Over the last decade we have seen and read about all the progress being made in marketing data collection and analysis. Today we can track an abundance of channel-specific data about how many people come to our Web sites, respond to our emails, click on our ads and get lost in our ordering processes.
But all this learning has yet to drive much more than macro-level adjustments and tweaks at a very tactical level, as we restructure the Web site and refine our banners.
In short, today’s marketers have an abundance of actionable intelligence -- and a shortage of response mechanisms. We have all the data we need to identify emerging opportunities, but no efficient means of capturing them.
Let’s look at what we know today. Your ad server can identify that Customer X is in-market for your competitors’ products, based on his activity across third-party research sites. Your Web site can tell you that he hasn’t spent much time researching your equivalent products and is, therefore, not brand-loyal. And your marketing database can tell you that he is a highly-profitable customer who owns most of your other products and contributes an inordinate share of his wallet to your bottom line.
If you could put all this data together, you would get the picture of a highly-profitable customer who needs a special cross-sell offer and a great big hug. This is the customer you cannot afford to lose. But even if you could piece the picture together in time, how are you going to react if you only see him online? Or if your only interactions occur through the call center or via the interactive voice response (IVR) system?
If your right hand caught on fire, wouldn’t your brain instruct your left hand to put it out? Yes, right (I hope)? So why doesn’t your ad server notify your call center that the customer currently on the line is actively researching your competitor’s products instead of your own? And why doesn’t your Website tip-off the ad server that the browser requesting a banner recently abandoned a purchasing process and therefore should get the special “please come back and complete your purchase” banner?
Sticking with my earlier neurological example, the left hand knows to immediately help the right hand because the brain is processing the real-time input from one extremity and triggering an immediate and specific response in another. If we are going to drive growth and value from our existing marketing systems and pool of consumers, we need to process and respond to a never-ending stream of new information immediately, not in a batch process that runs weekly.
What tomorrow’s marketing departments need is a “central nervous system” to coordinate the interpretation of, and reaction to, real-time consumer data and events. If you are like me and did poorly in high school biology, then think of it as a football team. Here’s what it would sound like if your operational marketing systems had a quarterback”calling the plays: “Direct mail, run a screening pattern! Web site, draw the unqualified prospects off to the left! Ad server, break right and go for the Hail Mary in the end zone! Test and refine. Test and refine. Hike!”
Just like we humans only use 10 percent of our total brain capacity, most marketers only use 10 percent of their marketing systems’ total capacity.
Tomorrow’s marketing pioneers -- especially those across industries such as automotive, travel, financial services and telecommunications -- are already driving substantial growth and savings from their existing systems and channels by simply shifting their focus from customer insight to customer action.
By leveraging existing mass marketing systems (ad servers, call centers, Web sites, email, etc.) to deliver coordinated one-to-one messaging, these market leaders are driving demonstrable bottom-line growth by providing cost-effective channels through which to act on their volumes of consumer intelligence and millions of consumer interactions.
Having spent the better part of the last decade helping Fortune 500 companies bridge the insight-to-execution gap, I have found that those marketers who consistently drive growth from existing resources all adhered to the following four best practices.
1. Leverage Every Inbound Interaction as a 1-to-1 Dialogue
Every time someone views a banner, visits the Web site, calls the call center or listens to the IVR, we have an opportunity to develop and evolve a personalized dialogue designed to further our relationship and our next sale. Consider one of the most undervalued assets around -- the banner ad. When a gold medallion frequent flier begins requesting your banners from a third-party travel site, you know that this person is in-market for airfare, and you also have the opportunity to deliver a specific message. Unfortunately, most marketers today lack the resources to interpret the data and respond with a targeted offer. Put another way:The next banner in the rotation is served.
2. Better Integrate Online and Offline Information with Processes
It is very common for today’s consumers to consider products online and consummate the purchase offline, and vice versa. You might test drive the car at a dealer and order the car online, or you might research vehicle options and pricing online and purchase through a dealer. Therefore, it is critical that all relevant information about consumers’ needs and wants not get lost as that consumer traverses online and offline channels. To use the automobile industry as an example, online leads that are passed to offline dealers should include propensity-to-purchase scores that predict each prospect’s intent to purchase, based on how diligently they have been researching vehicles online.
