CMOs Should Watch "Revenge Of The Nerds" And "Real Genius"

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Todd Michaud runs Power Thinking Media, and he lives and breathes social, mobile and big data. He spent nine years delivering technology platforms to more than 10,000 retail locations as VP of IT for Focus Brands (Carvel, Cinnabon, Auntie Annie’s, Schlotzsky’s, Moe’s Southwest Grill, Seattle’s Best Coffee) and director of retail technology for Dunkin’ Brands (Dunkin’ Donuts, Baskin-Robbins).

The biggest challenge that is facing marketers in the next five to seven years is the quest to become relevant, which means that they need to become data geeks. In fact, it is crucial that they become bigger and better geeks than their IT counterparts. As the pendulum moves from art to science, many marketing leaders find themselves on a platform of skills that are no longer the keys to success.

Instead of IP addresses, they need to think about email segmentation. Instead of database clusters, they need live content marketing. Instead of disaster recovery, they need to wake up focused on integrated marketing across all digital channels. It’s as much science and math as configuring a new router, and that has many marketers nervous. And it should.

But as these marketers find their way into this new world of math and science (digital relevancy), they need to be careful to not cross the fine line between being relevant and being just plain creepy.

Facebook recently announced the ability for advertisers to target users for their ads based upon the purchases made in bricks-and-mortar stores. So marketers, you can now target women who purchase children’s cereal or people who are in the market to buy a new car. This new targeting was created as a result of Facebook’s partnership with Acxiom, Datalogix, and Epsilon.

Acxiom makes headlines every few months when a story breaks about how much information it knows about every American. The book “The Filter Bubble – What The Internet Is Hiding From You” by Eli Pariser talks about how Acxiom, which has an average of 1,500 pieces of information for 96 percent of American households, knew more about 11 of the 19 hijackers responsible for the 9/11 attacks than the FBI, CIA and several other agencies combined. Outside of knowing what I purchase, it is likely that they know that I am right-handed and own a Great Dane (data they somehow manage to collect).

Although some of this may seem creepy on the surface, the need to be more relevant with consumers is absolutely real and extremely important to marketers. I believe it should be the No. 1 priority for brand marketers today. In order for their marketing messages to make it through the clutter that is everyone’s digital lives, marketers are dashing towards new technologies that allow them to build robust customer profiles that can be used to personalize their marketing messages.

Most marketers dream of getting to where they sent each customer a unique message. But most also have a short-term focus on creating segmentation engines that will at least let them put their customers in buckets. They are also looking for technologies such as advanced marketing automation systems that will automatically take actions in response to a change in their customers’ behavior (versus the traditional marketer-induced blast, I mean, “campaign.”)

When I speak with CMOs, I am often surprised that many are not aware of exactly how much data is available (for free and for a fee) for them to use in their digital marketing. It was just a few years ago when retail customers were very opaque. We knew very little about them unless they were a member of a loyalty program. The paradigm has shifted to an avalanche of data that is available for marketers to access and use.

  • Would you like to track every Web page that a person visits when they come to your website and every email link they’ve ever clicked on? Easy.
  • Would you like to enhance your customer profiles with third-party demographic information? Not a problem.
  • Would you like to scrape social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare and Yelp to find out what they really think? Coming right up.
  • Would you like to know when a customer comes within a certain radius of your store locations, or even where they are standing in your stores? It shall be done.
  • Would you like to analyze their smartphone to get an idea for where they work and what they are interested in? Just insert this small piece of code..
  • Would you like to integrate all this data with their purchase history? I thought you’d never ask!

    One of my favorite quotes from The Filter Bubble was taken from Andrew Lewis on MetaFilter: "If you’re not paying for something, you’re not the customer. You’re the product being sold." Consumers, as part of our everyday lives, are pushing "click to accept" on free mobile apps, Web services and loyalty cards. Most of us know deep down that there is no such thing as a free lunch, but at what point does this start to generate backlash? When marketers start to take it too far.

    We’ve all seen an ad (or a lot more) that we can’t seem to shake for days or weeks after visiting a website. Or, as one of my friends calls it, "Companies stalking me around the Web." Display ad retargeting must be showing a strong ROI, because more and more companies are doing it. I’m sure that the marketer felt that messaging a consumer about a product or service that someone just looked at on their website felt like a good way to be relevant (they’ve shown interest), but may have gone a little overboard. Do you really want your brand to be known as a "stalker"?

    But just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should do something. For years, grocery chains have known about new additions to the family when they see loyalty card members suddenly start to purchase diapers on a regular basis. But most refrain from freaking you out by sending you a “Congratulations on your new bundle of joy!“ card.

    Of course, we can’t forget about the policy makers who are also making moves. In February, the FTC released a set of guidelines for mobile privacy policies. Last year the European Union updated a 22-year-old consumer privacy law by releasing the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) aimed at protecting their citizens’ privacy rights with companies operating outside of the EU.

    But how does a CMO determine where that line is? In reality that line is different for everyone. How do you build a system and a process that enhances your marketing ROI without alienating your consumers? As with most cases, “it depends” is the answer. But there are some things you can do, and not do, to improve your chances of success.

    So with all these competing forces at work, how does a CMO decide the best route? When talking to my clients about best practices related to “data-driven marketing" the typical headlines are:

  • You have to do it. The old days of grip-it-and-rip-it email blasts and Facebook posts are dying faster than newspaper sales. Make no mistake; you are in a race with your competitors to become more relevant with your consumers faster than they do.
  • Just because you can and want to collect the data doesn’t mean you have to use it on day one. The true value of, and benefit to, a certain data set may not be obvious for a while. Collect it now, because disk is cheap and you’ll want it later.
  • Try to shift your focus from campaign “blast" marketing to consumer-focused marketing. Deliver messages when it’s right for them, not when you are ready to hit “Send“. But…
  • Timing is the No. 1 vector that creates creepiness. Send me a text as I’m driving by your store: not cool. Send me a text because you know I visit your store a lot: better.
  • Don’t use any data that you wouldn’t want someone else to know about your kids.
  • Relevancy and personalization are hard. Don’t try to jump to the finish. Take your time along the path, learn as you go, and actually ask your customers (I know, crazy right?) for their input.

    In the end, each CMO and retail marketing teams need to figure out how to enhance their customer relationships, through all of their marketing channels. Taking the time to be thoughtful and organized can make a huge impact on your overall results.

    What do you think? Does the tequila help or hurt my column quality? If you disagree and want to start a flame war, please comment below. Or you could be nice like your mother taught you. You can also send me a private message or check out the Twitter discussion on @todd_michaud.