Back to Full Site


The Harte Hanks Blog

How to Build a Humanistic Marketing Ecosystem

In my last post, Rise of the (Marketing) Machines: How to Tame Them, I discussed the challenge marketing leaders face in bridging the gap between the journey experience their audience expects and the technology requirements to deliver on those expectations. While the first step in bridging that gap is to find the right members of the team that can straddle both marketing strategy and technology discussions, it’s also important that we look at how we evaluate the technology ecosystem we are building to support our customer experiences.

In recent years, there has been an explosion of software providers seeking to capture the growing CMO budget. Scott Brinker of notes that, in 2016, we saw an approximate growth of 87% over 2015 to an already crowded marketing technology landscape. Making the situation more confusing is that this market is still maturing and is rife with mergers, acquisitions, bankruptcies, and new entrants —making it tough for even the most seasoned professional to keep track of market leaders. Adding to the difficulty is that the marketing departments for these vendors are constantly coming up with new terms under which to market their wares.

In my mind, it appears as most of these software vendors are effectively in a race to the middle, meaning that they are all adding the same capabilities to their offerings until it becomes difficult for us to differentiate one platform’s capabilities from the next. It’s often not until we are well into the evaluation process that we realize that we already have the capability (or capabilities) within our existing tools and platforms. So how do we take control of the conversation back from vendors that are trying to dazzle us with the latest industry buzzwords and get to the heart of what matters?

At Harte Hanks, when we talk about bringing the human back to marketing, we talk a lot about what a humanistic marketing ecosystem looks like. Rather than try to sort through the alphabet soup that has dominated the IT industry for years, and is now starting to be foisted upon marketers, we prefer to think of the ecosystem as requiring 5 capability groups.

Building Towards a Humanistic Marketing Ecosystem

The 5 layers of our ideal ecosystem break down as follows:

  • Content Production & Management — The ability to create compelling, resonant content by leveraging experts from within and outside the brand, while managing that content so that it remains relevant to the audience. This is the foundation of today’s modern marketing.
  • Channel Orchestration — Consumers jump from one channel to another along their journey without giving it a second thought and expect brands to deliver a consistent and seamless experience as the relationship progresses.
  • Contextual Intelligence — Today’s audience is well-aware that their every move is able to be tracked. In return, they expect brands to leverage this data intelligently to assist them in their individual buyer journey.
  • Message Delivery & Personalization — The ability to deliver messages and content on the channels of choice is no longer good enough. Sophisticated consumers expect brands to be able to leverage the shared data to personalize the channel experience to their place in the journey.
  • Business Insights — Today’s marketer is faced with an overwhelming amount of data in an age of real-time engagement. The ability to turn that data into the knowledge necessary to understand the small data that distinguishes an anomaly from a trend is a critical component in a rapidly changing marketplace.


diagram of martech for human marketing


Putting It All Together

We have an overwhelming number of tools and technologies available to help us efficiently interact with customers on every channel. However, technology can take us only so far. By considering the stack in these 5 key areas, we can evaluate the tools in a customer-centric manner — thereby creating a truly holistic ecosystem of technology and data that serves the customer while, at the same time, serving the marketer.

Look for my next article where we will explore in greater detail the first layer in the ecosystem: Content Production & Management.

Lenders: Use The Buyer’s Journey to Deliver Valuable Content

finance buyer's journey


Synchrony Financial understands that those big buys in life often don’t happen on a whim. Behind every major purchase are real people weighing up their options and deciding to part with their dollars to fulfill different needs based on their individual situations. For lenders, it’s important to understand this buyer’s journey so you can better guide potential customers down the path to purchase (using your dollars).

Synchrony has done an excellent job outlining this journey in their Fifth Annual Major Purchase Consumer Study. The study looks holistically at the journey customers take when deciding on purchases of $500 or more—looking far beyond the financing portion. It outlines important statistics like the fact that 85% of buyers start their research online, 70% of people visit a store to research, 56% consult with friends, 38% check out online reviews, and 28% return to the store for more research.

All of this happens BEFORE the customer researches financing options. In addition, more people are making online purchases (18%, up from 13% in 2015) versus visiting a store to purchase.

Synchrony Bank buyer's journey


Combine the Buyer’s Journey with Context

This is some great information about how these consumers shop. But what should lenders do with this information? Lenders have the opportunity (and imperative) to get on consumers’ radars sooner and provide content that matches up with their particular position in the buyer’s journey and delivers value. This will help to begin building trust between the buyer and the lender’s brand, and buyers reward companies that build trust with them.

To deliver valuable content to these potential customers, you must add real-time knowledge of the buyer’s situation to your knowledge of the buyer’s journey. You must understand the situation and context for why your customers will purchase your products if you want to create content that motivates them to act. Applying for a loan or line of credit is rarely a standalone job—it is one small job that plays a role in a much larger goal, such as buying a home, getting engaged, or repairing unexpected damage to your car. Understanding these specific situations allows you to create relevant content and deliver it to your buyer when and where it will be most useful to her.

What Relevant, In-the-Moment Content Looks Like

A young couple in a new home may not be aware that they can finance that bathroom remodel to get rid of the pastel pink tile. Lenders should consider how to reach these price-conscious shoppers earlier in their journey, rather than waiting until just before the purchase. This could include finding consumers in your target market that have recently purchased a home and are googling for things like “cost of bathroom remodel” or pinning numerous photos of bathroom ideas on Pinterest. These individuals are probably gathering information in the early stages of their journey. You could serve them some display ads about how to afford your new bathroom.

Lending companies could also consider mining social media data to find those buyers that are talking about economic bathroom remodels or finding reasonably-priced contractors. These individuals are probably a bit further along in their journey, evaluating their options. With this information, you could provide content right there on Facebook or Twitter about how to afford your new bathroom or questions to ask when selecting a contractor. Perhaps you’re a local lender that could even make specific contractor recommendations. Of course, you need the right data and technology ecosystem to deliver this highly contextual content.

Whatever the tactic is, the key is to combine what you know about the buyer’s situation with her spot in the buyer’s journey to contextualize the content and provide real value—in the moments that it is most useful to the buyer.

Applying for financing or making a major purchase doesn’t tend to happen in vain. As the Synchrony study shows, this is typically a well-researched and extensively thought-out decision, so when engaging major buyers, it’s important to think about the entire buyer’s journey – not just the purchase. The fact that people like to self-educate through the decision-making process gives you more opportunities to provide them with content that adds value, helping them to learn and build trust.

You may also want to check out my post on how MetLife is adding value throughout the buyer’s journey. In addition, Harte Hanks CMO Frank Grillo has written a great piece on how to capture more buyers earlier in their journey. Please get in touch if you have any questions!

Do You Really Need that Survey? Better Ways to Improve CX

improve customer experience in financial services

In a recent interview with Quirk’s Media, Nancy Vogt, VP of Customer Experience with Zions Bank, discussed the implications of an important factor in market research: survey fatigue.

She explained, “In recent years, as we’ve become ever more cognizant of survey fatigue, we’ve had to think long and hard about our priorities when designing a survey, considering each question to decide whether it is just ‘nice to know’ or whether the response will be actionable.”

It is important to recognize that we do need actionable data to improve the customer experience, but survey fatigue is real and plagues our customers. It is therefore important to incorporate other less intrusive ways to collect data, optimize the customer experience and ensure customer satisfaction to maintain a customer-centric approach. Here are a few places to start.

Recognize the Data You Already Have

1. Interaction History

Personally, I greatly dislike talking on the phone, which should be obvious since I have only ever interacted with my bank digitally (I will do anything I can to avoid talking to a real person—any extent of Google searching, emailing, webchat, etc.). My parents, however, call their branch directly when they have concerns or questions. This type of interaction history should inform how our banks communicate with us.

For example, I really appreciate that my credit card company has analyzed my spending and communication habits and denies unusually large purchases—while immediately sending a notification text to confirm or deny the validity of such a purchase. I can easily respond via text without having to answer or make a phone call. My parents, however, should get a phone call to communicate with them in the channel of their preference and optimize their experience.

2. Social

Now more than ever, customers are interacting with banks digitally—via social, for example. Data from effective social support programs can be used to identify points of customer dissatisfaction, as well as trending support issues. Proactively mining this data can help banks to identify common problems and address rising concerns promptly, limiting negative impact and satisfying social customers.

@ChaseSupport does a great job at supporting customers on social. From difficulties with credit card applications to opinions about ATM locations, Chase customers are letting the bank know how they feel. And Chase responds! My colleague recently tweeted to @ChaseSupport about a problem with her mortgage held by Chase. @ChaseSupport looked up her account, reviewed the history and conversations with phone support, and added the social conversation to her customer profile. They weren’t immediately able to solve her problem, but they did assure her that it had been escalated appropriately.

By using social channels to engage with customers, banks are able to receive candid and real-time feedback—no survey necessary. They’re also able to improve the overall customer experience for those that prefer to interact on social media. Note: it is crucial that these interactions be associated with the individual’s customer profile to ensure a seamless experience across interaction channels (e.g. make sure the customer service agents answering the phones also have the social conversation handy for reference).

3. In-Branch Technology

Another option is to mine satisfaction data from non-intrusive technologies that also facilitate customer experience improvements. This article from The Financial Brand explains how credit unions have implemented technology like lobby trackers that allow them to track wait times, desired services, transaction times and more. This data provides insight into the customer experience and allows banks to optimize the experience they provide to their customers through efforts like increasing staffing during peak times. In addition, banks are deploying service kiosks that invite members to easily provide feedback by clicking a range of happy, neutral, or sad face icons, which members happily interact with (about 4,000 responses per month).

Take Meaningful Action on the Data You Collect

Your customers are trusting you with all of this data they’re giving to you. A good way to break that trust is by failing to use it effectively and continuing to bombard them with requests for feedback. For example, if a customer signs in with your lobby tracker upon each branch visit, yet consistently has to wait over 10 minutes for service, he’ll start to wonder why he has to bother with the lobby tracker—it’s not providing any improvement in his experience. When you approach this customer with a survey, he will probably ignore it, believing that it also will have no effect on his experience.

To avoid what can feel like a one-sided relationship, customers need to see value in providing data or participating in surveys when they are necessary. Recognize and make use of the data you are already getting from your customer interactions and customer journey, and these customers will be happier to respond to your occasional survey.

You may also want to check out: MetLife Marketing is Focused on Providing Value—You Should Be, Too

How to be More Human in Your Marketing with Signals


marketing signals

Jay Baer, Marketer, Author, Speaker and President of Convince and Convert, is known for saying: “Make your marketing so useful people would pay for it.”

In other words, every interaction our brands have with a customer should deliver value to that customer. One-to-one marketing is no longer good enough—even though we’re just getting there. To provide value with each and every interaction, we must understand who individuals are and speak to them contextually, one-to-one, in the moment in which they are situated.

There are many moving pieces that must come together for us to achieve this one-to-one in the moment marketing, and one of them is technology. An ecosystem of martech capabilities that shares data in real time allows us to begin to behave in the digital world just as we would in the physical one—in a more relevant, valuable, human manner. That real-time data sharing and the resulting insights are key, and signals in a Signal Hub make them exponentially easier to achieve.

Signals have been well-known in the IT world for some time—but not so much in the marketing world. Considering their value to enabling more human, one-to-one in the moment interactions, it’s time that changed.

What are signals?

Opera Solutions, the maker of Signal Hub, defines signals as follows:

Mathematical transformations of data that take the form of modular units of intelligence. Advanced analytics techniques, including machine learning, generate Signals. Signals can be consumed, blended with other Signals, shared, and stored. Signals reveal patterns that have applicability to business situations and that can facilitate accurate predictions of future activity.

The bold above is mine. It’s the real value of signals to marketers.

