Put the Action into “Interaction”

While the world cries “data, data, data”, the reality is that most of us don’t have real-time feeds on each and every point at which we interact with customers.

We might aspire to it, but it’s not there yet.

This rise of accountability in Marketing (and to a lesser extent Sales) Departments is a good thing, but also reflects the flow-on of a wider corporate culture of managerialism and risk adversity.

Understandably, these decision-makers want “as much hard evidence as possible” to inform strategy, planning and development.

But if you want to redefine the customer experience, to create new points of interaction where there simply were none, then you won’t have the data to support it.

In these situations, don’t discount the power of common sense.  You are a person, and you are probably an empathic one, with the ability to understand the basics of human interaction.  And you probably work with colleagues who have similar abilities!

You might not be a Creative Director or Communications Manager, but you know what you’d do if you’d just met someone, had just sold someone something, or wanted to kindle or win-back their interest.  Why should it be different with a customer, or a potential one?

This is where we find a disconnect between the “massive disruption to existing business models” that the C-Suite, strategists and specialists are avidly reading, watching and talking about (you know, the ones published by Forbes, Fast Company, The Economist, TED, McKinsey, etc.), and the sheer timidity to mindfully test the water and quickly learn from the experience.

That is, leaders are not walking their talk, and thus they are not holding themselves or their sales, marketing and operational teams accountable for their organisations’ medium to long-term strategic fortunes.

SO, depending on your databases and existing customer journeys, directives to trawl and crunch the data or “go and benchmark the competitors” will likely produce a bunch of unrevealing numbers, indicators and decontextualised generalities… None of this will conclusively prove whether you should make “surprise and delight” calls, add a new customer event for high value customers, or invest in content marketing.

Let’s be clear: When a clear majority of competent individuals in the organisation independently admit to gaping flaws in a current system, there’s a strong chance that action should be taken.  To then deliberately sink a wealth of time and effort into a slow-moving research, strategy, development and decision-making process to determine a direction on the bleeding obvious is just a gross waste of resources and a lost competitive advantage – hard “evidence” isn’t really there.

So it’s time to think fast and hard; to challenge yourselves with “why?”, and then take action.  You could commission consumer research, subscribe to third-party data, or call in a consultant.  But in my experience these will nudge you a bit further along the path of knowing what your people already knew.

At some point (whether you’ve run a development sprint, or a mind-numbing marathon), you have to start interacting in the real world, “with live ammunition”.

If you’ve got a good sense of your business objectives, what you stand for, who your customers are, and what you (can) really provide them, then why would pilot-scale authentic interactions do critical damage to your brand?

With sound strategy and planning, including testing criteria, measurement and analysis procedures, you’ll soon sense whether initiatives are of positive, negative or marginal effect.  You can then act accordingly – scaling up, modifying or holding until outcomes are clearer.

For real progress, you need to put the “Action” into “Interaction”.

Finding customers: The beauty of maps

Do you use or need maps?

Do you want to turn your customer addresses into deeper levels of understanding?  Do you have over/under-performing sites, or do you need to “find more” of your current customers?

It might be time to learn to map them, or to get them mapped by someone who can.  While data is all the rage, analysing tables is not first nature to many. An elegant solution is a map.

Maps allow you to clearly characterise factors that shape your business or operations, and they can provide an ongoing reference point that can otherwise be buried within lots and lots of data.  They are particularly good for simplifying and communicating complex issues to less-specialised audiences.

Here are a couple of simple examples:

Example of relative levels of Socioeconomic Advantage and Disadvantage by Postcode (and service points)
Example of relative levels of Socioeconomic Advantage and Disadvantage by Suburb (and service points)

 

Map of Service Network
Map of service network, showing different types of sites
Maps can be readily used to:
  • Identify where prospective customers might live – based on product or service characteristics, especially when comparing to your known customer traits
  • Understand where customers live – mapping where your customers live, then deriving understanding based on the characteristics of those areas
  • Show store or network locations relative to catchment target demographics

Initially, you should visit your government’s statistical provider.  Locally, this is the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).  Fortunately, we’ve just had a recent Census (2011), so much of our core population data is right up to date.

