Tech Line

Rethinking the Rules of Engagement

One of the perplexities about today’s digital marketing frameworks is that, despite increasingly powerful tools and capabilities, companies constantly get their use wrong. They barrage customers with the right message at the wrong time, the wrong message at the wrong time, or simply spew too many messages all the time.

The result? Chaos. According to a recent study conducted by Statistica, 70 percent of consumers say they receive misdirected ads regularly, and 24 percent say it happens every single day. Meanwhile, a PFL-commissioned Forrester study found that 61 percent of consumers report that they are similarly inundated, while 63 percent say the materials they receive prioritize style over substance.

Clearly, consumers are tuning out marketers as never before. It’s called digital fatigue.

How can businesses rein in the chaos? The answer lies in building a best-practice framework for data collection, management, and use—and then adopting more organic marketing methods that involve both digital and direct mail. Not surprisingly, this requires changes to both data intake and marketing output.

It also means putting consumers at the center of the buying process and giving them more control over their data. In many cases, a CMO must rethink conventional wisdom—and avoid the temptation to automate and scale campaigns at the lowest possible cost. Cutting corners and focusing too heavily on a digital approach can cripple results.

Success hinges on the ability to dive deeper into data, achieve a more granular customer view, and apply a hefty dose of creativity and business savvy.

Success hinges on the ability to dive deeper into data, achieve a more granular customer view, and apply a hefty dose of creativity and business savvy. In this more evolved space, surveys, rewards, and more advanced predictive analytics pay dividends.

“Top brands know how to speak the language of their customers because they understand what motivates them,” said Brian Rogers, PFL director of demand generation. “Top marketing teams know when and where to deliver the message that drives action. When these two forces are in harmony, everyone wins.”

Evolving Beyond Data Points

A glaring digital marketing problem is that it abstracts processes that were once face-to-face. Replicating human touch online is extraordinarily difficult. Despite systems that chat like humans, act like humans, and replicate human processes, it’s painfully obvious to us real humans that we are interacting with machines that frequently don’t get it quite right.

Too often, these digital systems fail to register feedback the way a person does. Instead of responding by reducing the onslaught of missives or adapting the content appropriately, they double down and blast an even greater volume of emails, text messages, and other digital messaging. The result is a consumer who, at the very least, ignores these communications and, at worst, routes messages to junk mail or unsubscribes from the feed entirely.

It appears that this situation isn’t likely to improve anytime soon. The use of generative AI—such as Chat GPT, Google Bard, and similar new tools—promises to complicate matters. Behind the uniqueness, shiny façade, and cost savings these tools offer, there’s the fact that they lower the bar on content creation even further. In many cases, even worse messaging will result—further repelling prospects and customers.

All of this is happening within the backdrop of stricter privacy laws. For example, the California Privacy Rights Act (CPRA) and Virginia Consumer Data Protection (CPDA) impose additional limitations on how organizations can collect, store, and use data. Several other states and countries are also weighing legislation—while Apple and other companies have imposed more stringent privacy controls on their platforms.

Traditional advertising and direct-marketing tactics will ultimately break through the digital noise.

Navigating out of this morass isn’t easy. “Marketing channels that were thought to be on the decline are being revived,” note PFL’s Rogers. “Traditional advertising and direct-marketing tactics will ultimately break through the digital noise.”

Getting in Tune with Customers

Marketers must face an inconvenient truth: There’s no single way to address today’s consumers—and much of the data they use is flawed. Some customers make frequent and large purchases but hate receiving daily emails. Others grow fatigued by the frequency or sea-of-sameness messaging and might unsubscribe. Still others shop online, perhaps for health or other reasons, but prefer to receive cards, brochures, and product samples through the mail yet prefer to speak with live salespeople.

To navigate this maze, CMOs must get smarter about the data the organization collects, manages, and uses. One way to achieve this is relatively simple: Ask customers for their information and provide incentives to obtain it. This might include a brief survey in exchange for a coupon or a gift. In exchange, a customer can choose his or her marketing preferences, including content and frequency.

Another way to look at this is that the right content can help customers and prospects “trip over the truth” and have “aha!” moments. These moments deliver realizations that help people recognize a problem and appreciate a solution—preferably your product or solution. But creating these moments requires a rethinking and rewiring of marketing. Conventional methods don’t cut it. But it’s worth the extra work: Organizations that inspire and help create usable insights for customers and prospects stand out.

Other possibilities also exist. For example, a business can offer incentives—everything from free shipping to product upgrades and add-ons—if a customer establishes an account or participates in a rewards program. This approach sidesteps the need for third-party cookies and other trackers that consumers and government regulators find invasive.

In fact, there’s growing recognition that letting customers manage and control their own data can pay enormous dividends. For example, Gartner reported in March 2023 that among 400 marketing executives, 78 percent allow customers to add, remove, and edit their data. While this can mean drastically different things to different CMOs and companies, it’s nevertheless clear that everyone can win when consumers have greater choice about data collection, marketing preferences, and how data is packaged and sold to partners and third parties.

Seeing Beyond Data Points

With a more evolved approach in place, the equation flips from partial visibility to full visibility. Suddenly, a marketing team isn’t flying blind—or attempting to squeeze all customers into a few neatly defined personas. A business can actually achieve the highly coveted but elusive one-to-one relationship—true personalization. Suddenly, it’s possible to gain maximum advantage from digital tools, such as AI and machine learning, as well as with conventional techniques, such as the phone, mail, and in-person interactions.

Blending and melding the online and physical worlds more seamlessly helps a business deliver the right interaction at the right moment—whether it’s online or through direct mail. At that point, product samples, printed brochures, catalogs, promotional items, and gifts take on new value—and deliver a higher return on investment.

Concluded PFL’s Rogers: “If a company utilized data to send me a personalized mailer that aided my purchasing decision, I would definitely take a closer look.” We are pretty sure he speaks for the majority.