Why perfecting corporate culture is the first step to nailing real-time marketing

While timing is everything when targeting customers in the purchasing journey, getting the corporate culture right is the first thing brands should do.


The issue of accurately targeting customers in the right purchasing frame of mind is a hot topic, as the debate at the Pegasystems/Adqura roundtable hosted by Econsultancy and Marketing Week proved.

From the challenges of standing out in an overloaded inbox for B2B prospects to wading through a data swamp to understand the needs of a vast and diverse B2C audience, it was clear that brands still face many challenges.

The panel agreed that before they could discuss appropriate points in the funnel for targeting, there was the issue of corporate culture to get straight first. Alex Bates, UK marketing director at PageGroup, said: “The dream is we can integrate and personalise everything, and the conversations go internally ‘we can try a bit and see if it works’. We have spent the time on phase one – putting in the measurement infrastructure so people can see ROI.

“Some of the integration elements we wanted to do would have been great to start on earlier because they could have been done quicker but being able to say that we have a robust structure that can gather data and then react to that has been the important thing to get buy-in.”

Adqura director of marketing and customer experience Annette Kerlin added: “Starting with a big vision means you come unstuck. Start small to get the benefits quickly, get support, then get the funding to do the rest. We started by working on the data we thought we could use. We created a playpen, put it all in the cloud, put data in from different sources and got off the ground quickly. We had a next best action six months in from the start of the programme, which is fast.”

Take a selective approach

The temptation, of course, is to squeeze every last drop out of the resources you have if you are going to prove the next big bet to the company. The panel agreed that a selective approach was more effective. Sarah Hunter, head of marketing at Mitie, said: “Making it simple is key. We did bits of personalisation but you need so much motivation behind it to keep it going and keep the data up-to-date. It went off-piste and turned into a beast.”

Pegasystems marketing and decisioning specialist Robin Collyer explained: “It is about outcomes. How do you engage with someone? Going back to the minimum viable approach then growing the relationship on naturally is where we’re seeing the most success with projects.”

In many respects, organisations’ access to data can be a blessing and a curse. With real-time targeting, executives were finding that decision-making can be hindered as so many strategies need to be proven through data even before execution. The trend towards basing everything on the stories the data is telling is making brands myopic.

Richard Ingram, global head of brand development and innovation at SABMiller, said: “We should be looking at what our sense of purpose and utility is and using our data to deliver against it. We have masses of consumer data – we want to know as much as we can about everybody, but half of it might be completely irrelevant.

“We want to know which brands are going to connect with which consumers [so we can] target directly and [build better relationships]. Turning it on its head and managing our databases in that way, we have proven we drive greater engagement by being targeted with that data.”

Those complaining about the abundance of first-party data they have from selling direct to consumer could be seen to be grumbling from a position of grace compared to those who are reliant on third parties to complete the transactional element. “One of my favourite subjects is: whose customer is it? We sell through 7,500 storefronts. It’s a psychological issue in the company. The customer is really the retailer, while the customer I want to communicate with is the end customer,” added Ingram.

Relevant offering

Left to right: Sarah Hunter, Mitie; Anna Fenton, Compass Group; Robin Collyer, Pegasystems

The simple fact is that brands once removed from the customer have to work harder to remain relevant. Kerlin at Adqura said: “At GoCompare, we had people coming to the site but buying direct with the insurer. We didn’t know who had bought from where and [with whom we] had a relationship. So the offering has to be relevant.”

She admitted they have been looking at ways to start talking to customers, including developing real-time modelling and following the journey through the site so customers can be sent something relevant in real time. “Email becomes a mechanism to have a conversation. It’s always interesting how the outbound marketing and website can come together and do something personal.”

Nigel Saxon, senior digital engagement manager at LV, is also a fan of email but believes it is vital to find a balance. “As important is understanding our touchpoints and that maybe it’s not the time to do something. [Insurance is] a grudge purchase so it is difficult to know when the customer would like us to talk to them.”

The challenge of data for brands is threefold. There is the abundance of data that creates the potential for paralysis by analysis and the potential to lose sight of strategic end goals. Second, the access to customer data when faced with going through an intermediary. Finally, being able to tie all the necessary data together. Companies are hampered by their internal lack of competency or regulatory hoops that protect the consumer and, as Barclaycard global head of brand strategy and communications Andrew Hogan said, in the case of multiple data sources: “You’re playing with one hand behind your back.”

He continued: “It’s the same problem as: who is the customer? Yes, there’s lots of data but there are huge gaps and strict rules about how you contact businesses. It is a real challenge to get to the same level of relationship building.”

There is also significant difficulty for marketers working in regulated industries, who have to be particularly cautious about how much they combine data. Many, for example, would not feel confident that their company would be allowed under EU law to unite data sources from different services or brands in order to provide a single customer view across their corporation, as Google has done with its services.