Initially, it’s also worth checking some of the interesting tools there, such as:

If you’re operating in relatively small geographic footprints, or you’ve got a particular territory you need to analyse, these tools can quickly give you much of the demographic data you need to guide your decision-making (then the art is in the insights and conclusions).

But, if you want to get a more comprehensive “lay of the land”, then a map’s your answer.  For that, you need to start with the underlying data.  You can purchase entire datapacks on DVD, or download what you need.  You then need to load the data into a mapping tool or software.

As far as free tools are concerned, Google paves the way.

  1. Google Maps Engine Lite – a good, readily usable tool for point data
  2. Google Fusion Tables – sophisticated tool for points and regions
  3. Google Earth – capable 3D mapping tool, though free version is limited

The SEIFA section of the Census site gives step-by-step instructions on how to load data into Google Earth.  This enables you to create catchment maps, from states, through postcodes right down to SA1 catchments (roughly 200-220 households). This is a great start to DIY mapping.

You can use the Google tutorials above to start feeling your way through the world of maps. 

At times there will be frustrations as things don’t load or display as planned. Map-making can demand patience, but maps can provide a long-term payoff by making clear what was otherwise obscure and/or anecdotal.

Do you use or need maps?  Do you want to turn your customer addresses into deeper levels of understanding?  Do you have over/under-performing sites, or do you need to “find more” of your current customers?  It might be time to learn to map them, or to get them mapped by someone who can. 

If you’d like to discuss mapping for your organisation, please get in touch.

Hello and welcome to Silver Bullets, where we aim to help you know, understand and engage your customers.

For many years, “the Four P’s” have underpinned marketing orthodoxy.  “Product”, “Price”, “Promotion” and “Place” summed-up most of what needed to be considered within a production- or push- based business model.

Peas-in-pods-006

  • Product – the form, function and intangible attributes of the item or service being offered for sale
  • Price – the financial value sought from a customer in exchange for the Product
  • Promotion – the communications to inform and persuade the target audience of the Product’s attributes
  • Place – the channels through which the target audience could learn about and obtain the product

While Product is absolutely critical, more and more of our “discretionary” spending is on services, software and solutions.  While these might be founded on a tangible platform, the ongoing servicing and interaction, and the speed required to creatively respond to competitive developments prompts consideration of some further “P’s”.

“Proposition”, “People”, “Passion” and “Purpose” are further useful descriptors, because they help situate both Suppliers and their Customers.  That is, dwelling on these topics can help us focus on the Customer’s experience, not just our own.

  • Proposition – collectively, Product, Price, Promotion and Place (and these others, following) encompass the Proposition to prospective customers.  It’s the overall Value of this Proposition that they weigh against their own needs, using it to set (consciously or not) the Price at which they are prepared to exchange.
  • People (or Person) – who is our target audience, how do they actually live and what do they really want?  Given best-practice focus on measurement, replicability and scalability, we should always consider our prospects’ Profile, their collective attributes (data) shared with other individuals within a population.  On the supply-side, People are clearly the platform on which service is built, and at a bare minimum they need to be able to readily resolve their customers’ needs.
  • Passion – essential for team members to produce an awesome product, deliver superb service, or to create an absorbing experience.  And given consumers are bombarded by media, content and the daily hurly-burly, Passion is an absolute pre-requisite for evoking reciprocal engagement from the customer.
  • Purpose – in a world of data, automation and standardisation, where it’s easier than ever to perform a set of processes to a reliable standard, I venture that it is Purpose (which combined with Passion, could be said to form a sense of Mission) that will equip People with the clarity to innovate, respond and move before- and beyond- the competition.  Customer-wise, it again makes sense to coolly assess the Purpose of the customer against our Proposition.

Think of any successful brand you like… it’s my bet that it will be founded on a clear sense of customer-centred Purpose, that integrates all of these “Marketing P’s” into Propositions that resonate with the target customer;

  • Product
  • Price
  • Promotion
  • Place
  • People
  • Passion
  • Purpose
  • Proposition

The last thing we need is more frameworks and gimmicks, but these “extra P’s” are offered to you as simple marketing prompts that build upon well-established precepts.

