Connecting With the Anonymous Customer

One of the biggest challenges when trying to connect with customers is to identify them as they move across offline and online channels. Sometimes, it’s even hard to track them between digital channels. Marketing automation solutions have various tools to help identify people who are not in your database, but you still have to have some clue as to who they are or what they are doing to create a record.

As always, data is the key to customer engagement, which is essentially providing consistent, relevant messaging for customers – wherever they are. However, here are the great questions of the age: What data? Which data? How much data?

I recently led a panel at Integrated Marketing Week on managing offline and online marketing together. It’s relatively easy to map out a customer journey, or several typical paths that comprise customer journeys, but it’s hard to make sure that your marketing is relevant, responsive, consistent, and timely across all channels.

“The amount of data and the number of data sources is huge, so making an effective connection is about making the approach to customer journey programmatic as well as responsive,” says Asha Sharma, chief marketing officer (CMO) of, one of the fastest-growing home improvement networks for consumers and professional contractors.

“We do a lot of testing. One of our most successful approaches is to mix a custom print-on demand direct mail piece with digital outreach,” she says.

“In fact, we tested sending a printed postcard to non-responders of the email follow-up to an online transaction, and found a five-time lift,” she continues. “We knew they were interested, but the digital channel didn’t break through. Using offline and online together definitely work.”

Vocus, a cloud application for optimizing PR and marketing, has also tested a lot of integration techniques, says panelist Mark Thabit, vice president of acquisition and customer marketing. Vocus is a B2B marketer, but serves marketers doing both B2B and B2C. “We use funnel conversion metrics to review SEO, email messaging, offline sales proposals, and more – all of those things go into a marketing ‘score’ for each contact, which helps us get the right message to each prospect at every state of the life stage.”

The thing that is true for both marketers is that the lines are blurred between the functions of “marketing,” “product,” “service,” and “distribution.” This is a tremendous opportunity for marketers to have impact at every stage of the customer journey – in collaboration with other departments and business owners. Even our own customers and prospects contribute to the lifecycle and create content for other people. In some ways, the best thing to do for marketers is just get out of the way.

“We have a ‘Growth Engineering’ team in our IT department, which shares goals with our marketing team, and lets us be nimble and flexible in our approaches,” Sharma says. “It also gives us the chance to do testing, prioritize which data sets make a difference for our customers, and truly customize the experience by cohort or segment or even at the individual level.”

“Earned media is also a key element in helping to connect the dots for offline prospects we want to become online customers. PR plus social amplification makes marketing very personal,” Thabit says. “Brand ambassadors literally put their name on their comments, and so that has power beyond the original impression.”

Sustainable market leadership is a big area of investment for Sharma’s brand. “We use content marketing to inspire our audiences, and we use digital messaging to enable their intent to buy. It’s a very effective combination.”

Automation solutions are slowly responding to this need for integrated marketing by offering more programmatic approaches to customer dialogs and life stage trigger messaging. However, there has to be a connection between offline and online in message and timing, because customers are interacting in both dimensions. They expect that brands will recognize them, reward them for their past transactions, and know what sorts of offers would be relevant.

In many ways, consumers are always figuring out how to live a seamless offline and digital life. It’s marketers who are still catching up.

How are you challenging your marketing automation, digital data providers, and CRM vendor to help you meet the customer across channels? Please comment below or let me know if you have a great story to tell for a future column.

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