Operationally, brands face the problem of getting everything joined up. Despite the growing use of cloud systems, legacy technologies and departmental silos left over from merger and acquisition activity present logistical and legal problems. Jacqueline Hogarty, head of brand and marketing at Amec Foster Wheeler, said following the merger of Amec and Foster Wheeler there were many CRM systems. “While we’re trying to get everyone onto Microsoft Dynamics, we’re not sure where to go from there. People tend to have their own mailing lists and spreadsheets. We need to look at how we’re going to move forward as a single brand.”

Getting B2B relationships right

Left to right: Penny Allen, The Go-Ahead Group; Nigel Saxon, LV; Annette Kerlin, Adqura

In B2B relationships, where it could be assumed that relationships are more personal and real time because of the complexity of conversations and smaller customer bases, marketers are still facing challenges. Hunter at Mitie complained that B2B marketers are having to jettison traditional approaches owing to a lack of efficacy: “Email is getting harder because everyone is doing it.”

Perhaps email as a B2B medium requires a rethink. Anna Fenten, head of marketing at Levy Restaurants, Compass Group, said much depends on the target’s existing engagement with the brand. “This is where integrated marketing comes into play. If you know where the customer is in the buying cycle and can send them something they’re passionate about, then they will open it.” But, she added, this needs to be part of a wider plan, supported by other channels such as Twitter or apps.

Resonating emotionally is the key whether it is selling widgets or Wagner. The challenge is to get a foot in the door. Stuart Wilson, group director of communication and marketing at Mears Group, explained: “Most emails go into spam. I have got brand loyalty to certain things – an email about Harley-Davidson will always get opened. But it’s how you build that loyalty. It turns into a chicken and egg situation.”

Part of the real-time marketing challenge and associated spam problem is the sheer volume of communication opportunities can put off customers. Sony Europe head of online consumer communications Richard Palk said: “We have got so much insight that the skill is to know when the next best action is not to communicate. Leave someone alone and quantify the value of not engaging.”

The panel agreed it was about understanding the needs of the customer, not just in finding opportunities to talk to them, however targeted and contextual that conversation might be. There needs to be an understanding that customers might make a high value purchase and be engaged for a while but after a while a light touch is required.

If moderating contact frequency is about maximising the customer relationship, using data responsibly is clearly table stakes. Brands that pay lip service to good data stewardship without following through are as bad as those who do not engage with it at all. “One of the challenges I face is that if the customer has unsubscribed from something, they have said clearly that they don’t want to hear from me again,” Ingram at SABMiller explained. “Can I say confidently that I have fully wiped their data? If something happens, [a hack for example], can I prove to the regulator that I’ve done what I said I did?”

For some brands, the challenge is getting enough data. Southern Railways is facing an ongoing set of customer relationship issues but it is also suffering from a lack of data to make the connections it needs with customers. Penny Allen, head of marketing at The Go-Ahead Group, which owns Southern Railways, said: “People don’t want an emotional relationship with their bus or train company. We need to use data to make sure that compensation for delays is paid quicker. But 80% to 90% of [transactions are paid for] by cash or card. We are in a dangerous position that we could make assumptions about customer relationships on a base that is not big enough.” She adds that the introduction of Wi-Fi on-board will go some way to boosting this necessary data input.

Palk believes that social channels are a rich source of information and customer contact data for both inbound and outbound contextual communications. Allen at The Go-Ahead Group agreed but noted this whole area is a learning curve: “Our teams operate autonomously and the skill set isn’t there. There isn’t a head of social for our brands because we are such an operationally-led industry.”

Get back to basics

Left to right: Stuart Wilson, Mears Group; Robin Collyer, Pegasystems; Sarah Hunter, Mitie

For many of the panel, engaging in real-time marketing means going back to basics first. Jo Allen, business lead, next generation decisioning at British Gas said: “British Gas is starting from the perspective that to drive engagement you need to begin by not being irrelevant. When people move house, we shouldn’t be trying to sell to them unless it’s relevant to the house they’re moving into.”

Kerlin at Adqura said: “The relationship with the customer is  a mutual value exchange. I want good service. We need to help businesses work out where their moments of truth are – where in the journey is the moment that is important to the customer. That’s where the sparkle dust can be added to bring the brand personality out.”

Wilson at Mears Group illustrated this with an example from Transport for London. Most Londoners have to use the TfL infrastructure but when something goes wrong, it is communicated quickly, often with humour and a lightness of touch. It is not just a function, it’s an experience. Barclaycard’s Hogan added: “[Its] approach has changed. Some train drivers think they’re comedians, but there’s a brand tone of voice behind it that resonates.”

Following a discussion of the challenges facing marketers in striking the right tone, frequency and medium of communication, it could seem as though there is a mountain to climb. Add in resistance to change from other parts of the organisation and the task can seem overwhelming. Allen at British Gas said the answer is a phased approach. “Start slowly, build it but think about the end goal all the time. With Adqura we took steps to control the process and buy ourselves credit with the rest of the organisation. In the first phase we increased conversion 20% in the first five and a half months. That got us the credit to move forwards and now 18 months on we have a tool that can help us realise the business vision.”

Kerlin added: “You can’t tame the beast in one go. If you build the vision in the first phase, you’ll fall over. Build the shell, plug in  the first part and show everyone [in the organisation] how great it is.”




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