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.
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.
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 aquariumplants.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:
- Marketers going digital will have every advantage over their competitors.
- Solutions must be driven by data.
- Be in the social conversation to create relationships, service customers, and build influence. (Talk with your market, not at it!)
- Testing using best-of-breed products is essential.
- 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.