Marketers have a whole range of tools to provide optimum service to customers. Ironically, however, those solutions can also lead to new problems, such as data silos and an inconsistent customer experience. How do you avoid getting entangled in a web of marketing tools?
The number of solutions available to marketers has grown immensely. Scott Brinker, an expert in the field of marketing technology, counted over 3,500 solutions in 2016, an increase of 87% compared to 2015.
Three downsides to the abundance of options
In theory, you could pursue a best-of-breed strategy, selecting the most suitable solution in each category. But in practice, these solutions come with a variety of obstacles and difficulties.
1. Emergence of data silos due to a multitude of tools
You run the risk that every department (and even individual employees) will use their favorite tools instead of talking with each other face to face. A survey has shown that 67% of senior marketers acknowledge the value of marketing technology, but only three percent see that these tools also provide contributions outside their own department.
A big disadvantage of this inward perspective is the possible creation of data silos, which will make it impossible to get a good 360-degree view of the customer. Data regarding personal preferences, habits, customer satisfaction, and previous purchases is walled off, isolated in one place. As a result, you end up having trouble understanding the customer and missing out on opportunities to increase your sales.
2. Inconsistent customer experience
Those data silos – as well as the lack of insight into customer behavior – are at the expense of customer experience. The consumer expects a consistent customer experience during each and every contact moment. All channels of communication – the website, the newsletter, social media, and the chat bots – have to work together to enhance the brand experience.
An example: A customer from Company X receives an email with an offer for a new smartphone. Intrigued, he clicks on the call to action. The website has exactly the same branding as the email and adapts to the visitor’s preferences. While placing an order, the customer calls the sales department, which has an excellent overview of the most frequently asked questions on the phone.
The package arrives, but a part is missing. The customer contacts customer service by chat. The employees immediately know who they are dealing with and can see that this customer also has another big order in the pipeline. Company X always has a clear overview of the customer… and the customer has a guaranteed, consistent experience.
A muddled patchwork involving fragmented solutions generally makes it harder to ensure a high-quality customer experience, especially when those solutions are not integrated, or hardly at all.
3. Gaps and overlap in functionality
If you use a different tool for each specific marketing purpose, then you may eventually pay over and over for almost exactly the same functionality. In addition, you lack a single source of truth. Suppose you have two tools that measure website traffic, but both come up with totally different numbers. Which number will you trust?
Another risk you run is the lack of functionality to fully utilize a tool’s potential. For instance, you might have one tool for keyword research to create relevant content and a different solution to find the best influencers. Useful, but only if you can also measure the results of your efforts. And you might need to find yet another tool for that.
A tangled web of possible causes
These problems sometimes arise from poor administration, but the situation is often not that cut and dry. For instance, an innovative corporate culture could offer a good setting to give people more freedom to pick their own tools. In addition, good administration and systems integration often unavoidably involve high costs, since more people may be needed to keep everything running smoothly and up to date. An update for one of the systems could disrupt the entire data landscape.
Effective digital marketing starts with a clear data ecosystem
Using this step-by-step plan, you can create a solid foundation to create happy customers:
1. Identify all the touch points
Map the channels of communication that your customers use and the times that interaction takes place. What is their first point of contact with your brand or products? How do they then choose which products they want to buy, and how does the purchasing process go? And what happens after purchase, for instance if the customer is not satisfied or has other valuable feedback? This approach allows you to assemble a complete overview of the customer journey.
2. Take stock of all the systems
The next step is an inventory of all solutions that are used at each touch point and which types of data are currently being compiled by each solution – or could be. Try to be as comprehensive as possible, even when dealing with marketing tools that are used by colleagues from a different department. If you map it all out visually, you can see at a glance where the main issues are.
Many organizations buy a separate solution for each channel of communication. That is pointless, as new channels are constantly added or abandoned as they become obsolete. It is better to provide a solid foundation to connect all those channels. In that situation, it is easy to add or remove channels. Once you have set up your organization that way, you will always have consistent information at your disposal.
3. Assess your data ecosystem
Take a critical look at the bigger picture. Which systems are connected to each other, and which tools are merely unintegrated add-ons? Where do you see data silos emerging, and where does data offer untapped potential? Which solutions have become redundant? And which touch points are currently outside the scope of your focus, but might be able to provide useful customer data? Also consider the possible solutions in terms of costs.
In addition, look from the customer’s perspective. How can your data ecosystem contribute to a better customer experience? For example, consider real-time offers: It becomes increasingly important to come up with attractive offers for the customer within fractions of a second. In order to do that, you will need to have your data processes in order.
4. Assess the severity of the situation
Some conclusions can already be drawn on the basis of this exploratory study. Is your data ecosystem more or less in order? Do you essentially only need to shift focus a bit, such as phasing out a tool that generates static in the system, or do you need to integrate two key systems? Or is it more cost-efficient in the long term to make a step-by-step transition to a multi-functional platform?
5. Define a strategy
Optimizing your data ecosystem is not a one-time exercise. It takes a long-term, systematic approach and a broad overview of the organization. There is no point restructuring your marketing activities, for instance, if the processes used in the sales department remain unchanged. Keep on trying, even when faced with adversity. And put some effort into pilots to test new systems.
The success of data-driven marketing stands or falls with a clearly structured data landscape. Organizations often have vast amounts of data at their disposal, but have yet to extract any useful insights from all that data. New technology gives marketers more options than ever to retain customers. More isn’t always better, though – especially when it comes to tools.
Imprecise methods have hobbled marketing in an increasingly data-driven era, but we’re on the verge of a breakthrough in Influencing Customers Through Infinite Personalization.