Why are signals important for marketers?

Let’s put this into marketing terms. As marketers, we’re trying to get at the small data that tells us who our customer is, why she is doing what she’s doing at any given moment and what she’s going to do next. What are those digital breadcrumbs she’s leaving behind that help us to figure this out and provide her with a message that fits her needs? In the physical world, we would just ask “How may I help you?” But in the digital world, we must discern the answer from these digital clues.

The raw data does not offer us any value. We must transform it, get it to tell us what to do, what will help us to improve our marketing performance, find a customer that will convert, etc. We need to take what we know about an individual and turn it into something that predicts what she’s going to do in the future.

Signals make this much easier for us than it has been in the past.

How do signals work?

Signals come from all of the data you’re generating with the various pieces of your martech stack. A Signal Hub takes raw data and helps you to transform it into descriptive signals about the buyer, then to predictive signals about what the buyer is likely to do, and then ultimately into prescriptive signals that recommend your next move.

This becomes the insight engine or the brain that brings all data together and helps us, as marketers, figure out what our next actions should be.

And the brain is constantly getting smarter. Machine learning within the Signal Hub constantly performs test and learn scenarios. Closed loop feedback on your data “signals,” like a car blinker, that message X might be good for customer Y because of action Z. For example, if I buy vitamins at Walgreens, I might be susceptible to an offer for protein powder. The system tests it out, sees if it works and optimizes the message the next time it sees someone like me buy vitamins.

Contrast that to current analytics approaches…

In today’s world, the treatment of data is typically done on a one-off basis. In a typical hypothesis-driven approach to optimizing your marketing, you have to rewrite code for every regression or cluster analysis. The way the code is written in this Signal Hub platform allows us to reuse common algorithms. It provides a library of existing signals.

For example, as a retailer, you may often want to analyze factors like store visits, geographic proximity to store, coupon use, etc. These are built into the Signal Hub. They’re like macros in excel—common formulas are pre-coded into the system and let us get things done more quickly. This saves our analysts a LOT of time; the system handles about 90% of what you’d want to do as a data scientist. Ultimately, this allows us to move more quickly and agilely as marketers.

Marketing signals process

The best part of using a Signal Hub?

Everything is integrated into one system and one interface. This article in CIO explains that most enterprise marketers have upwards of 20+ technology solutions, and getting the most out of them requires combining all of their data points. The typical fix is less than ideal:

“This is why many of today’s marketers rely on impractical solutions such as cramming as much data into Microsoft Excel spreadsheets as possible. You can only imagine the pain and suffering of manually gathering data points into complex Excel documents.”

With Signal Hub, we can more easily use ALL of our data to inform predictive and prescriptive analytics in one interface. This improves ease of use while also improving the traceability of our data across systems for a single view of the customer.

The future of marketing

This is the future of marketing…using technology to analyze massive amounts of data to find patterns that humans would never be able to find. It’s a machine-driven approach that uses self-learning systems to explore large amounts of data more quickly than we can imagine.

And at the end of the day, it helps us to be more human by better responding to each customer with the right message in the moment that she needs it.

You may also enjoy CMOs: This is the Year to Focus on Artificial Intelligence.

How to Use Buyer Personas to Improve B2B Customer Experience


align buyer personas to the buyer journey

Customer experience marketing is a proven antidote to the complex buyer journeys that characterize the B2B sector today. The goal is to serve highly relevant content to buyers in the right place at the right time, enhancing lead nurture and conversion to deliver better revenue growth.

Progressive firms are achieving this via intelligent one-to-one, in the moment marketing. Others are struggling to make the shift from product-centric to customer-centric approaches. How can they address this fundamental issue?

The good news is that persona research can provide many of the answers. I’m not talking about traditional personas rooted in demographic and firmographic data with an occasional sprinkling of psychographic insight. Persona research in the digital age needs to take account of buyers’ real-time situations, the specific tasks they need to fulfill and the challenges they encounter. This give a richer context to help shape the development and application of marketing messages and assets.

1. Understand the Buyer’s Situation

An understanding of the backstory and current problems or ‘jobs to be done’ should form the cornerstone of a buyer persona. There could be dozens of reasons why a buyer is in the market for a given product or service. Marketing activity achieves better resonance and engagement when it acknowledges and addresses these reasons.

For instance, the needs and challenges of a fast-growing start-up relocating to new premises could be entirely different to those of an established business that is opening a new office, and different again to a firm that is having to scale back its operations due to a difficult climate. Each of these scenarios could create a need for new technologies, furnishings or equipment, but there will be huge variations in buyers’ attitudes, emotions and priorities.

To obtain this level of buyer understanding, it can be helpful to talk informally with existing customers and establish the sequence of events that led them to require your services. Ask what actions they needed to complete during the buying process, and find out which caused the most aggravation.

These conversations can reveal valuable insights. They can form a strong foundation for persona-led marketing that cuts to the chase and addresses specific problems buyers are trying to solve, particularly those that are not met by competitors. Segmentation can also become more sophisticated, enabling marketing spend to focus on personas with a higher propensity to convert.

2. Gather Relevant Data

Once the various need-drivers for a product or service have been established, it’s possible to identify relevant ‘digital breadcrumbs’. These are key indicators of a buyer’s current situation and their stage in the buyer journey. Digital breadcrumbs can include Google search terms, social media comments or open source information related to pertinent issues.

The collection, organization and analysis of such data facilitates context-led persona development, unlocking the capability for one-to-one in the moment marketing. This enables marketing spend to be prioritized more intelligently, with activity aligned to the specific needs of individual buyer journeys.

For instance, at some point in the purchasing process, buyers look at the logistics of how and when a solution will be delivered. If persona research reveals that this is a bugbear for a target group, marketers can develop content that counters this, then deploy it strategically.

This approach can be augmented through analysis of data surrounding buyers’ digital and human exchanges with your brand. Interactions with your website and marketing automation platforms, sales conversation records and CRM tracking can all provide additional insight to enrich personas.

3. Align Buyer Personas with the Buyer’s Journey

Traditional personas – pen portraits rooted in demographic and firmographic data – played an important role in their day. However, in 2017 demographics and firmographics represent the finishing touches of a persona, not the core substance.

Today’s B2B buyer’s journeys involve multiple, convoluted steps, from ‘defining the specifics of a problem’ to ‘defining criteria to evaluate solutions’ and ‘determining where to acquire the solution.’ Each of these steps is associated with various needs and required outcomes. For marketers to navigate this environment and provide buyers with relevant assets that add value, persona research needs to give the full picture. That means understanding the buyer’s current situation, where they’re trying to get to, and the jobs they need to complete to get there.

It follows that B2B marketing strategies need to be rooted in fundamental contextual information about the buyer. Persona research must be strategically aligned with the buyer’s journey and leveraged intelligently via appropriate content and omnichannel tactics. While demographic and firmographic tailoring is important to achieve surface-level resonance, contextual insight enables buyers’ deeper needs to be addressed.

When marketers understand buyers’ situations and how they quantify success, strategies can be developed to help them complete tasks more quickly and easily. Intelligent persona research, effectively leveraged, can unlock whole new ways of working, enabling marketers to add tangible value to buyers in the moments that matter.

MetLife Marketing is Focused on Providing Value—You Should Be, Too

Esther Lee, CMO of MetLife, admits that for most financial services companies, marketing is typically equivalent to sales support. When she arrived at the company in 2015, she found that many of her marketers were just “brochure ware people.” Standard volume-based strategies weren’t cutting it.

Lucky for Lee, MetLife was in the middle of revamping their business model, so marketing had the opportunity to grow into something more. Lee jumped at the chance to reinvent marketing from a volume- and sales-driven organization to a value-driven organization.

According to Javed Matin, Marketing and Sales Consultant, this was a good move. He explains that successful businesses are built through consistently creating and delivering value. Matin says, “This requires an organizational design and alignment that puts the customer at the center of the universe and aligns all its functions towards creating, delivering, and realizing customer value.”

Javed Matin value mission

To Add Value, Be More Human

Customers are demanding that marketers like Lee are more relevant to their needs—more human. To bring the human back to marketing in a digital world, we must understand who individuals are and speak to them contextually, one-to-one, in the moment in which they are situated. Matin says, “Value realization is a journey that involves a continuum of every touch point between the customer and the vendor.” In other words, each interaction must deliver value back to the customer.

“Value realization is a journey that involves a continuum of every touch point between the customer and the vendor.” -Javed Matin

Lee has made clear strides toward the foundational elements for more human marketing with her market segmentation and persona activities, explained in the video link above. However, her team also needs a thorough understanding of the buyer’s journey to provide true value at each step of the journey.

Understand the Buyer’s Journey through Jobs to be Done

While it may seem to be, the buyer’s journey is not randomized. There are distinctive and quantifiable steps consumers go through on their path to purchase. The most effective framework through which to understand this journey is the Jobs to be Done Theory. As Theodore Levitt said, “people do not want a quarter-inch drill, they want a quarter inch hole.” People buy products and services to get jobs done; and while products come and go, the underlying job-to-be-done does not go away. Therefore, to deliver value at each stage in the buyer’s journey, you must start with understanding the job the customer is trying to do.

Looking at the buyer’s journey through this Jobs to be Done lens, there are 5 overarching stages. Within each of the 5 stages, there are specific goals a customer is looking to accomplish on the journey to solving his or her problem.

financial services buyer's journey stages

Let’s imagine that our buyer, Chris, has a neighbor that dies in an accident with no life insurance. In the problem recognition stage, Chris witnesses the grief, stress, and financial burden his family goes through. Although he has significant savings and investments for retirement, he decides he also needs to ensure his family’s security should he pass unexpectedly.

In the information search stage, Chris finds out that life insurance is available through his benefits at work; however, he does not have a qualifying life event to update his benefits and must wait until open enrollment in July. He does some Google searches to find other options that he can purchase on his own in the meantime. He determines he can speak with his auto and home insurance provider and get quotes from other companies online.

He evaluates the different plans, rates, and payment options and discusses the different possibilities with his wife. This is the evaluation stage.

Chris chooses an affordable policy that he feels will sufficiently cover his family’s needs in the event of his unexpected passing that he can pay monthly and cancel any time. He purchases this policy in the purchase stage.

Finally, Chris moves into post-purchase evaluation. If he is satisfied with his purchase, he can continue with the purchased policy or change his payment plan to a quarterly or yearly for a small discount. If he is not satisfied, he can cancel and switch to his employer’s policy come open enrollment. He may also share his experience with his network.

Map Content to the Buyer’s Journey

Each step of the journey informs the type of content the customers desire at that time. With a real-time understanding of where Chris sits in this buyer’s journey, insurance companies can provide him with the most relevant content in the moment that he needs it.

Imagine that Chris is already selecting a provider through which to acquire his policy, and one provider sends him a direct mail piece explaining the different types of life insurance. This is not the information he needs at this step in his journey, and the mail piece is irrelevant—it provides no value. However, if the provider were to send Chris a direct mail piece explaining the ease of their application process, they would be providing him with relevant information (value) to help him make his decision.

See the Buyer’s Journey in Action

David’s Bridal executed an email campaign to women that had just recently signed up on the website.

The company separated recipients into four groups:

  1. Did not receive an email
  2. Received promotional messaging that alerted buyers to sales
  3. Received emotional messages that focused on beauty and sophistication
  4. Received trends and tips on the wedding experience

Which campaign resulted in the greatest revenue impact?

The group that received trends and tips on the wedding experience was the most successful. At this stage in their journey, brides wanted information to help them decide on a wedding dress, a high-involvement product. They were looking to start the process with company with which could build trust. The company needed to offer them the rationale for why they should invest in a dress.

Which campaign resulted in the lowest revenue impact?

