Multi-channel marketing is the new reality. So is a deluge of data about what is happening in each of them. Both of which make getting a useful insight into how well marketing is performing hard to achieve. Unless you automate as much as possible, says David Reed.
“It’s a King Canute moment.” That is how one technology vendor sums up the challenges being faced by marketers when it comes to managing their daily tasks. It means that the tide is coming in and marketers can not call on any divine force to keep it back - they must accept the waters are rising and plan accordingly.
While many marketing departments have yet to work out what to do, they are at least aware of the problem. In late 2011, IBM asked 1,700 chief marketing officers what their biggest challenges were. Among those based in the UK, 87 per cent said the explosion of data and 80 per cent named the multiplying number of channels and devices they had to deal with.
What is causing these waters to rise is simple - consumer behaviour. “We are demanding that companies be aware of all our interactions across every channel and to act on the signs we are throwing off in them,” says Andrew Jackson-Proes, sales leader, UK and Ireland, enterprise marketing management at IBM.
That may look easy to a consumer accessing a business online through a single device and visiting individual outlets. But for the business on the other side it is a problem often compounded by organisational silos. “Really successful marketers see marketing as part of a larger picture - meeting the needs of the consumer like a good waiter in a restaurant,” says Jackson-Proes.
Managing that across sales, marketing, service and dot.com can not be done using manual processes. It demands automation of the operational dimensions - which few marketers relish - using multi-channel campaign management, combined with the oversight provided by marketing resource management (MRM) tools.
Unlike previous attempts to introduce technology into marketing, such as many ill-fated CRM projects, with multi-channel marketing the approach is different. For one thing, “financial directors are not willing to wait,” he says. That means adopting a modular programme, introducing appropriate solutions and seeing payback within the same year. As a result, the function can progress towards its ultimate strategic goal while gaining short-term operational improvements.
Building a business case for investment into marketing automation is easier with this combined horizon. As Martin Smith, head of marketing at Neolane, says: “It is not only about managing channels to execute a campaign, it is also how to optimise them - that is the number one issue. In conversations with clients, one of the biggest concerns is whether they are over-marketing, for example by doing too much in social.”
It is easy for marketing to be pushed towards a channel which is the flavour of the moment. “We see clients where the managing director has said, ‘we need a social strategy’, so the whole marketing department runs around to try and figure that out,” says Smith. The result is often a new silo, based around a guru figure, with little integration with other channels.
“Through automation and optimisation, you can get a centralised view and ensure you don’t over-commit and also ensure you remain consistent,” he says. Keeping marketing messages aligned across channels meets that consumer demand while also avoiding some of the conflict which can trip up a brand, such as offering higher rewards or discounts in one channel.
Campaign management also helps marketing on the journey towards better measurement which remains a challenge. “The whole attribution area can be difficult, together with understanding where you are on budget compared to spend,” says Smith. Software can help to identify where a halo effect is created by a channel that might otherwise get pulled based on its direct ROI, for example.
This is an area in which marketing has historically struggled and where that rising tide is making good practice harder to achieve. As Serge Milbank, managing director of Stream:20, a consultancy that benchmarks and advises on digital marketing capabilities, says: “As an industry we are swimming around in data – some relevant and some not so relevant when making spend-based decisions. We believe the key success factor is to have robust tracking in place of marketing source of sales followed by decision-ready data in reporting.”
He adds: “Having these two factors in place facilitates timely reporting - weekly, daily, even hourly if you’re so inclined. Once this is in place, agility improves and, assuming the finance team has bought in, allows you to move budget between channels quickly, then react to changes in market conditions, or react to successes and failures in your targeting strategies. Overspending is minimised in these scenarios.”
If top-down instructions to adopt a new strategy can drag marketing in a certain direction, so can bottom-up skills biases. Digital marketers are more likely to be numerate, maths or economics graduates than the more arts-based practitioners of brand marketing. That can mean they win the numbers competition, not necessarily fairly.
Milbank says that marketing needs to be aware of how changing skills affect its capabilities. “How can teams manage this change? We would argue that continued benchmarking of what the team is doing - next to what the rest of the industry is doing - is key. This can be systematically done and plans can be put in place to keep businesses ahead of the curve,” he says.
Alongside campaign management automation and benchmarking, the use of MRM is also helping marketers to cope with challenges and skills gaps. “We tend to forget that execution of campaigns is the easy part. Developing, planning, co-ordinating and all the other things that are required are the hard parts,” says Lorna Loney, senior applications consultant at Aprimo.
“What we tend to hear is that marketers don’t realise they need to manage those campaign issues better until something goes wrong, for example, they are sending an email out, but the microsite is not ready. All it takes for a cross-channel campaign to fail is for one element to be missing, then the whole thing falls apart,” she says.
In the worst-case scenario, lack of visibility end-to-end along the marketing process can allow one of those elements to trip up the rest. One media owner failed to get its Christmas offer to market because a single sales manager kept refusing to sign off the creative, leading to a million-pound overspend and a campaign that was delayed until January and unlikely to have reached its target as a result.
“Marketing doesn’t have the luxury of six months to develop a campaign anymore,” notes Loney. Nor do most marketers relish managing the operational aspects of getting high-volume, multi-channel campaigns out of the door. The only sensible thing is to automate as much as possible and use the insights that result to argue for more budget or resource. It won’t stop the tide from rising - but it will keep you afloat.