All I Want for Christmas is a Fully Functioning CRM

Every marketer knows the dream: Let’s imagine we work in the hospitality industry for a moment, and we excite a potential customer with a Facebook ad for a weekend getaway.  The ad was displayed to an entirely new lead based on similarities to an existing customer’s profile; metrics you predicted using sophisticated analytics software. She clicks on the ad, and books her stay at your hotel. You send her the initial thank you and the follow up the next day with a promise of special offers if she downloads your app.

By this point I’m sure many marketers and marketing technologists think I’ve veered too far off into fantasy land…

As we’re dreaming, let’s assume she downloads the app the first time and there’s no reason to send the automated follow ups (text message option included) you’ve planned for the customer journey. Instead, she opens the app and completes a brief survey about her interests – she likes the gym, but isn’t a fan of spas, she’s a foodie, especially if the dishes are internationally inspired and the ingredients are locally sourced. You also ask a couple of questions about what kind of trip they prefer – spontaneous fun or every detail planned? She answers spontaneous fun.

You might even be right, but how’s that going to help achieve your marketing dreams?

After the survey, you prompt her to take a virtual tour of the facility, specifically how easy it is to check in. You also asked her planned arrival time and anyone else traveling with her. She’s going to be staying with her husband, and you prompt her to share the app with him to help plan their itinerary. Of course, he accepts as well and both are now set up for a successful stay…

…by this point I’m sure many marketers and marketing technologists think I’ve veered too far off into fantasy land. You’re busy thinking of your own infrastructure where reservations are in a different system than app users, and neither system knows anything about what’s being served at the restaurant. And you might think it’s like that for everyone else because the last time you called customer service at the cable company even they had to look up your record in multiple systems, resulting in time wasted and aggravation endured.

The best news for marketers heading into 2017 is the sheer number of platforms and services that can get you started down the path to marketing technology perfection…

You might even be right, but how’s that going to help achieve your marketing dreams this holiday season? To borrow the old phrase, the simple truth is that we can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good, and everyone needs to get started somewhere, making the really important question: How can you take the first step without having all of the pieces in place?

The best news heading into 2017 is the sheer number of platforms and services that can get you started down the path to marketing technology perfection.  The specific solution for your organization is going to vary based on what platforms you have available and where your data resides, but, as I mentioned in a previous post, a lot of these systems are converging on several key features.  The chances are very good that you have access to options to advance your marketing starting immediately.  The important thing is adhering to the right principles and having the right long term plan to align yourself with the ideal solution for your organization’s needs.

As you plan for the new year and beyond, here are a few tips to help jumpstart your success:

  • Measure and repeat — even if the numbers aren’t entirely complete. This should go without saying, but there often remains any number of reasons why we can’t precisely, perfectly measure the ROI of a specific campaign, and we end up running place instead of moving ahead. In my opinion, the answer is to measure everything you possibly can this time around and make improvements next time. Once you start presenting more detailed metrics, you will likely start to see your colleagues providing the information you need to improve the accuracy of the calculations.
  • Embrace the journey philosophy — even if your initial attempts are short and sweet. In today’s competitive marketplace, we can’t rely on consumers making a decision after a single brand experience, and we need to make sure we have the tools in place to re-engage. Therefore, all campaigns should include both a re-targeting component and multiple request more information forms tied to an automated email series however brief. This will help ensure you maximize your initial demand generation spend by encourage repeated engagement and also provide additional measurements to improve future campaigns.
  • Implement A/B testing — even if you’re already convinced of the ideal approach. This is another area where we can get into the habit of testing our assumptions, increasing our usage of the powerful new tools available, and generate more measurements. It’s also helpful to demonstrate to leadership the full capabilities of your marketing infrastructure and how data-driven you are making your initiatives.
  • Plan for continuous improvement – even if its incremental and the light hasn’t appeared at the end of the tunnel, the sugar plums not yet dancing in your head. In my opinion, this is the area where a lot of us get sidetracked. It’s easy to wait on technology perfection, but the truth is that we are missing out on opportunities to advance our techniques, infrastructure, and results. Instead, I feel we should push ourselves ahead a little further each time. It’s certainly going to taste sweeter than falling behind.

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Google vs Google: Do you Need Best Practices for Your Best Practices?