You may expect it to be the group that did not receive an email. However, the group that received promotional messaging about sales was the worst performing campaign. No email outperformed the wrong message at the wrong time. The lesson here is that marketing to the buyer at the wrong time generates worse results than not marketing at all. Failure to understand the buyer’s journey results in lost revenue.

It’s Time to be More Human

No matter their industry, age, or size, a growing number of firms are finding traditional marketing inadequate. It’s time to bring the human back, and this means delivering value through contextually relevant interactions. Esther Lee agrees and has started MetLife down that path. When will your team make the move to value-driven?

If Customer Experience Is the Battlefield, Mobile Is the Weapon of Choice

mobile customer experience

For most of us, our smartphone is practically an extension of our body. The vast majority of brands today, however, are struggling to orchestrate outstanding intuitive mobile customer experiences.

The smartphone is truly ingrained in our daily lives. As Google notes, 87% of us always have one by our side always, and 67% of us check it within 15 minutes of waking. Among other things, this means mobile technology is the primary channel in which we interact with brands, communicate with friends and family, read the news and restock our toothpaste (love you, Amazon app.).

In order to realize mobile’s vast potential, brands must create relevant, contextual customer experiences that simplify and enhance people’s lives. That’s where one-to-one, in-the-moment marketing comes in.

I’m not talking about mere personalization, which involves leveraging in-depth “descriptive” data about a customer (e.g. your name, favorite drink, buying frequency, or if you used a coupon) to deliver individualized messages and offers.

One-to-one, in-the-moment marketing goes a step further by also factoring in predictive data such as propensity to buy, time-sensitive variables (e.g. geo-positioning) and external variables (e.g. current weather and its impact on customer buying decisions). Or, as CMO Frank Grillo explains it, “The things that are driving me to buy and the way that I behave are very much impacted by who I am at that moment.”

Mobile is that connective element (or weapon) that enables marketers to deliver in-the-moment customer experiences tailored to “who you are at that moment.”

While 71% of marketers believe mobile is core to their business, many still struggle to bring it to life. So, what is the foundation upon which these one-to-one, in-the-moment experiences are built? Let’s take a look at the big three.

1. Connected, Accessible Data

Data is rarely the problem for brands. The challenge comes with connecting the data to extract intelligence and the accessibility of that data downstream at the point of customer interaction.

We’ve all researched a product on a retailer’s website and then walked into a store only to find it out of stock. Very frustrating.

Home Depot has tackled this challenge head on. Over the past eight years, they’ve built a foundation of data connectivity around inventory management and supply chain architecture to enable a single view of inventory. With over 2,000 stores and 35,000 SKUs per store, this is no small feat. And good for them, because a seamless customer experience both in-store and online, including universal visibility into inventory by store, is what customers expect today.

2. Insights and Intelligence

Okay, your data is connected and accessible. Now, what is your strategy to deliver intuitive, tailored customer experiences? This requires a combination of human and technology intelligence. Connected data fuels data scientists to build the right descriptive and predictive data cues to power the engagement models to drive business.

At the heart of these efforts is the explosive artificial intelligence (AI) market, which IDC projects will grow from $8 billion in 2016 to $47 billion by 2020. Furthermore, Forrester predicts enterprise investments in AI will increase 300% in 2017, compared to 2016. Brands must be able to connect their breadth of data and tie it to a single customer profile so they can then extract the insights and intelligence to transform the individual customer experience.

Need your coffee fix in the morning? Dunkin’ Donuts partnered with Waze to simplify this process. By elevating your coffee preference data tied to proximity to a Dunkin’ Donuts store, they can deliver in-app offers during that morning commute to help you scratch your caffeine itch. (Don’t worry; they only elevate offers when the Waze app identifies you have stopped.)

3. Ability to Deliver the Experience to the Customer

It all comes down to this: the last mile. Can you deliver an experience as unique as your customer in that moment?

This is the area where “mobile” takes on an ambiguous definition and gives marketers heartburn. Mobile can encompass mobile-optimized web, mobile-optimized email, SMS, beacon-driven notifications, mobile apps, mobile media and mobile-enabled commerce (including mobile payments). And with 80% of social media time occurring via mobile access, we might even consider social to be synonymous with mobile.

Very simply, I view your mobile strategy as your digital strategy: While it can include any of the above tactics, it is the culmination of connected data, in-the-moment consumer intelligence and the ability to deliver a tailored experience that makes customers say, “It’s like they know me!”

Let’s look at Starbucks — their commitment to their digital strategy, focus on innovation, ability to deliver and the resulting impact on their business. They understand the use of innovation to simplify and enhance the customer experience … and it’s paying off.

After launching mobile payments in 2011, Starbucks executed over 26 million transactions in the first year. And now, more than 21% of transactions at company-owned U.S. stores are executed via their mobile app.

Starbucks is now able to layer innovations such as voice-enabled ordering upon this foundational infrastructure to further simplify the customer-ordering process. Order simplification has been so successful that Starbucks last year reported challenges in physically processing preorders within their stores—a good problem to have.

Research has shown that simplified checkout, while convenient, can shrink transaction size by minimizing those spontaneous purchases. To combat this, Starbucks has committed to their AI/recommendation algorithms to elevate recommendations into the mobile app based on descriptive and predictive cues to deliver a true one-to-one, in-the-moment experience.

By continually gathering data on mobile interactions, you can refine customer profiles/preferences and in turn sharpen your understanding of their behavior and motivations. Data fuels relevancy, relevancy drives engagement, and engagement enriches data. This symbiotic relationship enhances our ability as marketers to better understand our customers in the moment and in turn orchestrate intuitive experiences.

Where Do We Go from Here?

Mobile is the key to creating one-to-one, in-the-moment customer experiences that are essential for success in today’s marketing environment. In future posts, I’ll examine what this means for:

  • In-app innovation
  • Mobile commerce
  • Mobile media

Please stay tuned!

The Convergence of Digital and Physical Shopping Experiences

Historically, brick-and-mortar retailers have approached development of their online storefronts fatalistically. Companies thought that increasing online business couldn’t happen without poaching from brick-and-mortar storefronts—and if anyone was going to poach brick-and-motor business, it might as well be that same company’s online business. Online and bricks-and-mortar retail were treated as two separate animals. To grow online business, many companies thought they had no choice but to sacrifice bricks-and-mortar sales. All advances in online functionality for customers meant directing those customers away from brick-and-mortar locations.

Then, last year, True Religion changed the retail game by tying its latest tech innovation directly to its brick-and-mortar storefronts.

True Religion Brings Digital In-Store

The future of retail is the convergence of the physical and digital shopping experience. Retailers can use technology to enhance the in-store experience, essentially creating a new experience every time a shopper walks into a store.

Picture this: a customer walks into a True Religion store in London. The ground floor features men’s apparel, with women’s and children’s one level below. There is a “denim bar” designed to showcase product and spark conversation. Five digital screens on the ground floor run True Religion advertising campaigns—a sort of “Digital Runway.”

True religion digital runways show convergence of digital and physical shopping
Digital runway screens are visible from outside a True Religion store. Image credit:

With Band for True Religion, a customer using the True Religion app transmits data to associates’ Apple Watches the instant she steps in the door. Sales associates can use the technology to offer informed purchase recommendations. The Apple Watch app will even sync to the company’s inventory system so that sales associates can stay on top of what is in stock and access products from other stores around the globe.

true religion apple watch app aids in Convergence of digital and physical shopping
True Religion “Band” App for Apple Watch. Image Credit:

One challenge retailers face is providing consumers with a shopping experience that is relevant—a place that means something and provides an enjoyable experience every time they walk into the store. Band by True Religion not only streamlines shopping, it also allows the sales associate to impress the customer, using technology to heighten the retail experience.

To compete with online retailers, brick-and-mortar retail locations should implement a series of digital advancements with the intent of providing each shopper with a more personalized experience.

Focus on In-the-Moment Experiences

The goal for retailers should not be to just acquire purchase behavior after the fact, but to predict the emotions that drive consumers to buy—or not buy. Retailers can use digital queues to analyze the behavior of non-purchasers, for example, identifying emotions that drive product choices while providing a more immersive and intimate shopping experience. A new Store Non-Purchaser product from ForeSee does just that, identifying digital shoppers and surveying them to determine why they chose not to make a purchase. A retailer can use that information to make changes to not only its online storefront, but also its brick-and-mortar storefront.

Combining physical and digital is an opportunity to add a layer of unexpected experiences and services to the traditional shopping experience. FaceCake Marketing Technologies recently debuted a new platform that allows customers to virtually try on a look. Obviously, this technology can heighten the at-home online shopping experience, giving the consumer access to a wide range of options—but it could revolutionize the brick-and-mortar experience too.

Imagine those True Religion Digital Runways—but instead of a model showing off the latest True Religion jeans, a sales associate can show a hesitant customer an image of herself wearing a pair of jeans she discarded on her way to the fitting room. Alternately, in-store video screens could use customer purchase history data to surprise a retail buyer by showing her new products that would look great with something she recently purchased. Combine the entertainment factor of virtual-try-on with the instant gratification of the jeans in questions being a few feet away in a brick-and-mortar store, and you have a retail win.

The times of trying to accommodate the general consumer are over. Retailers can now use data to make informed communications with specific individuals, rather than general solicitations that will be ignored. Starbucks’ mobile app not only allows consumers the opportunity to skip the line, its hyper-personalized loyalty program allows the coffee giant to personalize a customer’s experience no matter what brick-and-mortar store he walks into.

The objective should not only be to improve the buyer’s journey, but also to reinforce brand values. Retailers must promote a unique point of view in order to generate loyalty. REI’s now-famous Black Friday boycott, coupled with the retailer’s #OptOutside social media campaign, cemented the brand as one that respects its employees and values the outdoors.

Online + In-Store: Better Together

The role of stores is changing. Rather than treating online business like an alternative to a physical storefront, retailers need to integrate the two experiences. Customers are looking for brands that converge their digital and physical touchpoints into a singular, seamless shopping experience. By taking a cue from businesses like True Religion, retailers can use digital experiences to enhance the shopping experience at brick-and-mortar locations. The convergence of digital and physical shopping means retailers can provide consumers an enhanced journey to buy what they want when they want, and how they want it.

Brick and mortar retailers can still compete with online retailers by meeting unmet shopper needs. They can implement digital experiences within the added bonus of instant gratification. The in-store shopping experience provides a unique experience that cannot be replicated by online competitors.

Check out more ways in which physical stores have advantages over online establishments in Retailers: What You Need to Know to Win Against All-Powerful Amazon.

The Magic Question: What’s as Important as Baseball?


First, a case study from Dr. Karl Hellman (Co-founder, Resultrek) and then an analysis by Frank Grillo (CMO, Harte Hanks).

Case study from Dr. Karl Hellman

In our 3-second attention span world, social media marketing often grabs attention with dramatic discounts: 30% off or more. But discounts erode profits and detract from brand equity: “Thirty percent off? What’s wrong with this product?”

A better way to grab attention is to borrow interest from a topic your target is already passionate about. When I need to find a way to grab attention fast, I ask myself, “What does the target customer care about as much as kids care about baseball?” Here is why.

P&G had a small regional soft drink called Sundrop which was facing a dire situation: No promotion funding in the face of low market share and intense direct competition (Mountain Dew) in a crowded category—think Coke and Pepsi. This lemon-lime flavored soda was sold only in the Southeast and had come to P&G in the 1980s as part of the acquisition of Orange Crush. As a regional product with no plans for rollout, Sundrop had a miniscule advertising budget. The brand manager’s challenge was to build share and volume for this tiny brand with no budget. She decided to focus on one geographic area where Sundrop had good distribution: rural North Carolina.

