Forget Segmentation: It’s Time to Engage

  |  October 15, 2012   |  Comments

The faster consumers interact with our brands, the faster we need to respond. Segmentation alone doesn't keep up.

For years, data-driven marketers have focused on segmentation as the Holy Grail of relevancy. The rise of sophisticated marketing automation tools as well as the fragmentation and complexity of data has deemed segmentation insufficient in and of itself. Today, segmentation alone is not a guarantee of direct marketing success. It's a start, but it isn't dynamic enough to truly engage with customers and other audiences.

Increasingly, consumers and business professionals demand offers, outreach, and an overall experience tailored to their particular preferences. They know we have data on them; they know they leave a digital trail of their interests and activities across the Internet. They expect us to use that data responsibly. They expect us to recognize them, to know what products and services they already use. And they expect that their loyalty and celebration of our brand will translate to special treatment.

Advanced marketing automation technology now has matured to unlock the mysteries of consumer data so that marketers can enable and encourage fantastic and customized consumer experiences. The biggest challenge is to analyze that data to develop the most accurate view of a customer and merge each life stage with the most relevant content or interaction. At that point, the best thing a marketer can do is trust the data, use it as part of an automated campaign management program, and get out of the way.

Developing a full picture storyboard for your digital customers requires thinking outside the channel. Although most of our data comes from email interactions, we can't work from email data alone. The more channels a marketer is analyzing, the greater the chance for success. A truly comprehensive picture of the customer can only be created when marketers extract data from all sources, including email, text messages, and social. The best campaigns tap into these channels in real time, connect the dots, and develop a greater understanding of what customers want.

The next step is to divide your targets into the right segments. But what is the "right" segmentation? Well, if you define "right" in terms of customer satisfaction, response, and spend (revenue) - and that's certainly how I would define it - then accuracy is crucial because consumers and business professionals interact with our brands across a constantly evolving mix of digital channels, time spans, sessions, live events, in-store, and social networks.

Plus, they interact using multiple devices and in varied environments. Marketers who do segmentation from a combined marketing database have a single source of truth for understanding customer status and interest. What is segmentation but a snapshot of the customer's interests and value? Isolating that segment point in time, marketers can engage and be part of the ongoing interaction stream, rather than responding to actions that are old, outdated, or overridden by more current events.

In reality, correct segmentation is just another way to talk about good data management. Email marketers who spawn broadcast or trigger campaigns from a central digital database are more likely to get it right because they can respond quickly to the "complete customer," rather than just the customer we know over email. No customer or subscriber only interacts with a brand via email. So, how could messaging that is limited to email data be relevant or engaging? We must move beyond channels to view, manage, and report on data at the subscriber level.

Now that the data is manageable and accessible, marketers have the chance to stand up for our customer's satisfaction. Refuse to send generic messages, even when it might seem easiest to just send an email blast. Don't lose sight of the larger customer journey in the urge to get a quick-hit response or to create some short-lived social bump of activity. Engagement yields much more promising opportunities. Don't just send more messages. Send more relevant messages through more channels to address how prospects interact with your brand across email, SMS, social, and in person. Let the automation technology analyze the data, providing new insights, and then improve the cycle again and again.

In this way, marketers move responsibly beyond segmentation to engagement. It's part philosophy, part technology, part data management, and part creative presentation of offers. The faster consumers interact with our brands, the faster we need to respond. Segmentation alone doesn't keep up.

What are you doing to engage with customers across the spectrum of data-driven marketing? Please share ideas below so we can learn together.

Target Your Customers image on home page via Shutterstock.



Stephanie Miller

Stephanie Miller is a partner with brand and marketing technology strategy firm TopRight Partners, which helps customers use the technology they have today to do the marketing they want to do today and tomorrow. She is a relentless customer advocate and a champion for marketers creating memorable customer experiences. A digital marketing and CRM expert, she helps sophisticated marketers balance the right mix of people, process, and technology to optimize a data-driven content marketing strategy. She speaks and writes regularly and leads several industry-wide initiatives. Feedback and column ideas most welcome, to smiller AT toprightpartners DOT com or @stephanieSAM.

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