As the old days of Marketing Communications have been replaced by Marketing Technologies, marketers themselves have evolved from the days of “spray and pray” marketing to embrace new technologies, tools, and analytics.

Marketers of the future can be found at the intersection of marketing and information technology. Traditionally, marketers focused on things such as product, place, price, promotion, focus groups, R&D, pilot testing, patents, and customer experience. Nowadays, a marketer also has to have some degree of expertise in business intelligence, website analytics, social listening and response, SEO/SEM, multi-variable testing, automated project management, online team collaboration tools, website heuristics, and predictive modeling—just to name a few.

The future role of a marketer (though some may contend it’s already here) is illustrated below:

  • Combines creativity with scientific processes and analytics to target and market to individuals with a high proclivity to purchase
  • Humanizes the company by communicating with individual purchasers in real time and in a relevant manner to establish “personal” connections
  • Identifies future customers based on a combination of company data, third party data, and online social data
  • Combines historical data with current market trends to ideate new market offerings with a higher probability of success

Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet approach to understanding and creating an accurate customer profile. However, there are a variety of tools that can be used to attract, educate, entice, evaluate, and track potential customers, all while improving their experience with your brand.

Website Heuristic Analysis

A usability analyst can perform a website heuristic evaluation to identify usability problems with site design, judge compliance with recognized usability principles, and report results faster than a lengthy usability test.

Usability issues can be categorized in the following areas:

  • Visibility of system status
  • Match between system and the world
  • User control and freedom
  • Consistency and standards
  • Error prevention
  • Recognition rather than recall
  • Flexibility and efficiency
  • Aesthetic and minimalistic design
  • Ability to diagnose and recover from errors
  • Help and documentation

The four key areas of focus for the evaluation are structure, navigation, content, and branding.

During the website design evaluation phase, the analyst determines whether the current design:

  • Focuses on the users and their tasks, and not just the technology
  • Considers function first and presentation later
  • Conforms to the user’s view of the task
  • Is designed for the common case
  • Doesn’t distract users from their goals
  • Facilitates learning
  • Delivers information and not just data
  • Is designed for responsiveness

If you hire an external usability analyst, you can have them evaluate just the home page or the home page and any combination of supporting pages and materials. Pricing for their services depend on how wide or deep you want to go in your site analysis.

Social Media

There are so many customers using so many devices to make comments at all times of the day and night about products, services, responsiveness, pricing, locations, staff, employment, making returns, and anything else on their minds.

Although some of these comments may come across as complaints, they should be seen as unsolicited morsels of customer insight. Unfortunately, many companies are not gathering, organizing, and distributing this insight internally. Nor are they directly interacting with customers who take their time to leave comments across various social media platforms. For years, companies have been creating world-class call centers to provide the highest level of support to users. But if that same level of support is not provided online, they are missing out on 33 percent of their customers who prefer online communication to phone. “Voice of the Customer” now has to include online messages.

Even if the company isn’t listening to these social messages, it’s a good bet that their competitors are. Strong competitors monitor competitors’ customer comments to pick up nuggets of information. Meanwhile, unmonitored consumers establish a groundswell of complaints that go on unaddressed.

Following are a few interesting social statistics:

  • 61 percent of people check one or more social media networks within five minutes of waking up.
  • 75 percent do so within fifteen minutes before going to sleep.
  • By the year 2020, there will be almost 3 billion social media users globally, with the highest concentration being in the United States, where an estimated 78 percent of the population will have one or more social media profiles.
  • The average user spends 118 minutes per day on social media.