Sundrop’s major product characteristics were its sweet flavor and caffeine fortification. Early research showed that the product had particular appeal for 10 to 14 year old kids. With this in mind, the P&G team asked themselves what was really important in the lives of youths in these geographic areas? The answer they came up with was Little League baseball.

The core of the attention grabbing, promotional program the product management team developed was simple. Kids (and their parents) would collect Sundrop bottle caps and exchange them for Louisville Slugger baseball equipment – bats, mitts, gloves and balls. To stretch the Sundrop budget further, the brand manager persuaded Louisville Slugger to support a cross-tie promotion. The baseball company would donate the equipment, and in turn get invaluable (free to them) advertising and goodwill.

Next, the brand manager approached the local Little Leagues and convinced them to break their non-commercial tradition and endorse the cross-promotional program. The Little Leagues mailed letters to all their teams in the Sundrop territory describing the program and encouraging parents and kids to participate.

The program was successful beyond anyone’s wildest expectations. Whole communities participated in order to equip their local teams. As the success mounted, Louisville Slugger asked for financial assistance in fulfilling orders. Sundrop was delighted to respond; they had tripled their market share and sold thousands of gallons of soda as a result of the promotion. At that point, they could justify additional promotional expenses.

When you’re looking at a particularly difficult challenge of breaking through information clutter and overload, think about why those kids in little towns and farms all across North Carolina chose Sundrop over Mountain Dew, Coca-Cola or Pepsi. You can invoke this attention-grabbing rule: Build promotions that support values customers care about as strongly as kids care about baseball.

Analysis by Frank Grillo

The Sundrop case illustrates beautiful integration of multiple aspects of effective promotion. Each component is closely linked, like a Jenga tower where every block seems stuck to the others. It is hard to imagine this promotional home run without Louisville Slugger as the partner, support from the regional Little League organization, and so on.

The case highlights the value of testing: start small, try something new, and expand from there if successful. Tests can be very low cost, which makes them an ideal tool, especially when budgets are tight. They can help “money appear out of nowhere” because smart money tends to gravitate toward high-return marketing programs.

As is so often the case, market targeting and persona definition play a central role in the development of effective marketing programs. But the unique Sundrop situation forced the brand manager to apply them in innovative ways.

1. Market Targeting

Market targeting or segmentation is the process of dividing a market into smaller pieces. This helps marketers tailor their programs for greater impact. Today we like to talk about “markets of one” but this can offset program effectiveness.

Using a Strategic Game Board, we can imagine that Sundrop could justifiably anticipate a high ability to influence a small regional market. These markets are often ignored by the larger brands. Because of low market share, however, the best Sundrop could hope for was a moderate degree of success. When its market share tripled, everyone was surprised because this was a low probability outcome.

By accurately characterizing the chances of success as moderate, the brand manager could see a need to borrow equity from another brand. Shooting high, the brand manager went for Louisville Slugger. It made the bat swung by legends such as Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb and Lou Gehrig. Every Little Leaguer wanted to be a slugger, and some of this brand’s affinity would hopefully rub off on Sundrop.

2. Personas

The unique lesson about personas offered by the Sundrop case is its multi-dimensional application. Personas were nailed for kids, parents, local community groups and regional organizations. Each persona embraced little league baseball. Each resonated with Sundrop as an underdog brand as well as with Louisville Slugger as a champion’s brand. The task of collecting and submitting bottle caps was readily translated by all personas as “stretch but achievable.” Further:

  • Kids were willing to collect those bottle caps. They were motivated by the prospect of playing with new, “Slugger” equipment.
  • Parents were willing to buy Sundrop six-packs every week or so. In fact, it is easy to imagine a parent buying a six-pack of Sundrop and surreptitiously pouring it down the drain just so their kids could sleep at night but still have a good haul of bottle caps for the day.
  • Coaches were motivated to remind kids and parents about the promotion and the need for new equipment.
  • The co-sponsor was willing to donate free equipment because they saw the very real possibility of making life-long brand alliances.
  • Communities were willing to support the promotion, perhaps by making Sundrop available at social functions, or maybe even in school cafeterias. Perhaps they created collection centers to facilitate bottle cap counting and mailing.
  • The Little League organization was willing to make an exception and be more commercial for a higher good: support those oft-ignored rural communities and get them some badly needed new equipment.

The brand manager’s ability to find and focus on themes that were clearly important within her target market can’t be over-emphasized. It is nearly impossible to simultaneously characterize so many personas with such accuracy. But, it will never happen if you don’t try. That is the key lesson here: look for multiple personas throughout the distribution channel. Pinpoint the overlaps and tie-ins: these offer key opportunities for connections, synergy and market share growth.

Retailers: What You Need to Learn from Holiday 2016

For years, retailers have been told that to compete in the new ecommerce world, they need to have a well-established omnichannel organization. The 2016 holiday season proves that the time has come—and it is not going away. Retailers that do not have a solid omnichannel strategy that lets customers shop whenever and however they want to shop are going to be left in the dust.

How do I know this? Let’s look at the evidence.

Role of the physical store has changed

December store sales were down 10.7% and saw a 13.4% decline in shopper traffic. However, the average transaction value and sales per shopper metrics were up significantly (5.6% and 3%, respectively).

holiday 2016 lessons learned

First Data’s Holiday 2016 SpendTrend report found that overall consumer spending growth increased 4.7%. Whether using a PC, tablet or mobile device, Americans continued the recent trend of making their holiday purchases online as retail ecommerce transactions grew by 12%. Additionally, more than one fifth (21.3%) of all holiday spending was conducted online, a substantial increase from 15.4% last year.

This sends strong signals that the role of the physical store has changed. In this digitally-empowered era, consumers will shop for a specific subset of products in brick and mortar stores: fit products. These are higher value products that shoppers want to try out or try on in the actual store location. For items that are less expensive, commodity, or that they’re already familiar with, they’re buying online.

This indicates the need for a clear omnichannel strategy to take advantage of brick and mortar strengths and maximize opportunities.

Pressure to acquire customers through promotions

According to analysis by DynamicAction, retailers were holding on average 12% more inventory by mid-December than they were in 2015. This led to big pressure to discount to acquire more customers and move inventory. Retailers were therefore promoting much more heavily in 2016 than in 2015. Overall promotions were up 34% overall and 52% specifically within the holiday season.

The combination of too much inventory with too many promotions provides a mixed bag of results. As a retailer, you might have to promote what you were already promoting just to move it off the shelf. However, if you instead have a clear understanding of the buyer’s journey and an omnichannel strategy to support it, you know how customers are going to buy and can properly inform your inventory levels.

Black Friday lost its crown

Historically, Black Friday is the biggest shopping day of the year in terms of people that visited and purchased at a physical store. However, Black Friday was dethroned in 2016 by Christmas Eve Eve (December 23rd).

The biggest reason for this is that About 10 million more Americans shopped online than in stores over Black Friday weekend—it was a large weekend, but people were shopping online. Similarly, Target and Kohl’s reported record online sales on Thanksgiving. Again, this issue is not that people aren’t shopping; people have just changed how and where they are shopping, and retailers must understand and react to that reality.Holiday 2016 lessons learned

Omnichannel: The time is now

Holiday 2016 retail performance is proof that the role of stores has changed. Brands are converging their digital and physical touch points into a singular, seamless shopping experience—driven by a thorough understanding of the buyer’s journey. Successful brick and mortar stores are right-sized in footprint and located in high-trafficked areas, staffed optimally around peak traffic hours, and focused on brand awareness, customer acquisition and value-added services, complementing the long-term cultivation of shoppers through various digital touchpoints.

Omnichannel, omnichannel, omnichannel. You’re been hearing it for a while. Now is the time to act.

CMOs: This is the Year to Focus on Artificial Intelligence

execs focus on artificial intelligene

We all know by now that consumers are in the driver’s seat when it comes to marketing and the customer experience in 2017. To meet their ever-increasing expectations, we’ll need to get to know them at a deeper level than ever before and speak to them more contextually than we’ve dreamed possible.

I’ve put forth that in 2017, we will be challenged to completely rethink some of our long-held beliefs and restructure ingrained processes to cater to each individual, in the moment. We’ve established the need to think beyond one-to-one marketing, focus on the small data and provide return on attention (ROA).

The final key element that I believe needs our attention in 2017 is artificial intelligence.

Make the Move from Manual to Automatic with AI

Artificial intelligence is going to be hugely important in this process of getting to know our customers and speaking to them contextually. It will bring a whole new level of insight that we don’t have right now.

When we think about driving context with our customers, there is an infinite number of variables to consider. Currently, we have to test our own theories as to what is working and what is not. This is limited because we have to come up with and ask the questions in the first place. AI will help us to continually refine our data and our messaging by making our understanding of what’s working and why it’s working easier to uncover.

An AI engine can identify positive or negative trends or anomalies that we should pay attention to, give us the potential variables to test, and test them for us. Given behavioral patterns, an AI engine will start doing A-Z testing on its own. If you come up with some rule sets and let the engine apply and learn from them, you can get to a magical place. With an AI engine watching every set of conversations, watching everything that works and doesn’t work in those conversations, and applying the most appropriate content given the context, we can get as close as possible to personalized dialog with each individual in each moment.

This is crawl, walk, run. 2017 is the time to begin learning about artificial intelligence and planning for how your organization can integrate it beyond the simple efficiency efforts and process improvements it is currently used for.

What the Future Looks Like

Let’s bring this back to my shoe story.

If the retailer I had visited online had implemented the practices in this series of articles (think beyond one-to-one, look at the small data, provide ROA, use AI), my experience would have looked completely different.

When I visited the website and browsed for shoes, I may have received a single follow-up email reminding me about them (and possibly some similar shoes or complimentary items). If I didn’t interact with the email or visit again, the retailer would have read my digital cues that indicated I was only browsing and stopped contacting me. This would be the equivalent of picking up the shoes once in the store, declining to try them on, then leaving. Clearly, I’m not ready to buy.

On the other hand, if I visited the site multiple times and opened and clicked on the emails they sent me, I would expect a different response. This would be the equivalent of visiting the physical store and repeatedly picking up the same shoes over the course of half an hour. Or perhaps I return to the store on several occasions to look at the same shoes. In either instance, I would expect a salesperson to approach me again and ask if I am ready to try the shoes on. Similarly, I would expect to receive multiple, relevant communications from the retailer if I was actively engaged online.

Perhaps the salesperson in this story would also notice that I am dressed in business attire during my visit and tailor his recommendations to additional professional attire. Or he may notice that my young daughter is with me and that Easter is coming up and offer to show us some dress shoes for her Easter outfit. He may even notice the Runner’s World magazine peeking out of my bag and offer to show me the latest barefoot running shoes they just got in. All of these human cues are possible to distinguish and act on online, too—with the right in-the-moment data and the correct content and technology.

To be really good at this is not something and of us do overnight. It’s something we will build and then build on. And I’m more than excited to dive in head first in 2017.

ROA: The Most Important Marketing Metric in 2017

Cashier provides ROA, the most important marketing metric

We’ve been discussing the importance of meeting customer demands for context and personalization in 2017. So far, we have established that we need to think beyond one-to-one marketing and focus on the small data to succeed in this Age of ‘Me,’.

The next area all marketing leaders must critically examine this year is content. Analyst Rebecca Lieb recently said,Context will be the foundation of the next phase of content marketing.” I agree, and context can be achieved by matching small data with small messaging.

Match Small Data with Small Messaging

We are living in an attention-based economy. There is real value to getting some of my attention, so you, as a marketer, better provide me something relevant and valuable in return.

This places a whole different obligation on marketing. Marketing itself has to impart value in the interaction separate from whether or not the consumer actually does business with you. This is a very challenging thought as a marketer. Once—and only once—you have shared value with the prospective customer, you can then start engaging in dialog about doing business with you. The point of content should always be first to inform, then dialog, then sell.

