Marketing is changing. In fact, it is undergoing nothing less than a major transformation. Why? Because customers and consumers are changing. Constant connectivity, instant ability to compare products, services and prices, being able to seek peer recommendations and support in real time, and above all, the proliferation of digital channels, is driving a huge change in how we buy.
The empowered buyer
Empowered consumers know what they want, and how to find out about it. Relying heavily on peer recommendations, they are often way ahead of suppliers, who are no longer a key part of the decision-making process. Indeed, suppliers often enter the game only at the point of purchase. That doesnt leave marketers much scope for influencing.
At the same time, there has been an explosion of data. Companies now know much more about the people buying their products, thanks to Big Data and analytics. But there is a huge difference between big data and what we might call right data, or the data that is needed to target customers effectively.
This proliferation of channels and data has led to marketers needing to operate both creatively and analytically: left and right brain in action at the same time. No wonder its being described as a transformation.
Customers are using a wide range of different channels to buy. But customers dont think of it as a multi-channel world. Thats marketing-speak.
They think of it as doing what they want in the most convenient way.
And thats crucial. Marketers need to understand that if you wish to close the sale, you need to provide what customers want, in the way that is most convenient to them. And thats going to be slightly different for everyone. But you also need to make sure that the experience is consistent across the multiple channels, so that using one channel in particular isnt a disadvantage. Customers want to switch between channels and get the same experience.
That brings us back to big data vs right data. Data is the key to understanding individual wants and needs. But its also key to consistency across channels, because there can be no consistency without consistent data.
The impact on marketing
The effect on marketing is huge. The digital revolution has brought new competitors and changed the way that companies and customers do business. The proliferation of channels means that marketers are simply unable to control all of them. People want to connect with individuals, not with an automaton spouting lines to take, and so brands have to open up communication channels. Giving everyone responsibility for interacting with customers is both hugely empowering for staff and customers, and very scary for marketers. And the potential for getting it wrong, and being punished for that, increases exponentially. Customers are also quicker to express dissatisfaction publicly.
While more channels means more information about customers, it brings its own challenges. When you think about how many different identities someone may be using across all their social media channels, from Facebook, through Twitter, Skype, and other logins, to fixed line and mobile telecoms, there is a lot of scope for failing to connect up separate pieces of information about any one individual customer. There are also plenty of technical challenges in trying to make those connections and draw inferences that can support marketing.
Its also very hard to prove return on investment for marketing activity in a world with so many channels. Does activity in one channel affect sales through another? Almost certainly, but it is not easy to prove. At the same time, money is getting tighter and tighter. The challenge for marketers is to ensure that new projects are only approved if they generate proven value and give a quick return on investment. Every penny of the marketing budget must be made to count.
A new marketing mandate
What this adds up to is a change in the marketing mandate. Marketers are now expected to take responsibility across four key areas:
- The customer experience, where marketers are expected to deliver a branded customer experience both inside and outside of marketing;
- The marketing campaign itself, where customers expect integrated multi-channel conversations that happen in real time;
- The brand, where marketers have a key role in sustaining brand health even as the world changes around them; and
- Insights and analytics, using data to generate actionable insights.
Implications for data centre marketers
The proliferation of digital channels has created huge challenges for marketers. Fortunately, its also brought massive opportunities. Data centres need to recognise that they need to appeal to not just the IT stakeholders; it is now critical that data centre deliverables are presented in a way that line of business manager can understand.
Co-location and hosting providers need to go one step further – provide communications assets that can be used by your customers to tell the story to theirs. After all, the final destination for their customer data is your data centre, so explaining resilience, security and compliance needs to be aligned with your investments.