Here is a view of the social interactions we were seeing every sixty seconds in 2016:

  • 29 million WhatsApp messages
  • 3.8 million Google searches
  • 3.3 million Facebook posts
  • 450,000 Tweets
  • 150,000 Emails sent
  • 66,000 Instagram posts
  • 500 hours of YouTube videos uploaded

Establishing a Social Program

There are five key ingredients to a successful social program:

  1. A cohesive social media strategy
    1. Overall strategy
    2. Channel purpose and content guide for each platform
    3. Listening guide
    4. Engagement plan
  2. Compelling creative content
    1. Proactive content: content that drives views, likes, reactions, shares, comments, and clicks
    2. Reactive content: content that joins the conversation based on external cues
  3. Carefully executed social ad spend
    1. Limited to the best social channels for your brand
    2. Strictly adherent to the budget, which can be refined as necessary
  4. Consistent engagement and customer care
    1. Social response teams working 24×7×365. One social complaint can become a huge issue overnight.
    2. Channel-specific and cue-based monitoring and engagement
    3. Multilingual, cross-platform support
  5. Social analytics backing every facet
    1. Cross-platform performance baseline (these are increasingly difficult to establish, with every platform storing data differently)
    2. Cadre of best-in-class analytical tools to provide regular status reporting, self-serve analysis, customized ad-hoc reporting, and data collection services
    3. Key growth metrics: overall audience, reach, engagement, connections

Tricks of the Search Engine Trade

The old-school way of choosing keywords was based on what a business owner or marketer thought customers were looking for. For example, if a local business sold high-end shoes, the marketer would choose keywords like “High-end shoe store,” “Shoe boutique,” or “Men’s shoes.” However, we know now that short-tailed keywords like these are always more competitive, and take longer to move up the page chain. After determining your keywords, it is important to evaluate search volume for each and then isolate your geo modifiers to specific areas (i.e. “Men’s shoes San Antonio”). Doing this will speed up your Search Engine Optimization (SEO) rankings, helping you to establish dominance.

When considering Search Engine Marketing (SEM), or pay-per-click, conventional wisdom would say to go after the biggest market. For example, let’s say you were going to use the keyword “Dentist San Francisco.” There would be high search volume for this term, meaning competition and price per click would also be higher. The average sale value for a dental treatment is $350 to $1,000, and you’d be paying $9 to $12 per click. Wouldn’t it be a better use of marketing spend to be a bit more targeted? Consider the term “Cosmetic Dentist San Francisco.” In this case, the search volume and competition is lower, which means the average cost-per-click is lower (Four to seven dollars), as is the time to get on the first page (four to six months versus nine to twelve in the prior example).

Now, let’s go a step further and talk about incorporating video into your SEO or SEM campaign. Customers have increasingly short attention spans. Online, the ad and video attention span has gone from eight seconds to six. Clients and customers want information quickly, and a video can deliver plenty in thirty seconds or less. Also, video ranks higher and more quickly than plain text sites, not to mention that video also converts at a 3X higher rate than text. Currently, not as many companies are incorporating video with their online ads, so doing so can help distinguish you from your competitors.

YouTube is the second largest search engine in the world. They have more than 3 billion searches each month and hundreds of hours of video uploaded every minute. They have more searches than Bing, Yahoo, and AOL combined. Video allows for visual branding and message control, and it can be hyper-targeted based on customer interest. There are two types of video pay-per-click ads: instream ads and in-display ads.

Instream ads play just before the video a user wants to see, and you’re only charged if that viewer watches the ad past the “skip” feature. They can be targeted toward the type of video being watched, and they cost significantly less than traditional pay-per-click search engine “search” clicks. If nothing else, you get five free seconds of advertising—use them well. So many times, the five seconds are taken up by music and scenery prior to the company’s message beginning.

In-display ads are suggested videos displayed to the right of the video a viewer is watching, and your pay-per-click (PPC) budget is charged only if a customer clicks to watch your video. This feature can provide you with thousands of free impressions each day, and it typically costs less than instream. In-display ads and videos have some of the highest conversion rates and can be shown in the “Search” or “Up Next” areas on YouTube.

Multi-Variable Testing

Multi-variable testing (MVT), sometimes referred to as multi-variate testing, is a scientific approach to marketing research. It employs the concept of testing various recipes against each other to determine the best-performing combination of factors.