We call this providing return on attention (ROA) for the consumer. It’s the most important marketing metric, and it can only be achieved by matching the small data you’ve gathered to small messaging. Contextual interactions are achieved by understanding who your customer is in the moment (through the small data) and matching the exact right message to her needs in the right moment—or at least as close as we can get (small messaging).

Measuring Content with ROA

The success of our content therefore needs to be measured by return on attention (ROA). There are two sides to measuring ROA. The first is having an understanding of whether or not your content actually provided some value for those that interfaced with it. Second, did getting their attention get you a better, faster buyer? While it’s simply arrogant to think we can change a buyer’s individual journey to purchase, we can make the buyer journey more effective, remove obstacles, and accelerate the buyer down the path to purchase.

This is really new. We’re currently grappling with how to quantify and measure ROA, and it’s something we’ll continue to explore in 2017.

For more insight on ROA, check out this article by John Hagel on Then make sure to read the last post in my 2017 recommendations series next week: Make the Move from Manual to Automatic with AI.

Great Marketers Will Focus on Small Data for Success This Year

small data about your prospects paints a clearer picture

We’ve established that this is the year of the consumer. We’re living in The Age of ‘Me’, and that means that as marketers, we really need to understand who our customers and our prospects are—and we need to use that to speak to them contextually.

I started off my 2017 recommendations series by explaining that—rather than interacting contextually—marketing has been neglecting to seek out and react to our consumers’ cues as they provide them (like my experience with the online retailer and the shoes). The first step to remedying this is thinking beyond one-to-one marketing to one-to-one in the moment marketing. The next piece of the puzzle is looking at the small data for a better picture of your consumer, at a particular point in time.

It’s the Small Data that Matters; Stop Counting Everything

You don’t need to have a ton of information on me to understand what’s driving me. You need the right piece of information about me at a moment in time.

Robert McNamara was the Secretary of Defense during the Vietnam War. He espoused the notion that for any problem, you should define objectives, make a plan and measure your success. In order to determine whether or not we were successful in the war, he measured what he had available to him: bodies. He concluded that, because we were killing more people than we were losing, we must be winning. Clearly, that was not the case.

In marketing, our vision is often clouded by the same mistake: measuring what is easy or readily available to measure at the expense of what is useful to measure. We rely on clicks, store visits and other single data points that don’t really tell us what is happening in any given situation. And we collect a whole bunch of this information. Another CMO I know likes to say, “I’m looking for a needle in a haystack, and you people keep throwing hay on top of it.” We count everything we can count, but we are counting things that don’t matter—or we don’t understand the information we have.

Instead of looking at all of the data that’s readily available and possible to collect, we need to look at the real indications that we have a ready buyer. It’s our job to determine what an interested buyer looks like—and if there are some data points in that description that we can’t easily get to, it’s our job to figure out how to get them. This often means breaking down walls inside the organization to share information at a human level rather than at a channel or interaction level. It can also mean bringing in third party enhancing data that help you understand who the buyer is.

Once we know what this buyer looks like, we can build algorithms to help us identify more buyers and a content engine that allows us to match the exact right message to the right person in the right moment—or at least as close as we can get.

For more insight on small data, see Martin Lindstrom’s article on

The Next Step is Content: Small Messaging to Match Small Data

The importance of that message and the content it’s contained in is the third thing we must rethink as marketers this year. Check it out in my next post next week.

Retailers: What You Need to Know to Win Against All-Powerful Amazon

Many retailers are beginning to feel like competing with a dominant force like Amazon is a losing battle.

In the recent article “Can your brand win vs. Amazon?,” CEO Mike Edwards examines the struggle for vendors and retailers to remain profitable in the shadow of the online retail giant. Amazon offers lower prices, convenience, a wide selection, product recommendations, a range of shipping options and a personalized customer experience. They’ve set the standard for customer expectations, and if you ignore that standard, you won’t succeed.

But there is reason for hope. In fact, as Edwards points out, smaller retailers, especially those with brick and mortar locations, have distinct advantages over ecommerce giants like Amazon.

Our research of five major brick and mortar retailers plus Amazon indicates that the natural advantages for brick and mortar stores lie in three key areas of the buyer journey.

The Buyer’s Journey

Traditionally, we’ve thought of the sales funnel as a linear process consisting of six steps: awareness, interest, consideration, intent, evaluation and purchase. But the buyer journey is not linear at all—it’s a very convoluted, self-directed path based on what the customer is trying to achieve. In order to understand the buyer’s journey, we therefore have to understand the buyer’s end goal.

Every CMO needs to first and foremost be asking: What job is the customer trying to do?

We have therefore defined the buyer’s journey through the lens of the jobs-to-be-done theory. With this approach, there are 15 steps through which the buyer advances to choose, acquire and use the product he wishes to hire to complete his job.

15 steps of the buyer’s journey

Brick and mortar stores are uniquely positioned to improve the experience for—and grab the business of—customers at following steps in the buyer journey:

  1. Product identification
  2. Product selection
  3. Returns

1. Product Identification

Product identification is the step in the buyer’s journey when the consumer is determining which solution(s) to consider to solve his problem or complete his job—and a retailer can help the consumer decide which products to consider. Brick and mortar’s have the advantage here because they are able to provide problem solving experts.

For example, if someone is going skiing for the first time, he may go into a store to buy or rent skis. He may not know that he also needs poles, goggles, boots, nice socks, hand warmers and more. The store expert can help this buyer make sure he has everything he needs to make his first skiing experience enjoyable. It is difficult to find a comparable problem solving experts online—looking at the “Customers also bought…” just doesn’t cut it.

2. Product Selection

This is the step of the buyer’s journey in which the buyer chooses the solution to acquire. There are some products that consumers really want to evaluate in person. Try them on, hold them, feel them, test them out or consult with an expert (e.g. Apple Genius) before selecting an item to purchase. Scott Neslin, Professor of Marketing at Dartmouth, calls these products fit products.

Brick and mortar retail stores have a distinct advantage when it comes to the selection of fit products. Customers can sit on their prospective sofas, try on jeans, ask questions about how their climbing gear should fit, etc.

The Samsung 837 store in New York does a wonderful job helping customers test out Samsung products. The store offers the opportunity to try out and play with the latest Samsung products without having to purchase them. It also offers customer care services with troubleshooting and workshops for new and existing users. Finally, the store has an impressive VR tunnel where customers can step into a virtual world and be transported anywhere—a studio, a kitchen, a playroom, a living room—all where customers can see how Samsung products would fit into their everyday lives. 

Samsung helps customers to picture products in their lives to win against amazon
Virtual reality in Samsung 837 store. Image Credit: Samsung

3. Returns

Unfortunately for retailers, returns are also part of the buyer’s journey. We all know that if the product a customer buys doesn’t meet his expectations (or satisfactorily complete the job he is hiring it for), he may return it. What our research discovered, however, is that customers are more likely to buy an item when the prospect of returning it seems easy and convenient. Repackaging and mailing an item back seems cumbersome, which is why retailers with a physical location have an advantage at this step in the journey.

Further, our interviews indicated that, while an easy return process increases propensity to purchase, it do NOT increase returns—most people do not end up taking the products back. Simply knowing that they can easily do so if they choose to makes them more likely to buy.

Retailers should therefore allow for—and even encourage—in-store returns and aim to make the process as simple as possible. The best return policies are those with no questions asked.  Kohl’s takes this approach: they have no time restrictions on returns, and they don’t care if you have a receipt. Athleta also has a great return policy. Unlike at sister companies Gap, Banana Republic, and Old Navy, you can return lightly used items to Athleta any time to receive a refund. The store offers a give-it-a-workout guarantee so that customers can try out the performance wear before committing.

good return policies help to win against amason
Athleta upstages sister companies with its return policy.

Find and Optimize Your Advantages

While it may seem impossible to compete with the likes of Amazon, what makes your business different may also make it better. As eBags CEO Mike Edwards says, “The biggest weakness of Amazon is they do not have stores or OMNI partnerships that make sense.” Forbes agrees. According to a recent article, “Retail companies with a physical store presence capture the majority of retail sales” (which is why Amazon has jumped on the bandwagon, trying to catch up to you).

We believe that understanding the buyer’s journey through the lens of the jobs-to-be-done model allows retailers to find their biggest opportunities to improve their customer experience—and compete against the giants like Amazon.

CMOs: Where Our Heads Need to be for Success in 2017

Marketing success in 2017

Reading through the many 2017 marketing predictions, there is one resounding theme: consumers are running the show. As Forrester says, all markets are on the move in response to consumer demands—even utility companies are launching customer experience initiatives.

We’re living in The Age of ‘Me’, and that means that as marketers, we really need to understand who our customers and our prospects are to speak to them contextually. In 2017, we will be challenged to completely rethink some of our long-held beliefs and restructure ingrained processes to cater to each individual, in the moment.

Let me start with a story.

I recently went to a retail website and looked at shoes. I liked the shoes, so I gave them my email address. That day, I got an email about the shoes, along with two additional emails. I didn’t open any of them. The next day, I got five emails; I only read one of them. They continued to send me five emails a day. After three days of being digitally accosted, I returned to the website and unregistered from email—even though I liked the shoes.

If I walk into a physical shoe store and pick up a pair of shoes, I might expect an associate to ask me if I need help with anything. But I would not expect the associate to ask me every five minutes for the next hour, “Can I help you now? How about now? Now? Still doing okay? How about now?” I also wouldn’t expect to hear, “What about shirts? Can I interest you in shirts? Or pants?” That is the human equivalent to the emails I received from this retailer. They hounded me even though I was just browsing and didn’t read their emails. They did nothing to react to my cues even though they had all of the information they needed to do so.

Ten years ago, the majority of the omnichannel marketing we execute would have been person-to-person. We would have been in the same room having sales appointments or talking with customers. We would have been seeing people lean forward, cross arms, shake heads…we would have adjusted conversations based on cues. Now these cues happen in a digital environment. Technology lets us see that these human cues ARE still there, but we need to pay attention to them.

Currently, marketing is obtuse and doesn’t think about the human cues. The whole marketing journey is bringing the human context back in, responding in kind to the person and how they’re acting.

In order to do that, we need to shift our mindsets and processes in several key ways:

  1. Think Beyond 1:1 Marketing
  2. It’s the Small Data that Matters; Stop Counting Everything
  3. Content: You Must Provide Return on Attention (ROA)
  4. Make the Move from Manual to Automatic with AI

Think Beyond 1:1 Marketing

One-to-one marketing is no longer good enough—even though we’re just getting there. It’s really one-to-one in the moment. While I’m always myself, there are things that make me behave differently, and there are different roles I play in my life. Contextually, I could be a CEO, a spouse, a father, a son. All of these are the same person, but the motivations behind buying something for myself versus buying something for my child that’s about to go off to college for the first time are very different. The things that are driving me to buy and the way that I behave are very much impacted by who I am at that moment.

As a marketer, you need to have the insights, as best you can, into who you are marketing to way beyond demographics and traditional personas. You need to know more than the fact that I’m Frank, a 51-year-old guy who lives in Denver. You need to know who Frank is in this moment. What parts of his personality are driving him?

To do this in 2017, you need to look at the small data, which I’ll discuss in my next post. Stay tuned.

Customer Centricity Means Time and Money. Is it Worth It?

planning for customer centricity

Customer centricity, the customer journey and the customer experience are the big buzz in marketing. But customer centricity takes a lot of time and money. How can you be sure it’s paying off? You’re making changes, but are they the right changes? You have 1,000 priorities; what’s your best course of action RIGHT NOW?

You’re not alone in asking these questions.

I often see marketing executives that have good intentions around understanding and improving the customer experience. But in many cases, the financial business case isn’t formed enough or the success metrics aligned well enough to determine if the investments delivered an improved financial return for the company.