3. Develop Centralized, Seamless Messaging Logic Across Channels
Many organizations have tried to simulate a coordinated cross-channel approach by synchronizing the messaging logic across multiple, disparate systems. In smaller niche markets, this approach can have limited success. But when consumers engage in their consideration and purchasing processes across multiple channels, it becomes critical that any one system be able to convert the customer based on input and feedback from the others’ systems. Therefore, it is critical that decisions surrounding consumer segmentation and messaging be managed and implemented from a centralized location, and not manually synchronized across multiple-point solutions.
4. Leverage a Centralized Quarterback for the Operational Marketing Systems
Once you have a centralized set of segmentation and messaging logic defined, invest in a solution that can automate the collection of profile information, coordination of messaging logic and execution of system-wide responses. When you consider the millions of consumer interactions that the average organization has per month, you will find that bandwidth and automation are essential in order to truly capitalize on the opportunity.
By acknowledging and addressing the untapped potential in their marketing systems and execution capabilities, today’s leading marketers are driving greater profits from their existing systems without installing more software, without creating new databases, and without altering their marketing infrastructure.
Art Melville is SVP of application strategy at CentrPort, Inc. CentrPort provides a suite of enterprise marketing solutions that enables organizations to convert each mass marketing interaction into a unique one-to-one dialogue designed to better acquire, retain and grow customers. For more information, visit CentrPort at www.centrport.com.
You cannot write a "best of" list when it comes to online advertising and not mention this execution. Simply put, it's the one that started them all.
In a time when banner ads were a relatively new idea and the ones we were seeing were mostly static GIFs (with minimal colors) or maybe a more realistic JPG here and there, this bomb dropped and blew the doors off of everyone. Somehow, a then-small shop called RedSky had figured out how to recreate the classic video game Pong in a 728x90 banner ad, and it did it at an extremely small file size.
If you could have seen my face when I first saw this ad, it probably resembled something akin to Roger Rabbit's eye-popping, tongue-wagging surprise face. Followed by the question, "How the hell did they do that?" I promptly set about learning just that.
Once we all caught up to that darn Pong ad and learned how to get complex animations into banners at a relative low file size cost, creativity in banners plateaued for few years. The industry was concentrating on better messaging, better use of the space, and -- in some more infamous cases -- punching monkeys around.
During the latter part of this time, a new type of ad emerged: rich media. This was a banner on steroids -- one that could get bigger, or float, or have extra pieces called panels. In the early days, those expandables were basically the same banners we'd previously been making with some HTML components that would appear if a user interacted with the banner. Hey -- this was groundbreaking stuff!
Honestly, though, none of it looked very good or was particularly useful. That is, until the U.S. Department of the Treasury decided to release a new, highly advanced $20 bill and purchased a swooping advertising campaign to explain what the bill looked like and contained. A portion of this campaign was a series of expandable banners, but instead of the panels being boring HTML, these were highly interactive, animated, and fully featured. They allowed the user to manipulate a magnifying glass and roll over the different aspects of the bill, with fly-outs that explained the varying security features. For the first time, ads fully realized the potential of this new technology and were a sweeping success. The ads went on to win Yahoo's inaugural Big Idea Chair Award and forever changed the thinking around creating rich media.
Until this point, we had been moving forward. First, create a simple picture and call it an ad. Then, devise an animation and call that an ad. More recently, create two animations (or more), piece them together to interact with each other, and call that an ad. More often than not, the result was something that looked, well, like it was in pieces. The pieces were well designed and worked together, but in the end, not necessarily a fully formed "whole."
Then Jamie Foxx donned a pair of Wayfarers and wowed the world with his interpretation of Ray Charles. Once the Oscar buzz started, it came time for Universal Pictures to release the movie on DVD, and it chose a series of expandables to promote DVD sales online.
When created, these ads worked backward, asking the question, "What if you only see the whole picture when the ad is fully expanded?" The result was the first true microsite as an expandable. The banner itself, while appealing, was a teaser for the full ad. When expanded, the panels and banner worked together, seamlessly, to form a miniature site that let the user learn about the features of the DVD, see stills from the film, listen to music from the soundtrack, and watch trailers and clips for the movie. This single campaign set the standard for how expandables should be and still are created.
Synced ads -- or the idea that two ads on the same page (a 728x90 and 300x250, for example) above the fold would communicate with each other -- had been around for a while. In fact, the technology is something that we pioneered during my days at PointRoll. At the time, we were using Flash local objects to get one banner to cause a change in the other banner, and it was pretty cool stuff. Though some of the examples were notable, they were nothing compared to what Apple wowed us with a few years later.