For those companies that have exhausted obvious sales and marketing strategies over the years, this controlled, scientific approach can uncover new methodologies to increase growth. The MVT process consists of three key steps:

  1. Identifying ideas and hypotheses: to kick off the process, the organization identifies potential improvement ideas.
  2. Evaluating and statistically testing their impact on business objectives: next, they use MVT to test 20 to 30 practical, easy-to-implement, cost-effective ideas.
  3. Deploying the positive strategies: Then, they implement the helpful ideas and combinations of ideas.

Interestingly enough, according to QualPro Inc., a third-party leader in the MVT space, 53 percent of ideas tested would make no difference, 22 percent would actually hurt the organization, and 25 percent could help.

Let’s say you had seventeen factors you wanted to test. This could be anything from a management bonus plan to newspaper inserts. Each factor would be tested in status quo mode (-), meaning whatever is being done would stay the same as well as in test mode (+), meaning the factor has been changed, and the change is being tested. The screening test would look like the image that follows, where the factors are horizontal and the recipes (A – S) are vertical. In this illustration, there are seventeen factors and twenty recipes. Each recipe would be carried out by a particular store location (twenty stores). This combination of factors and recipes represent 131,072 potential outcomes.

It is important to have an established baseline prior to the test so that, once it’s concluded, the factors of each recipe can be broken out to determine which had helped, hurt, or had no impact. In this particular test, there was a 23 percent improvement in sales over the prior year during the MVT test. Based upon the results of the test there, were four factors which really moved the needle. After implementing just these four factors, sales increased by nearly 50 percent.

Business Intelligence

Your data knows more than it’s telling you. Beyond governance, data cleansing, information security, and availability, which represent the fundamentals of information management, business intelligence is insight derived from raw customer data through a series of hypothesis testing by data analysts, detectives, and scientists.

Marketing is one of the largest consumers of data, and attaining that data used to be costly. Now, external datasets are publicly available, and data governance (MDM standards) has given companies the ability to relate these datasets with internal data. Companies want to combine internal and external data sources, extract and present relevant data, and use data to solve problems and uncover market opportunities.

Internal Data Goals

  • Manage… all of the data
  • Leverage… information and opportunities
  • Integrate… applications and devices
  • Store… data inexpensively
  • Access… data anytime, anywhere

Here’s a quick example of how utilizing business intelligence tools helped one retailer.

A large national retailer was launching a layaway initiative. Incoming data was spread across numerous systems, and the data analysts had access to all data sources. Current promotional efforts were minimal for the layaway category, so a baseline was easily established.

The first step was to form a hypothesis based on an understanding of the business expectations and available data. The hypothesis was, “We could relate the applicable datasets to increase a department’s layaway sales through targeted marketing and promotional efforts.”

Next, data was extracted from the CRM, loyalty, transactional, and product databases, placed into a DataMart, and then loaded into Tableau. During the data discovery process, the product database allowed for analysis of who’s buying what, when, and for how much. The loyalty database could be used to tie coupon value back to total cost to ensure gross profit during a layaway campaign. Statistical analysis showed that more than 50 percent of layaway customers signed up for text or email notifications.

Further research determined that the target for the layaway initiative should be customers who had a PS4 or Xbox One gaming system on layaway without any outstanding payments. These were the top two products placed on layaway at this retailer.

A digital coupon sent via text message offered 20 percent off a video game as long as it was added to a customer’s layaway basket. This discount still allowed for positive gross profit, and within one day of the coupon release, video game sales increased by 57 percent.

Tony Streeter is the Chief Marketing Officer, SVP at Y&L Consulting, Inc. in San Antonio, Texas. Mr. Streeter has led new product development, Ecommerce marketing, and integrated platform marketing initiatives for major companies such as Harland Clarke, Deluxe Corporation and RR Donnelley. Currently, Mr. Streeter leads marketing and branding initiatives for Y&L Consulting, a comprehensive IT Services & Solutions company specializing in IT Development, Information Management/BI, and Service Desk Services.