Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Evidence-based marketing: myth or reality?

Apparently a Facebook ‘Like’ is worth £7. Isn’t that brilliant? If you have a hundred thousand followers that makes your social media strategy absolutely rocking news. The question is, says Felix Velarde of digital CRM agency Underwired, how many of you really believe it?

We ran a campaign for an FMCG client a while ago, in which we emailed a segment in the customer database using very specific messaging – it was relevant, timely and well-designed. The click-through rate (CTR) of 88% was staggering in anyone’s book. I’d like to say every campaign we run gets that kind of result, but occasionally we crash and burn too. Anyway, wow, what a great result. But what does it mean?

The digital marketing industry seems to be founded on metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs) of variable – if not downright dubious – quality. If you judge any of the industry awards you will know that half the entries benchmark against industry standards which in a lot of cases appear to have been made up on the spot: “Campaign X achieved a CTR of 12.3%, beating the industry standard 8% and therefore deserving of a Gold.”

This is where I have the first of my issues: even if there *is* an industry standard click-through rate, does it really apply to your campaign? Our campaign got an 88% CTR because it was highly targeted to a known audience expecting the email with a fantastic proposition. If it had achieved 12.3% or even 24.6% it would have been a failure. The truth is that no matter what the CTR is, one thing it is not is evidence of anything that isn’t either subjective (“I say, that’s awfully good isn’t it?”) or comparative (“Blimey, did much better than last time!”).

The second of my issues is that all these benchmarks aren’t evidence of sales. And hard revenue really is the only figure that ever matters (and before you ask about brand consideration or sentiment, these are both abstractions of sales – higher brand consideration may imply higher resulting sales, though you’d have to test it to find out if it’s really useful). So what is the *evidence* behind the assertion of success? How do you track from the planning phase through the campaign, to the reality of the effect on sales?

Well, it’s pretty easy in e-commerce. Straight-through processing (which is what the financial industry calls tracking the customer from first contact to order) in digital is quite simple these days. Ad tracking (display, affiliate, PPC and natural SEO) is relatively easily linked to website analytics, thence to email service providers (ESP), back to websites and even passing through couponing and promotion systems. It’s been done plenty of times by the big brands, and even small brands can buy integrated services. So if you’re an online retailer it’s pretty straightforward.

If you’re an FMCG brand you can still do it, although you may need to be a little more sophisticated about it. For example, this might mean matching your customer segments to commercially available purchase data and running regular surveys to track buying patterns in your base and cross-checking them against buying behaviour. If you’re a retailer you can find mechanisms to collect customer data and purchase behaviour at Point of Sale and match this data back to the single customer view.

The trick here is to get real data about whether your campaign actually worked, as opposed to seeing floating KPIs that may or may not indicate the same thing – but which provide no scientific basis for decision-making. How many times have you seen “successful” campaigns stopped? There’s a simple reason: there was no evidence to show they generated a profit. If there had been and they had produced £26 for every £1 spent, nobody in their right mind would stop them. Evidence is critical. Myth or reality? Evidence-based marketing is the only thing you should be *allowed* to do!

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

2013 will be the year of Total Customer Engagement

The year ahead will be marked by a number of really interesting developments in how we engage with our customers. One that has caught up with us – and which marks a sea change – is the advent of the Generation Y customer base. Gen-Y uses mobile as its main medium of interaction; if you’re not using mobile to engage with younger customers then you’re probably missing the biggest trick available, though it has been a very slow start since the trend first became apparent five, or so, years ago. Just in passing, to give you an idea of how trends break, let me illustrate this briefly…

Imagine your customer base is, potentially at least, a million strong. And say on day one a single person uses mobile as their main device for browsing the web, and every day that number doubles. By the end of the first week, 64 people use mobile. By the end of the second week that’s 8,192. That’s the point at which as a business you might start thinking there’s a trend. In actual fact it only takes another seven days and that’s your entire customer base. If you didn’t engage in a mobile strategy after two weeks, you missed it. Trends accelerate in an exponential curve – and in the internet age a trend can look slow for a few years, when in fact the numbers are doubling every month. Mobile is one of these, and if you target people born after 1982, that means you’ve got to jump, now!

There’s another trend that’s been a few years in the making, but in 2013 it will have gathered a critical mass, and it’s going to affect you – like it or not. The trend is for Total Customer Engagement. In plain English this means joined-up marketing, the opposite in fact of the “silo” thinking that has driven marketing during the first couple of decades of digital.

Most companies today have a web strategy, which may include e-commerce. They will also have a nascent social media strategy, a Google Adwords programme, and maybe an eCRM programme serving segmented comms to different sets of customers, split by value, behaviour, demographics and motivations. All of which have given businesses learning and insights into how they engage with customers using ‘new’(ish) channels. What’s lacking is integration. The sea change in 2013 requires a fresh way of thinking about customer engagement, which puts the customer at the centre. The trends feeding this are the shift in the balance of power from brand to customer, driven by the shift towards peer decision facilitated by social media, and the power of collective reviews.

So how does a business tap into this before it’s too late to do anything about it? A shift of focus is required, meaning the marketer needs to understand where the consumer is going to be, on- and off-line, when they are at a moment when they are likely to change their view of a brand, ideally positively. If you can identify that, Customer Type A is likely to be on a mobile, using Twitter, when considering whether to shortlist your brand, then you can target them with the right message at the right time and in the correct format. By mapping where the customer is at each critical point in their relationship with you, and mapping a rational sequence of nudges to take them from pre-custom to loyal customer, and then creating a matrix of comms against medium for this map, then you have a plan for engaging them. This Total Customer Engagement plan gives you as a business several things: a plan that can be tested, benchmarked and improved; a brief for your team and their suppliers so they have specific tasks to achieve against your business’s Key Performance Indicators (KPIs); and a framework that can be adapted when new trends become apparent.

This kind of approach is essentially multi-channel and channel-neutral. It’s also measurable and of course by its very nature future proof. By investing in developing this kind of (actually very simple) framework and marketing architecture, it will protect you against the overwhelming trends that are often nearly impossible to spot early, but which end up rather too quickly having strategic impact. Do it now, before it’s too late!