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Why Marketing in the Digital Age Needs To Be a Two-Way Dialogue

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One of the most effective ways to cultivate strong and enduring customer relationships is by really getting to know and anticipate your customers’ needs. Traditionally, companies drew on customer research groups to make such judgements. These sample sets of customers were informative about what customers expected and how they wanted to engage with a company; however, their scope was limited, and the information they provided was often reactive vs. predictive in its ability to forecast customer behaviors and outcomes. 

In the age of Big Data and cloud-powered analytics, organizations have the ability to combine large amounts of customer data, culled from a variety of sources, and create detailed customer profiles. When these profiles are powered by CRM technology and artificial intelligence (AI), organizations have the ability to leverage predictive technology to act on that data. This customer data unlocks personalized experiences, helps companies understand exactly what messages customers are most receptive to at scale, and enables dramatically improved business planning, as marketing messages and efforts are connected to the outcomes most likely to land with consumers. 

Leading marketing organizations are able to combine human insights and robust data analytics and AI to reach new customers and to better understand how those customers are engaging with their ads leading up to and following purchases, ultimately to gain their loyalty and recurring business while tracking the value of retaining those customers.

While the business opportunities associated with targeted ads and personalized customer experiences are extremely promising, there are complications and risks to consider related to being respectful of consumer data. Considerations around customer data collection and usage will likely continue to evolve, with consumers and governments across the globe becoming more protective of personal information and online identities, as well as wary of institutions that they perceive are not handling data appropriately. It’s essential that organizations take a human-centric, technology-enabled approach to marketing by giving customers a sense of control in shaping their own online experiences, as well as an understanding of what their data is worth. 

Answering the Right Questions

Taking the necessary steps with customer data—while using that data to inform strategy, design experiences, provide support, etc.—will ultimately help companies become better marketers who genuinely understand their customers as individuals, not just “personas.” Among other steps, companies can ensure that customers are involved in deciding which parts of their data are being shared. Companies can also explain why the data is being collected. This means empowering customers to know the answers to questions such as these:

  • Why is my data needed and how will the collection of this data benefit me?
  • What purpose is my data being used for?
  • Will it be discarded, and if so, when and why? 
  • Who else could this data be shared with and why?
  • Where can I go with questions or to get additional details if I don’t want my data to be used this way? 

Saying the Right Things

Ultimately, customers most appreciate the personalized ads and marketing messages that they welcome and deem useful. They want them to make sense in context of their experiences and not distract from them. Otherwise, they perceive ads as intrusive visual noise that interferes with what they want to do, whether that’s catching up on the news, searching for a recipe online, or looking for directions. 

At worst, ads can offend and repel customers. 

Consider a woman whose pregnancy has just failed, who is still seeing banner advertisements promoting new cribs follow her across the internet. This kind of incident brings to mind that famous six-word story, often attributed to Hemingway: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” If we understand the story, we know that baby shoes are no longer just baby shoes, but a reminder of the loss of a child. 

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