Are you aiming at personalized customer experience with your marketing automation?

Ask any marketing director in Finland, and they will tell you that one of the most important digital marketing trends of 2019 was marketing automation*. Even though this trend started quite a few years back, it seems to be on top of the minds of CMOs even in 2020 – and not least because of the suddenly reduced possibilities for nondigital communication. Even if companies seem to be familiar with automation, not many of them are putting sufficient effort into reaching more strategic business goals, aiming at message personalization and developing new ways of working that support the new marketing normal.

Without long-term planning, you’re wasting your time on minor things

To achieve the results you are aiming at from your investment in marketing automation, you should initiate the project by determining the desired outcome and a roadmap for getting there. However, only a handful of companies seem to have a comprehensive strategy when they start building automation – or if they have one, it’s often described somewhere else than in a documented and structured report. When defining a marketing automation strategy, the highest priorities should be taking a close look at the actual sales and marketing goals that are derived from your overall business goals. You should recognize the obstacles to growth that can be tackled with automation and more personalized communication, as well as identify opportunities to improve customer experience that in its turn supports increasing sales. The strategy should also include a systematic plan for gathering customer data and obtaining a more coherent view of them. Areas to include in your strategy vary from business to business, but you should not forget content, your internal processes and the development of a true omnichannel set up.

Strategy first, tools second

It is not that rare for companies to start their marketing automation process by selecting the technology. This shortcut might seem compelling if there is a business pressure, urgent need due to, e.g. lack of resources, or perhaps just an active vendor on the market. A considerably better approach would be not to choose the tool until the targets and the strategy have been defined to ensure the best fit for prevalent business needs and the nature of your business. When evaluating various software, it is wise to seek assistance from an agnostic partner who has gained experience in a variety of tools and businesses and can provide you with an unbiased vendor-agnostic opinion. There are different tools for e.g. B2B and B2C businesses that can truly make a difference when utilized accordingly.  Characteristics differ, too; some technologies are suitable for traditional email marketing, whereas others serve the needs of personalized multichannel communication with more ambitious goals. This is why you need to decide in advance whether the goal is to simply find a tool that can automate traditional campaign messages or to create sales growth and make a remarkable improvement in the customer experience.

The more advanced tool, the trickier to operate

An automation system can be a lot more than a tool for managing newsletters and other identical-to-everybody messages. However, companies with more sophisticated tools might face challenges when using them. Sometimes the tools are so advanced that no one in the organization has the time or the skills needed to operate the software and create omnichannel communication sequences. Experienced partners can be of help here – as long as you remember to brief the partner on your strategic business aspirations and choose a method for co-operation that enables knowledge transfer. A competent partner proves usually useful when you need to incorporate automated content into several channels as well as invest in paid media to boost your automation and find new leads. When looking for scalable ways of creating personalized experiences, let’s not forget the increasing role of AI and algorithm-based communication that your partner can support you with.

Personalization requires data

What can you then do after creating a comprehensive strategy, selecting and implementing an advanced automation tool, and choosing a partner to get you on track? The answer is short and simple: customer data. This data should be brought into sales and marketing and utilized to create personalized interaction towards individuals. In order to be able to tailor your messages, the collected customer data should be gathered together, stored and integrated into a 360 view. It is completely different to target messages on the basis of a bunch of customer demographics than it is to keep track of what the customer has bought from your physical and online stores, which links he has clicked on, which services he has browsed online, and asked the Customer Service about. The more advanced players are going further by gaining insights into people’s motives, aspirations, and purchasing potential and investing in predictive and prescriptive analytics.

Changing the established ways of working

New working methods, team structures and enhanced internal processes are something discussed relatively little when transitioning to automated marketing. Unfortunately, many fail to see that personalized marketing has has much less to do with technology, than it does with change management and strategy. Thus, one of the most critical success factors when building personalized communication is that the organization develops new working methods that support the transformation of becoming a more customer-driven organization. Who will communicate the business needs and make sure that they are prioritized accordingly? Who will study customer needs and create the needed interaction plans? Who will build the programs and their different types of variants into the tool, making sure that the messages are sent to the right individuals after the right trigger? Who will make sure that the team has the data necessary for making the selection of recipients? Or what about the crucial continuous testing and optimization that will, at the end, assure that the investment will pay off?

Is your company among the winners?

Beginning the journey towards personalized communication can seem like a challenge at first. The development of integrated customer data will often take years, and the needed changes in the organization call for a structured and systematic approach. I would, however, like to take the opportunity and encourage everyone to set personalized and consistent customer experience throughout channels as your marketing goal for the years to come. Once you have the data, the technologies, and the working methods in place, I am absolutely sure that your customers will vote with their wallets and see the targeted improvement in the experience you are creating for them. Who wouldn’t want to be among the winners of the new marketing normal?

* Source: CMO study by Fonecta, Markkinointi&Mainonta 01/02/2019

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Emma Lehtovaara
September 2, 2020