Go back to the early days of “Mad Men” where sipping on a martini would inspire creativity that would captivate the minds of the masses and encourage consumption.   Move forward through time where mass mailings and telemarketers bombard every household, pitching their products with the notion that an impersonal phone call captivates a large audience and adds value.  Now, in the digital age, we are transitioning to big data. Mass marketing seemingly consumes our daily lives even more incessantly with emails, banners, social media and now on our most sacrosanct devices: mobile phones.

It all began with the desire to reach the largest audience, sell products and better serve customers, yet the age-old questions persist:

  • Where do we find the best customers?
  • How do we sell them more products?
  • How do we engage and retain our best customers?
  • How should we communicate with our customers?
  • How often should we communicate?

All of these questions and more flash through the minds of marketers as we attempt to create compelling, engaging and effective marketing campaigns that will have our customers coming back time after time.

In looking at this transition through time, has anything really changed?  It may not seem like it; yet behind the scenes, marketers have become incredibly sophisticated and scientific.  Marketing has  become both an art and a science.

Before the age of the internet, marketers would use a variety of data, including behavioral, psychographic and demographic data, to better understand their target audiences and consumers.   Marketing departments then and now employ behavioral psychologists and even scientists to run tests on their ‘ideal’ customers to understand ‘who they are’ and ‘why they behave’ the way they do.  They conduct market research studies, blind tests and run panels, which are translated into data that in turn helps marketers determine the best communication method and creative messages, among other points.

Over the years, marketers have done phenomenal work in establishing trust in their brands, building relationships and loyalty with customers.  This was even before ‘loyalty’ became a buzz word in marketing; now marketers spend much of their time conjuring up creative ways to make customers ‘loyal’…

So what has changed?

Among many things, the internet has created an entirely new medium of communication in nearly every context of our lives.  People have changed.  We are wired differently now.  We consume vast amounts of information daily. We share differently and, most importantly, relate differently to everyone and everything around us through technology.  Everything is at our fingertips and we have become very demanding consumers as the notion that we should get what we want, when we want has proliferated our culture so deeply. On the other hand, the internet has given unique access and created a literal ‘doorway’ into the thoughts and behaviors of the very same consumers that were once easily charmed by a creative magazine advertisement or television commercial in the past.  This open access to information has given birth to the big data that has been such a buzzword; increasingly being churned out by data scientists and handed over to the savviest of marketers and creative minds to craft what is essentially a direct one-to-one communication with each consumer.  What this now means is that everyone will get a unique message through their communication channel of choice.

As you see, data, no matter how rudimentary, has always been the life blood of marketers and is now reaching a new critical point where everything everyone is saying is being captured, measured and analyzed, making the marketers job ever-so complex.

It is 2014 and you must be thinking: if data scientists and marketers have so much of our data, then why does all the impersonal mass communication persist?  Why not more pointed and personal messages?

Good question, however there’s no simple answer and we should consider the following:

  • Many large legacy companies are risk adverse and move much more slowly than emerging technology companies, leaving consumers wanting more from their brands.
  • Interactions and habits of consumers have outpaced the speed and transition of the marketing technology that supports many of the large brands that consumers interact with.
  • Cost of sophisticated technology that fosters one-to-one communication is out of reach for many brands and is not yet proven to be more efficient or effective to be adopted.
  • Complexity and volume of data including offline, online, purchase behavior, propensity, etc., has yet to be completely understood.
  • Omni-channel marketing communication is an incremental work in progress as the convergence continues to happen across platforms and channels.
  • Introduction of new technologies such as mobile, wearable tech, the Internet of Things allows more opportunity and further complicates the marketer’s job.
  • Consumers have become fickle, and want a deal on everything. That creates financial strain on organizations as they attempt to use more sophisticated methods to reach the right customers to achieve a reasonable ROI.

At the end of the day, even with all of this data at our fingertips, we are human and want to be communicated to in a manner that is respectful, personal, and in-line with our values.  Many companies have fallen into the trap of complacency and use data improperly, making communication seem mechanical.  Consumers want to resonate with the brands they interact with.  To add fuel to the fire, today marketers are stringently assessed on performance.  As a result they are tying all interactions back to data points, however the lack of the ‘soft’ touch it takes to make a human connection and build the bridge between the brand and the consumer can get lost in translation.

The lines are blurred, and as marketers, we must bridge the gap between redefining how data is used, such as in creating data driven segmentation strategies, and behavioral and psychographic data. Closing such a gap will create incredibly refined and accurate personas that can help define the communication style, language, channel and values of the audience.  As you can see, communicating on a one-to-one basis can become extremely cumbersome, but must eventually become the norm, as each individual has different desires, wants, needs and fears that must be addressed.

Demetrios Tzortzis – Acxiom Perspectives Blog