Next Time: Mapping your customers

What is “Best practice”?

These days, people refer to “best practice” without really thinking about what it means.

In my experience, it’s often used interchangeably with “current practice”, “got covered in a blog”, “was liked on Facebook”,  or “won an award”.

It will often refer to a vivid, lavishly-produced campaign (story, in this context), which has sought to make an impact by spending its way to prominence.  A lavish campaign is not precluded from being “best practice”, but it does have to work harder to earn a real return on investment.

High production values, budget and media spend might well help the perception of best practice, but I still think it’s got to stand on its merits as a specific proposition, reaching a specific audience to successfully attain the specified objectives.

So qualities like “innovative”, “social media integration”, “multi-channel” or “omni-channel” and so on, must be seen in the cool light of whether the communication reached, resonated and achieved real results with its target audience.

To this effectiveness should be added the criterion of efficiency, in the sense that the executed communication should not only create opportunities but fully capitalise on them.  To me this suggests that not only is the communication clear, not only is the call to action strong, but that the channels most relevant to the target market’s context are available for its response.

It’s usually in the personal interests of the agency and marketing teams producing marketing communications to promote their wares – for years it’s been via industry journals and trade publications, and now its online.  There, the emphasis is on publishing good-looking, rich media, but you’ll almost never see any kind of post-analysis trumpeting (and more importantly “proving”) the commercial success of such campaigns.

At least industry awards are conducted retrospectively and generally incorporate effectiveness criteria, demanding submission of metrics or KPIs to a panel of industry peers for assessment.  So I’d say they are amongst the best benchmarks available.  That is, identify the campaign or program, then analyse at its components.

In the absence of published supporting data, review whether a campaign or program has been ongoing or repeatedly used (perhaps evolved) over time – if someone at the top is repeatedly allowing budget for something, it’s probably working.

Don’t let “Engagement” be just another buzzword

Welcome back to Silver Bullets, all about effectively finding, targeting and engaging your stakeholders.  

Last week, we identified the precepts of customer-targeted marketing:

  • building the business around your customer/s (centricity);
  • relevantly interacting with those customers (engagement);
  • accurately identifying, measuring, classifying and interacting (data).

We also noted that while the first two were essential parts of the framework, they were hard to sustain without customer data.  It’s the data the gives your business the evidence that lasts beyond the fleeting customer interaction (a phone call, a compliment, a wall post, whatever).

So, what about the second precept – what’s with “customer engagement”? Organisations tend to acknowledge that they need to “do a much better job of engaging with their customers”.  But the ubiquity of social media, its relentless surge over the past few years, has set the hares running.  The concept of engagement has been commandeered by the social media sector of a digital industry keen to boost its stake of the marketing mix.

Many organisations have excitedly jumped into “engaging” their target audiences through social media, often overlooking the management of their individual relationships with actual customers.

As a result, we’ve seen a surge in organisations flocking to social media to “engage”.  Quite simply, you’re viewed as an anachronism if your business doesn’t at least have Facebook and Twitter accounts.  Fair enough; the business should be seeking “to have a conversation with its customers”, as they say.

That makes sense, so long as the business is actually learning from the process.  Looking further, there are a few prerequisites for this:

  1. your social interactions are being captured – individual stakeholder interactions are reflected not only in social dashboards, but in some kind of Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system
  2. you are listening to what people are saying about you, not just to you – monitoring takes in what’s being said more widely, not just in your owned social spaces
  3. you are analysing those interactions – there is meaning and understanding being sought, at the level of the individual, and in the aggregate
  4. you are incorporating this understanding – using these insights to improve your core business processes, and individual interactions
  5. finally, you offer value to your customers – that you provide content and conversations that your customers evidently find relevant.
First-and-foremost, people become customers because you've solves a problem for them.
Relevance is subjective. Look at content from a customer’s perspective

If you are getting all these things from your engagement via social media, that really is great news.  But I think it’s the exception to the norm, and my issue is this:

Relationships of genuine relevance – mutual value, where you’ve each given the other something worthwhile – are being neglected in favour of relatively spurious connections.