Senior marketing executives need a concrete, reliable method of getting from the idea of customer centricity to actually improving customer experience. And you’re playing against the clock. With limited budget and limited patience to wait for the ROI. Add to that, the need for new investments to be self-funding. No wonder it can be so difficult to get from the idea of customer-centricity to scalable business impact.

In my experience, there are four things you need to have in place to make sure your customer experience strategy and execution work can justify the investment and, at the end of the day, prove it worked:

  1. Data, insights and understandings that go way beyond NPS, clicks, calls and routine transactions.
  2. A more integrated plan and platform for technology and enablement tools to tie all the parts and pieces together.
  3. Skill and agility to create the content and assets required to fuel the myriad of conversations to be had with the customer and to make the experience contextually relevant and meaningful.
  4. Focus and diligence on things that significantly impact both the customer and the business in a positive, incremental and measurable manner.

Let’s take a closer look.

1. Data, Insights and Understanding

Marketers need to understand what the consumer is trying to accomplish at each twist and turn of the buyer journey and the customer lifecycle. What are they thinking? What are they doing? Why? What’s getting in their way? To customize your CX plan, you must use a whole assortment of data, insights and understanding that go way beyond the usual suspects like NPS, clicks, calls, etc. These metrics answer very specific questions about specific points in the customer experience but rarely tell the entire story about what the customer wants, needs, and why she feels and behaves in certain ways.

To better inform your decision making on what to invest in now, later or never, you should be relying on insights from your buyer journey diagnostic, voice of the customer research, data audits, and a variety of other inputs including your NPS and CSAT data. By combining these various data sources and types, you can begin to create a more complete picture of the customer. 1 + 1 can equal 3.

2. Integrated Plan for Technology and Enablement Tools

There are legacy systems in place across every business. Some are old and antiquated, some are new and shiny. Regardless, there’s typically a need to bring together data and technology in a different way to capture the right customer information—to ultimately make informed choices and to be able to execute on your CX ideas. For example, if you want to use info about a customer’s website activity to arm your customer service representative on an inbound call, you need technology integration that connects the website and the inbound call center and also surfaces the data to the rep in a meaningful way.

With thousands of technology options and tools, what are the right ones for your brand and your customer experience? You need the right combination of tools in place to capture and action data from or about the customer. The technology needs to enable a seamless and satisfying experience for the customer in way that creates economic value for your business.

3. Skill and Agility to Create Content

To really embrace and deliver on a relevant customer experience requires an abundance of content to be actioned in real time to deliver a relevant interaction and to keep the conversation going. Most organizations have a lot of latent content that’s created for different functions across enterprise, but rarely is it organized and catalogued in a way to fuel relevant CX. Frequently, I find that all of this content is more heavily situated in upper funnel awareness instead of deep funnel or nurturing content that helps in other stages of buyer journey.

It’s important to assess all of your current content, identify gaps and opportunities to improve it or more effectively use existing content, catalog it, and be committed to continuous process of content creation. You’ll need to be able to bring together many different bits and pieces in real-time or in batch around the customer and what they’re trying to do in each moment of the journey.

4. Focus on Things that Impact the Business

There’s lots of ways to go about delighting the customer. But just because you can do it, doesn’t make it the right thing to do. You need to evaluate each potential CX improvement in terms of its impact to the customer, as well as its direct or indirect impact to the company’s bottom line. You have to look at what’s good for the customer and brand simultaneously. If you solve too heavily for one or the other, it’s going to be a mismatch. If you solve for customer without worrying enough about business impact, you’ll find yourself at some point unprofitable. If you lean too heavily on what’s right for the business, the customer leaves you. You have to have the right balance.

This is difficult because customer experience is the accumulation of interactions that occurs over time. You have to take a longer and wider view of CX to truly evaluate how all of the actions you could do over time affect the experience over time—and to what extent the improvement in experience relates to an improvement in business results over time.

With so many options available, it may be difficult to decide which investments will provide the best bang for the buck. It is critical to evaluate and prioritize your options based on what delivers the best value for the customer at the proper level of resource and investment for your company.

Delivering Business Impact

If you have all four of these points nailed, you’ll have a more effective customer experience strategy and a much higher likelihood of being able to demonstrate and deliver business impact.

Experience Design. What’s It All About?

experience design

If you think effective design is just about getting the Pantone colors right and knowing your jpegs from your pngs, think again. Designing something that looks good is one thing. Creating something that people enjoy using again and again, that genuinely engages, and achieves the intended outcomes – that’s a whole different ball game. And one you might find referred to as ‘experience design’ or XD.

So, what actually is experience design?

Today, users aren’t just judging your products and services but the entire experience they have with your brand. Experience design is where insight and strategy comes together with creative. It’s design that goes far beyond just how things look and focuses on what people want at every touchpoint. Does the in-store experience match up with the quality of the product? Are users going to be satisfied throughout their journey? Will they want to keep engaging with your brand? Experience design incorporates behavioral data to create things that are much more likely to make people happy – and want to interact, use and buy again.

How does experience design differ from UX?

Experience design runs deeper than just your website, app or product and covers the overall brand experience across all channels and environments. It takes into account all of the different ways people interact with your processes, services and interfaces to design pre and post-purchase experiences that shine – and convert users into loyal customers. Take Benefit Cosmetics, for example. They do it brilliantly. From their awesome branded stores and quirky product packaging, to their boat takeovers and popular social media activity, every touchpoint on their customer journey is an experience. Or, in their case, an adventure.

But does it work?

It’s safe to say that experience design drums up powerful results. In an increasingly time-precious world, where every click, swipe and tap is a step in the user journey, frustrating or disappointing experiences are a sure way to disengage customers and wave goodbye to repeat business. Positive experiences trigger our emotions and memories which, in turn, boosts brand loyalty. Putting people at the center of design and taking every touchpoint into consideration sparks greater satisfaction. And greater satisfaction leads to greater sales. You only have to look at how design-led companies like Nike, Coca-Cola and IBM have outperformed competitors in the S&P 500 index by 219% to see that.

It’s just for creative agencies, right?

Wrong. Design is a powerful tool for solving problems and discovering the new. As such, many businesses are putting design first and using experience design to create brand experiences that are remembered for all the right reasons. So, here are four key takeaways that you can start applying to your work today:

1. Define

What’s the problem that needs to be solved? Pinpoint it. Understand it. Write it down. Defining this will be invaluable in helping you find the right solution and measure effectiveness more easily.

2. Explore

Don’t be afraid to question. To explore new opportunities. To think bigger. That’s one of the key things businesses can learn from designers. If you approach problems the same way every time, you’ll get the same results. Always embrace different perspectives too – the best answers often come from five people working on a problem for one day, rather than one person for working on it for five days.

3. Refine

Good ideas become great when they’re nurtured, tested and refined. How well does the solution stand up when interrogated against the brief? Will it solve that key problem? Here’s where insights and data can become super helpful in making sure that your ideas will hit the right notes with all the right people.

4. Execute

All agreed on a winning solution? Then it’s time to roll it out. At the end of this stage, your problem should be solved – or well on its way. And, the depth of this four-step method means that when it comes to execution, you should feel assured that the solution will glean brilliant results.

Want to know more about experience design and how we blend together insights, data and awesome creative to shape solutions that grab attention and exceed expectations? Let’s talk. We’d love to hear from you.

Customer Journey Mapping: What You Need to Know

The buyer journey and customer journey mapping are the big buzz in marketing. But do you actually know what a journey map is versus an experience map? Lifecycle map? Process map? Ecosystem map? To make the matter more complex, Forrester outlines four different journey mapping methodologies, each to be used for different objectives. AND each type of agency has its own objectives and processes for mapping.

This is a lot of maps.

What IS Customer Journey Mapping?

Customer journey mapping is the visual representation of the alignment (or lack thereof) of the organization to the customer needs. It is used to create relevant, engaging and rewarding experiences that connect the brand with the customer, and it illustrates the details of and opportunity surrounding all customer interactions, including:

  • Where the customer touches the brand
  • Where the brand touches the customer
  • Where they interact with each other
  • The multiple interaction points of a customers’ engagement with the brand
  • Why the customer is seeking contact with the brand
  • The customer expectations of their experience with the brand ­

Journey mapping critically examines the entirety of the customer experience—through the customer’s eyes—and provides suggested improvements. It is therefore essential to getting it right with the customer and delivering an impactful experience. It goes way beyond mapping the outbound marketing messages you send.  It also includes virtually every touchpoint, every moment of truth, every interaction between the customer and your brand across the buyer journey and the customer lifecycle. It also goes beyond mapping the buyer journey, which focuses only on the path to purchase.

customer journey map example 1

What Makes a Good Journey Map?

Journey mapping has changed over the years.  We used to call it touch point mapping, and would use bundles of post-it notes on a wall to capture and document each touch point.  But today, we recognize that the customer experience is a self-directed journey that utilizes a myriad of touch points.  It’s the interaction that matters.  The conversation that happens over time.  And if you did your journey mapping exercise a while ago, chances are that it’s now obsolete.  Consumers have changed.

A good customer journey map considers the following:

  • It provides a visualization of customer interactions through many filters (emotional/rational) organized by the customer’s perspective. This helps in communicating it throughout your organization.
  • It becomes a living document that evolves with the constantly changing organization it supports. And like every living document, it requires proper care and feeding to keep it healthy and accurate.
  • It provides a harmonized reflection of the Voice of the Customer, as well as the Company and the Employee. You need both perspectives to get it right with the customer.
  • It provides a level of detail that makes sense for the purpose. The customer journey map must be constructed with an end game in mind.

customer journey map example 2

What Do You Get Out of a Customer Journey Map?

The most important benefit of a customer journey map is that it allows for collaboration and sharing to get everyone in the organization on the same page and forms the basis of a longer term strategic plan to build customer value. Additional benefits of journey mapping are many, including:

  • Lets you see exactly where and when customers experience satisfaction or pain points, moments of truth and who is most impacted and how it affects your bottom line
  • Presents data/ metrics as well as the effectiveness and value of targeted member and prospect interactions
  • Supports prioritization to highlight what’s most important’ to your customers, and understand what creates or detracts from value & drives loyalty
  • Presents how actions, offers, redemption, accumulation affect members
  • Shows how operations and processes in one area impact the entire organization

Many maps fail in the execution phase, making it impossible to realize positive impact on the customer experience and the business. There are a few usual suspects for failure, such as: the map wasn’t informed by customer feedback, or the initiative didn’t have enough or the right level of sponsorship, or the map only looked at outbound channels. In other cases, the journey mapping effort was really only a marketing communication plan and doesn’t have enough “teeth” when thinking about the key moments of truth in the customer’s journey.

Seeing Bang for Your Buck?

With all of this in mind, you have several questions to ask yourself: Have you mapped your customer journeys recently (within 12 months)? Have you used the right methodology for your business goals? Were they done correctly? Are you seeing the value you expected from your mapping exercises? If you are unsure, or haven’t answered ‘yes’ to all of these questions, it may be time to take another stab at it—you might be surprised at what you uncover about your customers.

Stay tuned for our next post on how to map your journeys and the tools you may use along the way.

What Every CMO Needs to Know About the Buyer’s Journey

Everything you learned in school and early in your career about marketing and product promotion is now table stakes. It used to be enough to get it right with the product and you’d find buyers. Now, you must get it right with the product AND with the customer experience to be successful in marketing.

This is why the buyer’s journey and customer experience are the big buzz in the industry.

You’re probably doing a lot of research on your customers and attempting to understand what satisfies them with NPS, CSAT, voice of the customer and other types of surveys. But do you really know what makes your customers tick? And more importantly, how you can use this information to improve their experience in a way that positively impacts your business?