In this campaign, the two ads used video to take the Mac vs. PC television campaign to a new peak of interactivity and ingenuity. The PC would crawl out of one banner and into another, the Mac would look up at him as he carried out his antics, and we would be inspired to think of the page in front of us as a larger canvas that was able to carry a message beyond the borders of traditional banners. Even after compiling this list, I still long for more examples that use the medium to such a lofty effect as this campaign.
While I'm not thrilled awarding the two slots on this list to the same advertiser, it's hard to brush off the innovation and creativity in these units. Ignoring the traditional limitations of a banner, these incorporated the top third of the page and turned the entire thing into a part of the ad, which was revealed through a little visual trickery.
When loaded, these iPod Touch ads appeared to be the new larger ad units recently introduced by some publishers like YouTube and Wired, and they replicated the product demonstration method most were familiar with from iPod and iPhone commercials. However, as the hands began interacting with the iPod, the action quickly moved beyond the borders of the banner, making the top of the entire site tilt, twist, flip, and react to the action going on below. The result was so seamless, smooth, and non-intrusive that it quickly achieved a result typically reserved for memorable video -- it went viral. And, as we all know, word of mouth is the best advertising of all.
Each one of these executions defined the era in which they ran. Almost all of them set the bar for what could be achieved at the time, and most inspired others to create examples that emulated their evolution.
The question now becomes, "What's next?" My belief is that, with the proliferation of new types of consumption in the form of mobile devices like smartphones and tablets, we're on the precipice of an entirely new level of interactivity and stickiness. I, for one, can't wait to see where we go.
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A less obvious component of annoyance comes from running your ads in the wrong places. Normally when this topic comes up we reference the extreme examples like airline ads running next to stories about plane crashes, tobacco ads next to lung cancer articles, etc. But there are a lot of other less extreme situations where improper placement of ads can generate outrage, concern and customer annoyance.
Email is one area that factors high in consumer annoyance. And this annoyance level was the primary reason behind the CAN-SPAM act, legislation designed to reduce the amount of "junk" email we all receive. Just like the pop-up blockers that are in most browsers today, spam filters are becoming commonplace to prevent delivery of mail we didn't request. Over the years, I've been consistently surprised at the level of outrage consumers express when they believe they've received spam messages. Believe me; those angry customers aren't afraid to reach out to company's senior management to complain. It's never a fun meeting when the CEO's office calls the marketing department on the carpet to discuss a consumer complaint.
My final example of how to annoy consumers comes in the form of invasiveness into a consumer's private life. Invasiveness can be generated in many forms, when you ask for too much information, when you ask for sensitive information and probably the most extreme example when you cross the line and let the consumer you know more about them than they expect. The first scenario, asking for too much information can be easily seen in form completion rates. The more information you ask for, the fewer number of people fill it out. One of my clients used to have a form on their website that was literally three pages when if printed out the form, and they couldn't understand why 98 percent of visitors left without completing the form. Over several months we refined the form to a much shorter form, that still collected the most relevant information, and response rate grew five times without any loss in lead quality! While most people have shied away from the really long forms, it's surprising to me that we haven't learned to cut out extraneous data collection. For example, when you want to understand the geography of where your prospects are coming from, why not ask just for zip code instead of asking for address, city, and state ( better yet just ask for area code) -- it's less personal and more people are willing to share. In talking about personal, we get to the second point -- asking for sensitive information. Forms that require social security number, credit card, etc. don't get filled out easily. You need to earn their trust before they are willing to share that much. A rule of thumb when asking for information is to only ask for what you really need and are going to use. Otherwise, you're just lowering your response rate for no reason. The final example of invasiveness can best be seen in retargeting. With retargeting ads are shown to people who visit your web site in an effort to get them to come back. Often times when we discuss retargeting we get requests to run ads that say things like "thanks for your recent purchase" or do something that leads the consumer to believe you know who they are. While no personally identifiable information (PII) needs to be shared to retarget a consumer, this type of message can really annoy the recipient. You're much better off to re-engage this prospect with messaging more along their interest areas than tipping your hand to how you've reached them.
What do I do now?
The moral of this story is that as a marketer you should never forget that you're talking to consumers and you need to do it in a way that makes sense to them and meets their needs. Don't let the technology we have sway your advertising decisions.
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