Engagement is good, but make sure it’s engagement with purpose – get the tools to capture, measure and manage the relationships (i.e. dashboards, reports, CRM and statistical analysis), and systematically apply them to the way your business interacts and operates.

Sales, referrals, fundraising, comment, endorsement (including Likes and Shares) and advocacy are each worthwhile – but just be mindful of which outcomes really move your business forward, and plan your engagement within customer journeys accordingly.

Love customers? Better get data

Hello and welcome back to Silver Bullets, where we help you effectively find, target and engage your customers and stakeholders.

Many people like the idea of targeted marketing, but don’t really know where to start.  It’s easy to use the jargon without really joining the dots, or following through.  It’s also true that there are varying degrees of analytical and modelling sophistication.

I’d like to work together over the next few weeks to examine some steps to better targeting.  Over that time, you’re more than welcome to get in touch with specific requests.

Our initial approach will be to address subjects close to sales and marketing decision makers’ hearts:

  • How can I target my marketing?
  • What’s all the fuss about “engagement”?
  • How can I identify my best customers, and how can I find more of them?
  • What do my customers buying Product X look like, what are they likely to buy next?
  • How do I keep giving customers what they want?

These questions are the tip of the iceberg, but they form entry points to three core precepts of well-targeted marketing:

  1. customer centricity – placing the customer, their needs and perspectives at the centre of everything you do (or at least being perceptive enough to understand their point of view).
  2. customer engagement – meeting customer needs, providing open channels for genuine interaction, and continuing to create value for customers, based upon those needs
  3. customer data – the recording of customer particulars and interactions, such that the ongoing context of your relationship can be measured, analysed and acted upon.

I think it’s fair to say that you could aspire to meet the first two of these precepts without having solid customer data in place.  But by doing so, your whole operation would become increasingly volatile and unsustainable over the long-term, particularly as the business grew.

Image of a softly lit, comfortable customer environment

For instance, you might design a process around a customer that seems to embrace their requirements, such as soft-lighting your store, playing chill-out or lounge music, adding a few comfy chairs, running an espresso machine and/or deploying stylish web and social media sites that keep the stories and content flowing…

But how long can that keep working if you can’t identify which customer has bought what, how many times, over what timeframe, where to find them and how they have interacted with you (e.g. bought, complained, posted-online) along the way? So, the starting point is to have sales and marketing systems that you can count on.

Whether you can get all of these within the one box is beside the point – the issue is being able to capture, access, analyse and report-on your data to meaningfully manage your business.

Without data, there’s absolutely no way to manage your business at the customer-level, and that’s the only level that counts with the customer!

Got a question or comment? Please get in touch, or comment below. 

Bold new marketing venture? Better have a proposition

Welcome to Silver Bullets, where we’ll look at all targeted marketing big and small (so to speak).

Working in market insights, my day job gives scope to perspectives that can be broad or deep.  While we always look to evidence, quite frankly that’s a combination of data, accumulated knowledge and gut instinct (experience).

It never fails to strike me how much commercial communication fails to have a clear proposition, thus hiding what the hell it is that the seller is offering. Recently, we had occasion to be talking to two perfectly nice gentlemen who were proffering a wonderful new CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system.

The Unique Selling Proposition was “The one system that manages your Content in unison with your Customers”.  Simple.  Straightforward.  Sold.

Sadly, instead of saying that, some “technology-savvy marketer” (you know the type sought by IT recruiters, the ones that can commodify anything) had got in the way and coined a new three-letter-acronym to describe the system.  So now all the collateral, and the pitching is oriented around the three-letter-acronym, that “defines a new category”.

Consequently, every appointment must involve these guys wasting a great deal of time and oxygen explaining what the acronym means, and the semantics of how it differs from other acronyms.  It certainly did with ours.

Going to market involves the trials and investment of identifying, locating, reaching and communicating with the target audience.  If you’re going to bother, make sure they understand what’s in it for them.  The purpose of turning-up is to deliver a proposition.

What’s your experience – are you noticing pointless marketing communication?