Everybody loves best practices.  If you’ve ever worked for a marketing agency, you’ve received plenty of RFPs stating the need for best practices for everything ranging from search engine optimization to user experience to graphical design to source code.  If you’ve worked on the client side, you’ve probably written about the need for these same best practices in your own RFPs, and no doubt your supervisor or Board of Directors is clamoring for a next generation website and/or digital marketing campaign with plenty of best practices baked right in.

Marketing is undergoing a huge paradigm shift to become more scientific, rational, and analytic…

Taken to a logical extreme, one might think that building a personalized website, launching innovative display advertising, or nurturing leads with next generation machine learning was akin to baking a holiday pie:  Perfectly measure the ingredients for the crust, add the right amount of sugar for the filling, sprinkle a few extra seasonings in equally precise quantities, bake in a properly heated oven, and the end result is the ideal lead generation engine.

Of course, the real world doesn’t work quite like that.  Marketing is undergoing a huge paradigm shift to become more scientific, rational, and analytic, but there’s still a lot of art, creativity, and judgement required to develop the best campaigns.  The question remains:  where does that leave us with best practices?

We might start by asking if industry leaders like Google have anything to say on the matter.  Fortunately or unfortunately, they are providing easy answers.  In fact, if you check out Google’s two largest properties, the main search site and YouTube, you see two totally different approaches:


Google Home Page
www.google.com (December 5, 2016)

YouTube Home Page
www.youtube.com (December 5, 2016)

 

Of course, the reason for the differences should be obvious to anyone familiar with their respective business strategies.  Google Search makes money when a user clicks on a search ad, therefore the search box is just about the only relevant item on the page.  YouTube makes most of its money from ads embedded in video streams, therefore the page is devoted to a variety of video content with thumbnails to entice clicks.

Your strategic approach, creative, and content is going to be very different if you’re selling Coke or launching a new wearable.

I would suggest that both are adhering best practices in their respective spaces, but that best practices for UX and content presentation are wildly different depending on the nature of the site.  Or, put another way, there is no best way to design a website, but there are some strategies that can address certain desired outcomes.  The adherence and usage of best practices can also depend on what aspect of the project you are considering.  For example, on a website redesign project:

  1. Underlying code:  Almost exclusively driven by best-practices for marketing technology initiatives.  While I don’t want to suggest that there is no art in the coding process, it’s usually reserved for a much higher level (think developing Google’s new Assistant) than websites or marketing automation.  Therefore, your development teams and partners should stick to proven principles and follow published standards.
  2. Implementation and customization:  Highly driven by best practices, but also subject to how a particular application will be used and the skill level of the user.  For example, there are usually many ways to achieve the same goal in a modern Content Management System.  The precise way that is best for your organization can only be determined based on how you see a feature evolving in the future and who in your organization will support it.  Best practices should be considered in the planning stages to identify the ideal solution for your unique needs.
  3. UX + Design:  Partially driven by best practices.  There are some established standards around screen sizes, interface methodologies such as the hamburger menu, and user expectations, but ultimately this is the project phase were the “art” aspect starts becoming more important, as do the specific business goals.  The most important thing is to create something that works for you and achieves your goals.  As your goals are going to be unique to your organization, there is only so much you can learn from everyone else.

Other aspects of your digital transformation are going to align along a similar spectrum.  When it comes to display advertising, for example, your initial ad selection and placement is going to be highly influenced by whether you’re following a demand generation strategy or going straight to capturing leads.  It’s also going to be critical to consider how you integrate retargeting.  There are going to be best practices around the types of ads available, the best performing sizes and placements, and no shortage of research on where to market, but ultimately your strategic approach, creative, and content is going to be very different if you’re selling Coke or launching a new wearable.

Best practices are and will continue to be a critical part of any engagement strategy, they aren’t a substitute for judgement, taste, and…

Of course, you can also use A/B or multivariate testing to experiment with different approaches, and identify the best performing strategies based on real world results; the possibilities are exciting and practically limitless.  We truly are embarking on a brave new era in marketing with a tighter combination of both art and science, but — as in all revolutions in human behavior — it’s important to make sure we don’t lose sight of where we’ve been and how we got here.

The machines aren’t going to do our work for us anymore than someone else is going to write the perfect practices for our businesses.  We can learn from others, and the best practices that result will continue to be a critical part of any engagement strategy, but they shouldn’t be seen as a substitute for judgement, taste, and a well-formed strategy in the first place.

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