The reality is that many of these discrete measures of customer satisfaction answer a very narrow set of questions. They are all important.  But they should be considered inputs into a larger diagnostic assessment around a more holistic view of the customer that can be used to both improve the experience and reduce wasted efforts. If you’re focused only on the parts and pieces, you’re going to miss the big picture. It’s what the buyer wants that drives everything. In order to know what the buyer wants, you have to be crystal clear on the job the buyer is trying to do.

mapping the buyer journey

The First Step is Asking the Right Question

In the past, marketers have considered the buyer’s journey to be a linear process. We start with awareness and move through consideration, purchase, retention and advocacy. But the buyer’s journey is not linear at all—it’s a very convoluted, self-directed path based on what the customer is trying to achieve. It is a conversation that happens over time, at the buyer’s discretion. Think of it as a self-directed and opportunistic path through a forest.

The key to optimizing your buyer’s journey is therefore to first understand the problem the customer is trying to solve and how they measure the success of the solution. Every CMO needs to first and foremost be asking: What job is the customer trying to do? Once we know what job the customer is trying to complete, we can figure out what individual steps he/she must check off along the way and identify which improvements to those steps will have the most impact on the customer experience—and on your business. In other words, we can identify where customer needs are not being met and determine the value of working smarter to meet them. We can also identify where customer needs are being overserved and reduce spend in these areas, reallocating the budget to more impactful efforts.

A Closer Look at the Buyer’s Journey Process

Let’s take a closer look at how to uncover actionable gaps in your buyer’s journey through a diagnostic process. This four-step process looks at the journey of purchasing a product or service through the lens of the jobs-to-be-done theory. The same way you hire a drill to put a hole in piece of wood, a customer will hire a product/service that to do a specific job, and a positive buyer’s journey is one that allows him to research, evaluate and purchase most effectively.

1. Qualitative Research

While journeys do have distinct phases, every organization’s particular buyer’s journeys will have nuances. The first step is to conduct qualitative, in-person interviews with prospective buyer audiences to understand these nuances (what we call complexity variables). For example, the journey may be different for a buyer that is purchasing an item for herself versus a gift for her significant other or for her child. A B2B buyer’s journey may be heavily influenced by time and budget. The goals of this step is to understand the universe of potential buyer narratives that may be applied to the journey and to understand every single potential possibility that may affect the journey for that segment or product. 

2. Quantitative Research

Once you understand the entire universe of buyer narratives and complexity variables, the next step is to validate this qualitative data with a significant survey sample of your market audience. The data you collect from this survey will help you to understand which variables have the most potential for impact on your business. In other words, take your universe of possibilities and serve it up to a sample to understand which pieces are most relevant.

3. Segmentation

The next step is to use the data from your survey to determine which segments and variables have the most potential to positively impact your business. To do this, conduct cluster analysis to determine the most relevant variables and identify statistically valid segment groups. You’ll also use the data to document key variable identifiers for each segment and identify outcomes that are underserved within each segment.

For example, we conducted this exercise in the retail industry and discovered a subset of the retail audience that accounted for 38% of buyers yet was highly underserved. We were also able to determine which variables were causing the most friction for these buyers and could be improved to help them continue down the path to purchase. Learn more about the underserved audience we discovered in retail.

4. Strategy

At this point, you know which segments have the most potential for positive change and what variables affect their buyer’s journey. It’s time to select which segments to focus on and to and which variables to invest efforts against. Then, you need to develop content and marketing strategies to address these underserved segments.

It’s All About Impact

At the end of the day, this entire process is about understanding which opportunities will have the biggest impact on your business and how to best pursue them. The final output is a data-driven, step-by-step plan to optimize your buyer’s journeys, moving more people through the areas they usually feel friction along to the point of purchase.

Once you really know what makes your customers tick and what problem they’re trying to solve, you can use this information to improve their experience in a way that positively impacts your business. Just a little bit different than net promoter score, right?

Navigating the Age of Digital Disruption for Retailers and Consumers

Before a snowflake has fallen or a holiday decoration is placed, retailers and consumers indices’ have already planned on the sales expectations they want to achieve. While the digital frontier shows no sign of slowing, now is the time to prepare for 2017.

A recent report by McKinsey Global Institute estimated that by 2025, digitization could add up to $2.2 trillion to annual U.S. GDP. Yet surprisingly, that very same report also revealed that the U.S. economy has only reached 18% of its digital potential as of today. This figure shines a light on the expansive opportunities that lie ahead, as well as the challenge of continuously adapting to fill the gap between the promise and the reality.

Mastering Digital Growth: Check Out the White Paper

Digital Blur and the Return on Attention (ROA) Methodology

While 90% of commerce still takes place in a physical location, it is increasingly difficult to differentiate between digital and physical worlds. This lack of distinction is forcing brands to re-think how they do business and how they can increase agility, innovation and responsiveness. Also, with more and more vendors competing for attention, consumers and retailers are turning to a new advertising metric called return on attention (ROA).  John Hagel helps shine light on this subject in a recent article in The Marketing Journal. It is becoming increasing clear that customers will pay for the opportunity to increase ROA and avoid the classic push model of advertising.

The Me-Me-Me Syndrome

The consumer’s expectations are all about “me.”  They look to their favorite retailers to enhance the shopping experience within a very complex and competitive digital world. In addition to being savvy shoppers, consumers expect a level of customer experience and brand quality that piques their interest, preference and ultimately their behavior to buy. Mindful retailers look for relevant, personalized marketing that consumers respond to and even brag about. Retailers have come to expect greatness from all the 2016 campaign efforts, but when they fall short, poor planning may be to blame.

Three Keys to Mastering Your Digital Growth Potential

Understand Your Organization:

When it comes to business growth, it’s easy to get hung up on external factors. But first thing’s first, you need to look closely at the internal landscape. Fragmented teams, intricate organizational structures and a lack of clarity on internal capabilities are all things that can make digital integration problematic and have a detrimental effect on growth.

Understand Your Customer:

The challenge to understand the customer gets harder with all of the digital noise out there. Customers are more than web visitors, more than the social media posts and more than coupon clippers. They are people with concerns and challenges, living in a digital flurry of myriad opportunities. They expect retailers to reach them at a deeper level­­–a personalized level, a level that helps them brainstorm, empathize and fill their needs. A good, solid understanding of your customers now and in the future is the heartbeat of delivering a perfect customer journey that gets brilliant results, on every platform.


Understand Your Data:

As consumers create data at work, at home and on the go, businesses try to cope with the abundant change happening in a blink of an eye.  Disparate systems can hamper decision-making among retailers, and outdated IT architecture cannot cope with the huge influx of data–creating a siloed marketing effect. Marketers need easier ways to explore data, uncover new insights and make informed decisions instantly from any device. However, achieving this can be difficult for many organizations given the complexities of outdated IT infrastructures. If you are to leverage data properly and use it wisely, you will have to have a central point of truth that drives successful customer engagement.

Beating the Digital Disruption Dilemma

The pace and magnitude of the way we do business is known as “digital disruption.” With global competition on the rise, most companies are working towards the digital frontier–focusing on multiple digital channels to create a better customer experience. The increase of digital platforms is on the rise the thus increasing the importance of companies, of any size, from all over the world, being able to think outside the box and roll out products more quickly and efficiently than ever before.

This is the new digital frontier–the new age of supply and demand for customers. Are you prepared to meet the expectations of the consumer? Check out our latest eBook “Facing the Digital Frontier” to find out.

Email Marketers: What You Need to Know About iOS 10

In a continuing effort to improve their customers’ experience, Apple recently began releasing iOS 10 and will continue throughout the fall. The release includes features and issues that will have a direct impact on email marketers. Most importantly:

  • Simple unsubscribe option
  • Less real estate in the pre-header section
  • Spotty support for image scaling
  • Ability to delete the default iOS inbox on phone

Here is what you need to know.

Simple Unsubscribe Option

Remember, the inbox is about the end user and not the people marketing to them. In order to make it easier to unsubscribe from lists, Apple is following in Gmail’s footsteps to add list unsubscribe to their emails. List unsubscribe automatically adds the option to unsubscribe to the header of the email.

iOS 10 simple unsubscribe


You will probably see an increase the number of unsubscribes from your email lists. However, if you are delivering timely and relevant emails, the impact should be negligible. The one positive aspect of this is that we have noticed, over time, that the SPAM button was becoming a “proxy” for unsubscribe and therefore impacting deliverability rates. Hopefully with this move, more consumers will choose to unsubscribe rather than “report as spam,” improving deliverability.

To Do

  1. Keep an eye on unsubscribe rates after the IOS 10 release.
  2. Consider auditing your emails for relevancy or come up with more tirgger strategies to ensure your emails are engaging.

Less Real Estate in the Pre-header Section

To make way for the unsubscribe option, content will be pushed further down the page.


Viewing on smaller mobile screens will make real estate a premium. Marketers will need to make sure they are making the most of this limited space with pre-header, headlines, creative and calls to action.

To Do

  1. Compare your creative pre-release vs. post-release and consider changes as necessary.
  2. Test your emails to optimize performance with the new header.

Spotty Support for Image Scaling

iOS 10 in BETA has been offering spotty support of automatically scaling large images. While later versions of the iOS 10 BETA seem to be correcting the issue, some are still not fully scaling.

iOS 10 image scaling iOS 10 image scaling


Marketers using large images without responsive email design may see some scaling or rendering issues.

To Do

  • Make sure production teams bake in extra QA time to ensure optimal viewing on iOS devices.
  • Consider creating and using mobile responsive email templates.

Ability to Delete the Default iOS Inbox on Phone

For the first time, iOS 10 users will have the option to delete the default iOS inbox that was pre-installed on their phones.


This may or may not be significant. It will be interesting to see if there is a shift in market share from the iOS inbox to additional apps (Gmail, etc.). Do users use iOS because they love it or because it’s there and cannot be deleted? If we do see a shift, marketers will want to monitor their email list to see who is opening on which devices. Support varies from inbox to inbox so email design approaches may need to be modified.

To Do

  • Determine which email environments your customers are currently using to open your emails.
  • Consider how a shift may impact your design approach as design support varies in different inboxes.

IoT and Micro-Moments: Optimizing Big and Small Data to drive Omnichannel Marketing

HarteHanks_MarektingTechnology_ROIIn our last article we discussed how the advent of IoT is bringing marketers an overwhelming amount of data, behemoth data, that can be synthesized into usable knowledge that can drive more effective customer journeys. With companies having access to all of this data, we’d like to talk more about how this data can be optimized and utilized to have the largest impact on your organization.

Beware the overzealous that want to board the big data train too quickly, although they have the very best of intentions. The same “bad data in – bad data out” (incorrect insights or conclusions) rule holds just as true, if not more so, in the world of big data analytics compared to traditional statistical analytics. Big data is compiled from an ever growing number of sources, much of which is unstructured. And simple rules of probability apply here – the larger the pool of data, the higher the likelihood that analysts will miss “dirty” data that can ultimately lead to identifying false positives or false negatives.

Unlike traditional first party data that historically has lived in relational databases, big data often consists of a tremendous amount of unstructured data. Correctly integrating and/or blending this data with more structured first party data is critical so as not to lead to analytic outcomes that are way off in left field. This problem is only exacerbated by the velocity at which data is created, which can largely be attributed to the growing mobile trends discussed earlier where data is transmitted on almost a continuous bases. Also, keep on the lookout for the increasing trend of automobiles being online, yet another massive pool of data generating “devices”. To help ensure that the “signal” can be correctly extracted from the “noise”, it is critical that the appropriate amount of rigor is put behind understanding the quality of the data source, how that data is collected, and how it is integrated and blended with other sources of data.

