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You Are Doing Your Marketing Wrong! It's Not Entirely Your Fault.

20/10/2014 11:20 BST | Updated 17/12/2014 10:59 GMT

There I said it. That little secret every CMO knows. You are doing your marketing all wrong. And yes, I know you work incredibly hard at doing it right: spending all that money on analytics and lift studies, on brand messaging and optimizing SEM. But deep down you know something isn't right, in fact you've known this for years now, and yet it's been so hard to kick the habit. Can you do it?

So why do I say you are doing your marketing all wrong?

It's pretty simple really: true marketing is what happens every time you go to your favorite local coffee shop. "Good morning Jonathan" they say. "Would you like your usual latte? We have some new muffins that are really great." You are a person, not a coffee searcher, and the discussion is based on all of your previous interactions with the store. In other words there is a relationship, not just a transactional moment.

Getting your marketing right means doing the exact same thing but at scale: every message you send should be individually personalized, and based on understanding all the history that individual has with you. But you aren't doing that are you?

This isn't a far-fetched idea either. Think back to the year 2000. Every morning you would wake up to the thud of direct mail flying through the letterbox. While you bemoaned it then, the reality is that the more advanced practitioners were creating individually personalized ads, based on who you were, and the interactions you had with them. This was 15 years ago, with primitive technology that relied heavily on data from your address and loyalty cards, and had none of the flexibility that the Internet brings us.

So what went wrong? One word: search. We can't entirely blame Google for this - they have built an amazing business that creates huge amounts of value for marketers. However, it pushed us off the road we were following, where we thought about people and their interactions with us. We changed direction and abandoned all these concepts. Instead, we started living in the search engine's world. Before search we would put our customers at the centre of our marketing: understanding who they are, whether they have shopped with us before, and what sort of things they liked - then offering them more of the things we believe they would want to receive. Unfortunately the search engine's world is not built around people at all. It is a world built around keywords. Today the majority of online marketing spend is based on responding to keywords provided by search engine companies. No chance of knowing that I have bought a coffee from you every Tuesday for the last year - I am just one of a million people typing in "coffee". The keyword is accurate, but it is simplistic and does not capture any of the richness of our relationship. Is this really what marketing is meant to be?

Like Pavlov's dogs, we salivate at the idea of finding more of those users with keywords that might match to "coffee". This is all wrong. You commoditize your services, and treat each potential customer as if they were the same, and you have never engaged with them before. How can it be right that both your best customer and someone who has never heard of you receive the exact same ad?

Meanwhile, the rest of digital advertising took a huge leap backwards from the user-centricity and personalization of direct mail and decided to repeat the old CPM model of newspapers and TV. As a result, we were encouraged to buy ads on individual publishers, with no insight about the user's relationship with your brand. So your best customers get random ads with no understanding of your relationship, and a potential future customer is shown a direct response ad when actually you need to explain who you are.

The net result is clear: we are all doing our marketing wrong. We have to abandon the dead-end that search has led us down.

The good news is that the next five years offer the potential to get back on the right path, and with all the benefits that the Internet brings. The future will belong to marketers who are able to switch from this keyword and channel focused strategy, to a user-centric strategy. In this world, your marketing can be as personalized as that local coffee shop, across all marketing channels and at a scale of millions of people.

So how do you do this? There are three key capabilities, that would be understood by those old direct mail marketers. The first is the the ability to store and understand all the interactions our customers have with us. The second is the ability to use new programmatic marketing tools to show individually personalized ads in real-time based on this behavior. The third is to optimize all of this at an individual customer level to maximize the purchases and lifetime value of your customers.

This is remarkable. It is only becoming possible now with a combination of advances in machine learning and the remarkable fall in costs of bandwidth and storage. The impact is going to be as profound as the invention of direct marketing or SEM, and big businesses will be built (or fall), based on the ability of marketers to capture the opportunities of this environment.

The cry of this revolution will be: "I am not a keyword, I am a person!"

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