Now that the end of the year is in sight, many marketers will look back and review the flurry of activity that was 2018. GDPR. Fighting for budget. New platforms. Avoiding potential crises. Metrics. More metrics. 

It’s been a busy year – and for that reason, it’s arguably forgivable that the majority of digital marketers today are still breaking the very first rule of marketing: build the brand. 

Digital marketing gives us access to a vast plethora of tools for communication, but many organisations are still getting it wrong and annoying customers and prospects, advertising products that consumers already own, or the same product, repeatedly, across different platforms. This unambiguously and actively damages the brand. Often, this is because digital marketing tools, which usually provide what are believed to be good metrics, drive marketers towards conversion when they should be nurturing.  

Of course, the mid-funnel is the mountain stage of the tour de marketing; it’s tough. It’s easy with a new prospect because you don’t know much about them, and it’s easier when they convert because they’ve just bought something, which gives you something really tangible to work with. The middle stage, where a buyer has expressed an interest, visited the site, put something in their trolley and then moved on, is ambiguous and difficult.  

This is further complicated by the fact that most marketers still can’t do one-to-one marketing. They work with segments, email addresses and cookies. None of these are real, individual people – or in fact, often they’re the same person across multiple devices. As such, this makes it much more difficult to build a relationship with the people you’re aiming to target. Furthermore, it makes it difficult to justify yourself at the other end as well, because you can’t trust your metrics. In a perfect world, all advertising should generate a measurable, incremental return above and beyond your average brand performance, and should be personalised to a genuine individual, building brand value. But how do we do this?  

I’m not a number, I’m a free man!  

In today’s post-GDPR world, we can’t track comprehensively against people’s names – and respecting consumer privacy is, rightfully of the utmost importance. However, we can maintain privacy by tracking against pseudonymised IDs, which allows us to create individual profiles that contain an understanding of what that person is interested in, their age group, their life events, how much they might earn and so on. 

Once you’ve got this in place, you then need a healthy dose of human intelligence and – perhaps more surprisingly – manners. My mother always told me, ‘you’ve got two ears and one mouth. Listen for twice as long as you speak!’ Digital marketing is exactly the same – if you can refrain from shovelling product down a consumer’s throat, you’d be surprised by how well they react. In fact, our own research has shown that 56% of consumers click on an ad to find out, yet only 2% click to make a purchase.  

Moreover, it’s important to build up this information over time: if your best friend forgets the name of your child, you’ll likely be a bit offended and it will have damaged the relationship. If they remember your wedding anniversary, that’s bonus points. In marketing terms, it builds incremental value.  

So, what does this mean for marketing campaigns? It means that we need to use the intelligence we have. For example, if someone buys a sale item at a particular discount, we should advertise follow-up items within a similar sale bracket. If they belong to the VIP club, don’t advertise discounted products to them – instead, promote the benefits of the VIP club and more brand-led communications, reinforcing the prestige of the brand. 

Technically, this does require some legwork; if you use different DMP and DSP technology, for example, then it’s really hard to unify the data and make sure that everything is working together. It’s much easier to use one platform that can ‘talk amongst itself’ and leverage the data collected in other parts of the same system.  

What does a 1,400-year-old Zen proverb have to do with digital marketing?  

Similarly, there are a few other considerations that marketers need to take into account. Whenever you’re experimenting with new approaches, you need to do ‘test and control’, but not everyone does this right. For example, it’s important to:   

  • Have clean samples; you can’t do test and control if one (or more) of your samples is actually the same person on different devices
  • Continue testing over a long period of time. Any one test can be unreliable because of seasonality changes, sales patterns, new technology and more. Good marketers watch trends and don’t generalise from anecdotes 
  • Use machines to randomise the samples. Humans are intrinsically biased towards success, whereas machines can help to make sure the test is valid

As the Zen proverb says “if you wish to see the truth, then hold no opinions” – and this is exactly what test and control does. It will show up very quickly if you’re serving ads to the wrong group or to fraudulent accounts – and similarly, if you do it right, and you serve the right ads to the right people, then you will see a return. One case we have seen – the well-known retailer Dune – showed an improvement in customer value of +64% over a fifteen-month period, and drove up conversion rates by 33%, allowing the marketing team to show a real benefit to the ecommerce team.  

So, when you’re wrapping up 2019 and setting your New Year’s Resolutions, make it a priority not to break the first rule of marketing.  By communicating in a smart fashion, using the tools at your fingertips, you can finally be objective and constantly build on your knowledge because you’ll know it’s rooted in fact, not guesswork and segments. Furthermore, you’ll know that you’re improving the brand, because you’re building long-term relationships – and even better, that you’re building long-term revenue too.

Interested in hearing leading global brands discuss subjects like this in person?

Find out more about Digital Marketing World Forum (#DMWF) Europe, London, North America, and Singapore.  

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