Despite the value of big data synthesized to be used effectively, there is also extreme value in small data – data that’s about people and emotion (in addition to small datasets gathered from a singular historical event). Small data can be ingested into big data sets, merged with behavioral or trending information derived from machine learning algorithms, and provide clearer insights than we’ve ever had before.

Here’s an example of both: The use of smart labels on medicine bottles is small data which can be used to determine where the medicine is located, its remaining shelf life, if the seal of the bottle has been broken, and the current temperature conditions in an effort to prevent spoilage. Big data can be used to look at this information over time to examine root cause analysis of why drugs are expiring or spoiling. Is it due to a certain shipping company or a certain retailer? Are there reoccurring patterns that can point to problems in the supply chain that can help determine how to minimize these events? 1

The issue here is that we cannot become so obsessed with Big Data we forget about creativity. You have to remember that Big Data is all about analyzing the past, but it has nothing to do with the future. Small Data, can also be defined as seemingly insignificant observations you identify in consumers’ homes. Things like how you place your shoes to how you hang your paintings. These small data observations are likened to emotional DNA that we leave behind. Big Data is about finding correlations, but Small Data is about finding the causation, the reason why. 2

Optimizing Big and Small data into business processes can not only save companies millions of dollars, but creates a buyer and customer journey that are seamless, continuous and maintains context regardless of the touchpoint. This omnichannel marketing approach should be the ultimate goal of marketers – creating a conversation with their buyers and customers based on trust and value exchange – which leads to strong relationships in an increasingly connected on- and off-line world.

Laura Watson is Strategy Director at Harte Hanks, and Korey Thurber is Chief Analytics & Insights Officer at Harte Hanks. Harte Hanks can help your brand create an omnichannel marketing strategy, contact us for a free assessment.


1 Forbes Tech
2 Small Data: The Tiny Clues That Uncover Huge Trends

IoT and Micro-Moments Marketing: Leveraging Big Data to Improve the Customer Journey

4-biggest-challenges_illustrations_2-1_v02-01Being connected via wearables without your mobile device is already a reality with untethered Tech, like Android Wear and the Samsung Gear S2, which both support e-SIMs tapping into your pre-existing cell network at no extra cost. It’s a good bet that every smartwatch brand will have an LTE version by the end of 2016, which means that while there’s a vast number of facts and untold nuggets of information that could surprise even big data’s most ardent followers. Big Data is about to become behemoth data.

Every day, we create 2.5 quintillion bytes of data (that’s 2.5 followed by a staggering 18 zeros!)1 – so much that 90% of the data in the world today has been created in the last two years alone. This data comes from everywhere: sensors used to gather climate information, posts to social media sites, the Curiosity Rover on Mars, your Facebook video from your latest vacation, purchase transaction records, and cell phone GPS signals to name a few. Google alone processes 3.5 billion requests per day and stores 10 exabytes of data (10 billion gigabytes!)2

Whether it’s tracking driving habits for the purpose of offering insurance discounts, using biometric data to confirm an ATM user’s identity, or using sensors to detect that it’s time for garbage pick-up, the era of the iOT in which “smart” things can seamlessly collect, share and analyze real-time data, is here.

Imagine a world where your watch recognizes that you withdraw cash every Saturday so that you’re ready for the neighborhood lemonade stand and your evening outing, and you haven’t made your usual transaction yet. A helpful alert pops up on your device, and another reminder displays when you’re within a ½ mile of your Bank ATM where a retina scan allows you to withdraw funds. Your Smart Refrigerator identifies that you’re running low on eggs and yogurt, while your wearable identifies an open parking space within 50-feet of your favorite Saturday farm market stop, but cautions you that there’s a marathon starting in 2 hours so you better get a move on. A “ping” in your email indicates that the killer little black dress you’ve wanted just became affordable with a special discount coupon you received as you drive past the store. While you’re away, the sun comes out, so your Smart Home lowers the window shades, turns the A/C up a few degrees and suggests adding popsicles to the grocery list. Like any fabulous assistant, technology not only aids you, but anticipates your needs and helps you make smarter, faster decisions based on “advice” you can trust. This is the best way to use Big Data.

Having the ability to be smarter, faster and always connected without having to carry around a device (or anything at all)…great.

Using Big Data to synthesize all of the fragmented individual data points into an orchestrated, holistic, powerfully intelligent view of the customer to help them during these everyday micro-marketing moments…priceless.

Big Data allows brands to go beyond customer motivation and engagement in driving value exchange to allowing them to foster their brand affinity and cultivate their customer’s evangelism in real-time, responding to their customer’s behaviors even as their activities and likes shift.

Although simple in concept, many brands are struggling to get it right (or get started at all). Leading brands have already gained a powerful competitive advantage by adopting consumer management technology that allows them to understand and engage based on individual consumer preferences and observation of behaviors and buying signals in their Buyer and Customer journey – thus taking a big step toward making Big Data a strategic reality.

Is Big Data, or really behemoth data, really the answer all by itself? There is lot of insight to be garnered from that data, but the key is being able to quickly sift through it all, tuning out the noise to focus on the key patterns and meaningful relationships in that data.

Traditional statistical analytics techniques which focus on finding relationships between variables to predict an outcome simply won’t do when the goal is to optimize decisions using massive pools of data that are growing and evolving on a near-continuous basis. This is where machine learning comes into play and brings the needed “giddy-up” to the analytic component. Machine learning evolved from the study of pattern recognition within the field of artificial intelligence. The easy way to think about it is, it provides computers the ability to learn and improve without a specific program being written to tell the computer to “learn and improve”. Machine learning software identifies patterns in the data in order to group similar data together and to make predictions. Whenever new data is introduced, the software “learns” and creates a better understanding of the optimal decision. Think of it as the automation of the predictive analytic process.

There is certainly a lot of overlap between statistical analytics and machine learning but there is one key difference. The former requires that someone formulate a hypothesis and structure a test to evaluate whether that that hypothesis is true or not. For example, a hypotheses that states a particular marketing lever (i.e. a certain offer or message) will generate or “cause” additional account openings or sales. Machine learning does not worry about hypothesis testing and simply starts with the outcome that you are trying to optimize – sales for example – and uncovers the factors that are the drivers. As more data is introduced, the algorithm learns and improves its predictions in almost real time.
Interestingly, machine learning has been around for decades. But now, due to the massive explosion in data, cheaper cloud based data stores, and huge increases in computing horsepower, the interest in machine learning is really starting to hit its stride.

Laura Watson is Strategy Director at Harte Hanks, and Korey Thurber is Chief Analytics & Insights Officer at Harte Hanks. Harte Hanks can help your brand leverage big data, contact us for a free assessment.
Forbes Tech

IoT and Micro-Moments Marketing: Opportunities and Pitfalls

With the advent of smart technology, we are getting ever closer to the Orsen Wells imagined world of Big Brother oversight in everyday interactions…and many of us are starting to like it because it makes our decision-making easier, our lives more efficient and allows us to do more of the “fun stuff” we’d all rather be doing.

Marketers used to think about the “top of the funnel” with sales and marketing engagement strategies, but most consumers these days are starting their buyer’s journey quietly online through research using video, ratings and reviews and more interactive decision-making short-cuts. And they’re mostly doing it via their mobile devices. Tomorrow is fast-approaching though, as smartwatches mature and the need for “tethering” to a smartphone goes away, devices supporting e-SIMs that are able to tap into your cell network at no extra cost will magnify the Internet of Things (IoT) explosion of use and related data.

The popularity of wearables, especially fitness-related devices, has sky-rocketed over the last couple of years, with 39.5MM US adults using wearables in 2015, including smartwatches and fitness trackers. There’s an expectation that the number will double to 81.7MM users by 2018, or 32% of US adults.1

Wearable devices go way beyond the smartwatch and fitness tracker, with things like FitBark, activity monitoring for Fido, to Athena, a personal security wearable that may help save lives. Verily has a glucose-detecting contact lens and Google is set to use tech to target cardiovascular disease, cancer and mental health problems too. More devices are moving from the nice-to-have category to an integral-to-our-lives status.

With all of this cool, new tech, it’s the nature of marketers to want to use it to sell stuff.

And that’s where we, as marketers, want to caution our compatriots to take the highest marketing road. You can’t get any more personal than something you wear on your body, even sleep with. With great personal engagement comes great responsibility to ensure the consumer experience with your Brand is a beneficial – even trusted – relationship. In digital terms, a break-up takes only seconds. Marketing messages that are annoying in other channels have the potential to take on a new and amplified level of aggravation in personal, wearable devices…running the risk of customers divorcing themselves from your Brand forever.

Yes, new tech means new, small-data points resulting in a big (very big) data explosion measured on the zettabyte scale. (A zettabyte is a 1 followed by 21 zeros.)Finding ways to use that data in a meaningful, mutually beneficial way in micro-moments marketing will ultimately best serve both Brands and their customers.

Laura Watson is Strategy Director at Harte Hanks, and Korey Thurber is Chief Analytics & Insights Officer at Harte Hanks. Harte Hanks can help your brand utilize micro-moments marketing, contact us for a free assessment.


1 eMarketer
2 and the International Data Corporation

Customer Experience and the new Omni-channel Paradigm

imageAs marketers, we are all aware of the multitude of choices our customers have when they need to find information. Traditional advertising channels are delivering direct mail, TV advertisements, print and infomercials, while blogs, product reviews and comparative shopping sites can quickly deliver information via computer, phone or tablet. One of the biggest challenges is not only knowing who our customers are, but recognizing them across devices with seamless, consistent experiences. Recently a few Harte Hanks Sales executives took part in a Think Tank discussion about this topic with other leading B2C marketers and Frost & Sullivan. This article shares the highlights of that discussion.

The increasing level of buyer engagement across numerous online and offline channels makes it challenging to have the right touch points in place to create a unified customer experience. In order to build a well-constructed approach to omni-channel marketing, building comprehensive customer profiles of actual buyers is critical.

Some of the challenges that marketers face when building these profiles are:

  • Data and functional silos, and lack of alignment between customer facing teams and marketing teams
  • Difficulty identifying the online and offline channels customers are using
  • Lack of understanding about how these customers are moving from one channel to the other

It is important that marketers figure out how to communicate to the right stakeholder at the right moment. It is also critical for marketers to understand what relevant information the customer needs, when the customer needs it, and how the customer wants to receive it. So, how do you get started in creating this omni-channel customer view?

  1. Implement a cohesive customer experience strategy: Organizations must ensure that they are presenting a cohesive, customer centric customer experience, and that customer experiences are front and center of overall strategy. Ensure customer reactions are captured and communicated across the organization – don’t let siloes and bureaucracy prevent your business from being customer driven. You must be agile in responding to changing customer patterns. Read more about engaging your organization in a consistent CX.
  2. Create a unified view of customer data: Access to data is no longer an issue, with multiple in-house and third party data options. Data collected needs to be acted upon in real time or close to real time for it to be of any use. Make sure that your data is easily accessible to all parts of your business so that it can be easily acted on.
  3. Understand customer lifetime value: A single purchase customer is the worst for any business. Retaining a customer is more challenging because brands are only as strong as they are convenient from a purchasing decision perspective. Brand loyalty is being undermined by the convenience of other options being only a click away. Leverage your data to become more predictive and personalized – brands must ensure that they are delivering a relevant experience to drive lifetime value.

Though most companies are still far from the ideal omni-channel experience, almost all marketers agree that gaining a single view of the customer and having an omni-channel strategy is critical for survival.

Harte Hanks brings innovative thinking to create effective omni-channel customer experiences for the world’s largest brands. Deliver the right message at the right time with Total Customer Discovery. Manage your data and create accurate views of each customer with Data Refinery. Or, get in touch to schedule a free strategic assessment of your marketing programs.

Connect with US