Welcome to the Age of the Customer, where consumers are more skeptical than ever and traditional marketing campaigns are on their way to becoming obsolete. As such disruptive channels as social media and mobile devices drive the shift from passive brand consumption to active brand engagement, the number of touchpoints between consumers and brands continues to grow, and so do consumer expectations. Increasingly, customers are becoming wary of textbook campaigns and superficial personalization, opting instead to do business with brands that can deliver customized experiences and facilitate meaningful interactions across all relevant channels.
"Consumers don't trust your ads. There's no advantage in campaigns when your competitors are just as skilled at the campaign game as you are. While you know how to tune campaigns to help you hit your numbers, they're no longer sufficient," Carlton Doty, an analyst at Forrester Research, says. Only 22 percent of consumers trust emails from companies or brands, and just 13 percent trust ads on Web sites, his research suggests. Consumers are constantly interacting with brands' channels outside of deliberate campaigns, Doty asserts, and to stay relevant, companies must harness the data gathered through these interactions to build a context marketing engine. This is a new approach to marketing that Doty's recent research defines as "a brand-specific platform that exploits customer context to deliver utility and guide the customer into the next best interaction."
The context marketing engine is a powerful approach, according to Doty, because it bridges the gap between marketing and customer experience, delivers utility to customers, and provides a constant incentive to engage. The engine also enables "customer-managed" relationships, Doty explains, alluding to a deliberately inverted approach to customer relationship management. For consumers, the concept of "channels" is irrelevant, Forrester's Cory Munchbach says, explaining Doty's play on words. Typically, the choice to interact with a brand through a certain channel or devices is based primarily on convenience, personal preference, or coincidence—as a result, marketers need to stop thinking of channels as siloed avenues for marketing campaigns and focus on the customer-first perspective.
"In the past, marketers have tried to create campaigns tailored for specific channels, but that kind of thinking drives outbound marketing, not rich, back-and-forth interactions. Now customers have positioned themselves to be more active in their brand experiences, and it's no longer just about the channels. It's about the customer, and how that customer is interacting with that particular channel," Munchbach says. "This is why the idea of context marketing is so crucial."
But building a truly omnichannel context marketing engine is no easy feat, and requires that brands be prepared to not only thoroughly reorganize their marketing processes to jump-start the interaction cycle, but also strategically adapt their enterprise marketing technology portfolios to reflect the omnichannel needs of their customers. Nevertheless, there is no secret formula. At the core of every omnichannel success story, analysts agree, are two technologies: first, a solution that enables the delivery of rich, context-based content—a combination of a campaign management solution and execution platform, in traditional terms—and second, a solid big data analytics solution with deep-reaching capabilities. Few vendors, if any, excel equally in both areas. Still, when it comes to the two fundamentals of omnichannel marketing, clear leaders emerge on each front.
Experian's Marketing Services offerings, for example, feature a robust campaign management solution, Gartner analyst Julie Hopkins suggests. The company's cross-channel marketing platform was the "first tool to combine campaign management with an