People-Based Marketing Offers Great Promise, But Ad Hoc Processes Slow Scale-Up

Data-Driven Thinking" is written by members of the media community and contains fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media.

Today’s column is written by Stephanie Russell, vice president of enterprise solutions at Merkle

Data-driven marketers now have the ability to target individual people – not just cookies – in so many types of media, including Facebook, Twitter, Google, AOL and a number of other platforms. Myriad premium publishers are also making their way onto the scene.

Even with cookie-based platforms, there is great improvement in the ability to more closely connect individual-level data and insights, making ad spend in the open web better aligned to people.

The scale and reach of these people-based media are expanding significantly, which I expect will only continue. Despite the growing inventory, however, advertisers are not fully realizing the value of people-based marketing.

For many, these marketing initiatives draw on ad hoc processes, with emailed business requirements and a one-time or occasional customer list pulled from an operational system. Files get uploaded and pushed into a people platform, often sporadically due to the manual nature of the process, even if the initial proof-of-concept campaigns hit ROI targets.

In some cases, the process is built to be easily repeated but still typically stands alone. More often than not, whether ad hoc or consistently executed, these campaigns are not a connected part of an integrated marketing strategy. Therefore, they often don’t have a true home in the marketing ecosystem.

Learning From The Past

In order to truly scale people-based marketing, it should become an integrated part of marketing activities. It must be coordinated and executed with a cohesive strategy and process, together with other precision media and flanked with thoughtful, broad-reach impressions.

Evolution of the process should follow other types of activities perfected by the industry. Over the past quarter century, for example, marketers have honed the strategy, analytical skills, technology and end-to-end processes to optimize direct marketing programs using the most addressable of media:  direct mail, phone and, most recently, email. As processing power grew, we developed the ability to sort and sift through tens and sometimes hundreds of millions of records.

Over time, the process became more manageable, allowing advertisers to deploy increasingly complex analytics to make decisions around audience, offer, content and contact cadence. Predictive analytics have allowed us to optimize engagement, purchase propensity and lifetime value. Cloning techniques support better reach with the ability to find lookalikes in other scaled populations, using a consistent data asset as a bridge.

Along with predictive techniques in precision marketing, other capabilities followed suit, such as micro-segmentation and complex multivariate, incremental and real-time subject line and content testing. With this increased sophistication, campaigns increased in complexity, while execution tools and processes kept pace.

Achieving Scale

The combination of these skillsets results in what we think of as advanced database marketing. But they have yet to pervade our digital marketing strategies in a consistent way. People-based digital marketing programs present an ideal opportunity to leverage those skills, applied in digital platforms. The tools and infrastructure that enable all of these programs are built on the same granular level of data: the person.

To achieve scale and efficiency, people-based digital programs should be integrated into existing CRM and database marketing structures and processes. The data integration and management processes that establish identity, assign attributes and prepare audiences for direct mail, email and telemarketing campaigns are the same as those that should feed people-based digital campaigns. The processes also consider audience selection, suppression, content and testing, all of which are techniques required for optimized digital media.

This allows for better decisions and efficiency in process. In addition, this enables the planning and execution of integrated campaigns, which improves effectiveness. Using the same tools for audience selection in email as for a Tailored Audiences campaign in Twitter or Managed Custom Audiences campaign in Facebook, for example, allows for the creation of multimedia, multitouch campaigns while readily overlaying contact and creative testing.

It’s critical to draw on the expertise of database marketing and CRM people, too, in addition to digital marketing talent. Ideally, people-based digital programs are designed, managed and optimized in concert with other media by a cross-functional team. It is important that ownership of these precision media be more fully consolidated so that old and new skills come together in a blended fashion.

This focus on ownership and collaboration, coupled with the extension of classic tools and processes into digital, can help scale high-performance, people-based digital marketing.

Making It Happen

To build this more cohesive team and new approach, brands should draw on the same principles of any other marketing transformation. They should find a place to start small and pull together some of their best and brightest people who have both the time and ability to collaborate closely.

Brands should make it a priority to share their knowledge of the mechanics of database marketing and digital marketing. They should find a set of campaigns or, better yet, a cohesive program to plan and deploy in a thoughtful, people-based way that draws on the best practices of database marketing.

They must give themselves room – in terms of both budget and time, within reason – to test and learn while measuring and tracking performance. Change is not free and as teams get up and running it will be slower and harder than running in silos. It is critical to have a measurement plan, track success, socialize that success and use it as a starting point for this evolution.

Follow Merkle (@MerkleCRM) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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