action to lead them to conversion and finally give them the power to be brand advocates.
It shouldn’t be surprising that delivering the right content or incentive, at the right time works well.
It shouldn’t be surprising that we need to deliver this via the channel of the customer’s choice.
The Genie is out of the bottle – so what is holding many businesses back?
Now we come to point two, which highlights that marketers are not equipped to report on financial outcomes, consider the following statistics, and if you are in marketing these should really blow your hair back!
These insights from The Fournaise Marketing Group, delivered back in 2014, really represents a great opportunity for the new breed of digital marketers who are data-driven, revenue orientated professionals, and also a kind of extinction event for the old breed who continue to trade in brand presence platitudes.
Marketing itself is changing at an incredible rate, where today the data-driven CMO commands an extremely valuable place at the C-Level table and has a direct, measurable responsibility to deliver financial outcomes for the brand.
This is the exact opposite of legendary marketer John Wanamaker’s classic statement that half of his marketing is wasted, but he doesn’t know which half!
In short, it’s well beyond time that the CMO showed the CEO the money! The connected-customer phenomenon is finally unifying the CIO and the CMO, marketing in the digital age is becoming a very precise science and this is changing roles and the expected capabilities of marketers.
In fact, Gartner predicted back in 2015, that 25% of organizations will have a new role in the stable – the Chief Digital Officer. This is a data occupation, pure and simple; it’s inevitable with some 70% of CMO’s stating they already have a Chief Marketing Technologist, and that they would be lost without them.
Forrester, in their article ‘Winning in the Age of the Customer’ state “Now to be truly competitive your company must become customer obsessed, which means you need to have deep knowledge of, and engagement with your customers”.
The message is clear, marketing will continue to be more and more data-driven, with carefully structured strategy aligned with significant financial KPI’s. If I were an old-school marketer, I’d be looking over my shoulder at the next generation – because they are armed with big data knowledge, and they are emergent.
Finally, we get to one of the biggest perceived barriers to adoption, technology itself.
It’s true that this market is growing at an unbelievable pace. Chief Marketing Technologist states that the number of Web Content Management System adjacent technologies to provide the connected-customer strategy numbered around one hundred, just 3 years ago, that number is now a staggering 947 technologies.
The Sitecore Experience Platform provides a unified ecosystem to achieve much of the connected customer journey – and integrates extremely well with any Martech systems that may already be in play.
So, the question is how do you start, when the task looks like a mountain?
The answer is you must change your way of digital thinking, force your planning approach away from a content publishing mindset to a strategic, revenue focused, and experience marketing mindset.
Take just one step at a time. Start with analytics, start by measuring the “critical few” conversions that indicate engagement and optimize digital communications towards those outcomes. By all means, continue using whatever page level analytics you have – but from the data overload of these systems prise out those metrics that support, inform, and track the customer journey. If we seek to measure these specialized engagement metrics, then clearly this is what we must optimize towards using testing, personalization and engagement automation.
Consider a unified stack like Sitecore – you can do so much right out of the box. Remember, this is about marketing, focus on those systems that do not require code or heavy integration – do not let IT bottleneck your ability to be a digital marketer.
Act when you need, do not fear to explore what works and what doesn’t, and optimize near continuously. If you make a good technology call, the power is in your hands, not IT.
In every sense, science fiction author and futurist William Gibson’s statement, “The future has already happened” is extremely pertinent in the fast moving intersection where web content management is rapidly evolving into multi-channel digital experience management.
The race for consumer dollars, loyalty and advocacy, and the absolute gold of deep customer insights is on.
It’s never going backward, and it’s never going to slow down.