If you’ve seen the movie Butch Cas­sidy and the Sun­dance Kid, the rob­bers would select a spot to launch a rob­bery, and as the train sped through the launch point, they would pace along­side the mov­ing train in order to climb aboard. The same action is hap­pen­ing with dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing, only the train is not on a nar­row set of rails.  It is on a path­way with wider band­width and can change course almost instantaneously.

Instead of an engi­neer man­ag­ing the train’s progress, con­sumers are dri­ving the engine. You only have to look at search behav­ior, social activ­ity, page views, click­throughs, and bounce rates to get a sense that the con­sumer is in con­trol. They are mak­ing deci­sions before they even reach your brand.

Along the way, the train (aka, the pace of mar­ket­ing inno­va­tion) casts off would-be mar­keters who can­not adapt to evolv­ing chan­nels and tech­nolo­gies. Those who do not adjust to the train’s momen­tum are thrown to the dusty ground, or worse, down a 150-foot ravine into a shal­low river.

Chal­lenges

With on-the-go and on-demand access, today’s con­sumer is in con­trol. That con­trol starts with chan­nel selec­tion, or wher­ever con­sumers pre­fer to get their media. While TV might still lead the way in brand aware­ness, the plat­form is the least engag­ing mode. Thank­fully, we have more options. Today’s mul­ti­screen con­sumers absorb impres­sions across TV, mobile, and the Web. They are con­nect­ing with con­tent across all three plat­forms, often at the same time. In fact, TV plus Twit­ter and Face­book is a com­mon two-channel approach to both con­sume and engage with TV today.

The tra­di­tional man­age­ment approach of bud­get and chan­nel is no longer opti­mal, how­ever. Chan­nel man­age­ment is still crit­i­cal, folks, but audi­ence selec­tion is even more cru­cial. Who are your cus­tomers, what do they like, how do they com­mu­ni­cate? In mar­ket­ing, this is basi­cally demo­graph­ics and psy­cho­graph­ics. It starts with seg­men­ta­tion and leads to behav­ior analysis.

I make a good poster boy for the mul­ti­me­dia, always-on con­sumer. When I’m engag­ing with South­west or Delta Air­lines, for exam­ple, I will wake up and book a flight online through their web­site. Later, I will set a text reminder on my phone, check in with the mobile app, and call cus­tomer sup­port cen­ter if I have to change my reser­va­tion. I use what­ever modal­ity works for me at the moment I need it. And I expect the brand to be acces­si­ble at every touch point I have avail­able to me. Con­nec­tiv­ity may be an issue in some loca­tions, so I turn to a dif­fer­ent chan­nel to accom­plish what I need to get done.

Regional and demo­graphic vari­abil­ity is another sig­nif­i­cant chal­lenge. Adop­tion of the “always con­nected” con­di­tion does not always progress smoothly across all mar­kets. The com­plex­ity of dig­i­tal engage­ment freezes some con­sumers. Although we, as dig­i­tal mar­keters, work to make the engage­ment process sim­ple, to some con­nect­ing with a brand can be com­plex, to oth­ers it can seem down­right impos­si­ble. CMOs tar­get­ing global cus­tomers, for exam­ple, must appro­pri­ately local­ize and trans­late within nar­row seg­ments while dri­ving engage­ment across mul­ti­ple regions in order to deter­mine con­sumer behav­ior effectively.

Solu­tions

Big Data allows mar­keters to sharpen their focus more effec­tively than ever before. Nar­row demo­graph­ics are eas­ier to find and tar­get through online com­mu­ni­ties and market-specific web­sites. Do you need to engage 16–34 year old fish lovers (my son is one)? Or drive a con­ver­sa­tion on aquar​i​um​plants​.com, azgar­dens, or liveaquaria​.com? The point is that Big Data can lead you to the audi­ence you seek.

The new par­a­digm is based on the share. I am not talk­ing about audi­ence share—I mean share-ing. Today, an image posted on Insta­gram or Pin­ter­est is more likely to spark shar­ing than a 30-second spot on the Food Net­work. Vimeo and YouTube are both used by tal­ent spot­ters to source up-and-coming video­g­ra­phers, musi­cians, and actors (even America’s Got Tal­ent is in on the act with YouTube selec­tion). What is cru­cial is the viral­ity of your mar­ket­ing assets. I like the word viral­ity because it is not really a word yet. The term has evolved from inclu­sion in the Urban Dic­tio­nary to becom­ing a broadly accepted word in the Oxford Dic­tio­nary. Viral­ity is main­stream, thus you adapt. Big Data makes you adapt.

Face­book defines viral­ity as “the num­ber of peo­ple who have cre­ated a story from your post as a per­cent­age of the num­ber of peo­ple who have seen it.” Enabling viral­ity means hit­ting the influ­encers, but it does not stop there. You have to ana­lyze the data to see how effec­tive a cam­paign is at gen­er­at­ing viral­ity. There are many tools that are use­ful for view­ing how your mes­sag­ing is spread.

Social plat­forms espe­cially allow mar­keters to get into con­sumer thoughts, actions, and influ­ences with­out tra­di­tional mid­dle­men. The new mid­dle­man is the social influ­encer. The num­ber of impres­sions still counts, but today’s mar­ket­ing is about how impres­sions are dis­trib­uted. Brands gain social cap­i­tal by tar­get­ing influ­encers to pro­mote their prod­ucts via an unbi­ased third party.

Man­ag­ing con­sumer dynam­ics is not a sin­gle solu­tion endeavor. Big Data analy­sis pro­vides insight, tools enable effi­cient dis­tri­b­u­tion, and report­ing based on easy-to-measure KPIs pro­vides a view of suc­cess or fail­ure. As a result, mar­ket­ing strate­gies are built upon five pillars:

  1. Mar­keters going dig­i­tal will have every advan­tage over their competitors.
  2. Solu­tions must be dri­ven by data.
  3. Be in the social con­ver­sa­tion to cre­ate rela­tion­ships, ser­vice cus­tomers, and build influ­ence. (Talk with your mar­ket, not at it!)
  4. Test­ing using best-of-breed prod­ucts is essential.
  5. Tar­get the spe­cific audi­ence you wish to engage,  and con­tinue seg­ment­ing audi­ences based on new data insights.

Let me leave you with this: above all else, mature as a mar­keter. What do I mean? You have to develop both left-brained and right-brained skills to make mar­ket­ing work. In today’s world, it’s those with both the cre­ative and oper­a­tional abil­ity to act on data-driven insights who will have the advantage.

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