Fully automated: do you have a short-sighted view of engagement marketing?

Do you remember a time, not so long ago, when marketers where split into two camps? The profession was polarised between the brand marketers, who almost certainly had a ponytail and an expensive taste in clothes, and the direct marketers, with short hair and inexpensive suits in various shades of grey.

The brand marketer, teeming with confidence and never short of ideas, reckoned they implicitly understood their customers and could whittle down concepts to bite-sized messages that would instantly resonate with them. Their weakness was that, short of the occasional focus group, they didn’t have much in the way of metrics to demonstrate their worth. Clearly they contributed to sales, but nobody could be sure to what extent. Or whether the brand approach they chucked away could actually have done better than the one they ran with.

Direct marketers had the opposite problem. They had numbers coming out their ears. They A-B tested each mailer they sent out, bought half the country’s phone numbers to track the origin of each lead, and left nothing to instinct. Headlines, colours, images, formats, all were subject to rigorous analysis and a marketer knew the job had been done well when the maximum number of responses had been achieved with the least possible investment.

Each approach had its strengths and weaknesses and, in an ideal world, these two marketing types would be genetically re-engineered into an all-round marketer. The brand marketer is vital because maximising the perceived value of a product is crucial to delivering future cost effective campaigns. If someone already likes your brand it’ll cost less to convince them to buy from you, and they’ll be prepared to pay more for it. Direct marketers added accountability to the marketing process, but the short-term focus ignored these benefits of brand-building.

The internet has changed all that. It provides advertising opportunities that can build brands as effectively as traditional media but in more tightly defined market segments. At the same time, the ability to track interactions makes it the most effective direct marketing medium there is. Plus it’s cheap. There’s no need for a postage stamp.

All of a sudden the opportunity is there to merge brand and direct marketing into one, all-encompassing discipline.

Except, I’m not sure it’s worked out like that. It seems the direct marketers have moved to the Internet and the brand crowd are still booking their slots on television, maybe adding some video pre-rolls online if it doesn’t cost too much.

The evidence can be found in the recent The Economist intelligence Unit research into ‘The Rise of the Marketer’. It’s a global survey, sponsored by Marketo, which showed almost half of respondents in Australia and New Zealand (ANZ) saw customer acquisition as the top area of investment over the next 12 months.  That’s the way direct marketers think. In other words, ‘How do I get more sales quickly?’ The brand marketer would be focused on lifetime value and brand equity – anything to avoid price erosion.

As I look through the results of this research I see more evidence of direct-marketing short-termism than value-building brand thinking. Marketers see a need to manage customer engagement, but two thirds see engagement as a means of delivering customer renewals and repeat purchases. Less than 20 percent of ANZ marketers related engagement to raising brand awareness. 

Marketers know their world is changing: three quarters recognise that they will need to transform the structure and design of their marketing organisation in the next few years.  They understand that technology will play a part. Marketing automation tools will help to track interactions throughout the customer journey – the sort of analysis that direct marketers would only have dreamt of years ago. 

But they ignore the importance of brand to their detriment. Customer interactions need to focus as much on the value of a product as it does pushing for an early sale. And value is enhanced using the tools that brand marketers have mastered since the sixties – clever ideas, delivered in a way that leaves the customer feeling happier. 

Our new marketer needs to spend as much time asking, ‘how can I get these people to believe our products are worth paying more for?’ as they do asking ‘how can I get them to buy?’ The two are not mutually exclusive – in both cases, information is key. As advertising maestro David Ogilvy put it, “The more informative your advertising, the more persuasive it will be”.

If marketers can look at both these questions in equal measure then the amalgamation is complete and we will have a new breed of super-marketer. We’re a way off that yet, though. It seems, in this part of the world at least, the focus is on today’s sales. Yet, with the right analytics, marketers are closer than ever to being able to demonstrate the power of brand.

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