Overcoming Barriers To Relevance

Forrester’s Marketing Forum in Los Angeles two weeks ago was a terrific gathering of senior marketing folks exploring all of the aspects and complexities related to customer engagement. One of the keynote speakers, Casey Jones, vice president of marketing at Dell, caught my attention with his declaration: “Relevance is God!”

At first blush, it wasn’t apparent that Casey’s presentation was about customer relevance at all. His introduction centered on Dell’s initiative with WPP to streamline the number of agencies and marketing service providers it works with. In my experience, cost is often a key driver for such initiatives. But Casey passionately outlined why the customer is the driving force for the Dell initiative.

Dell’s answer to increasing customer relevance will create a new generation of agency and marketing services organization that centers and integrates its efforts around the customer. A massive and risky undertaking by any measure.

Casey’s presentation was of particular interest to me because I’ve been examining relevance for much of the last three months. Supported by my partner, Responsys, I’ve looked at barriers to relevance and developed tools to help marketers assess their organizational capabilities and establish a tactical action plan to increase relevance.

During the research, I interviewed dozens of marketers. They agree that increasing customer relevance is critical as response rates to outbound push communications decline and customers, overwhelmed by marketing content, increasingly tune out. Just as marketers are well aware of the need for relevance, they struggle to make progress given day-to-day operational pressures, budget issues, lack of internal skills, and the ever-present organizational silos.

How can marketing organizations overcome barriers to relevant marketing communications? They can start by assessing their organization against four critical competency areas:

Strategic: To develop a relevant dialogue with the customer, the marketing organization must understand the customer and possess the business-savvy to turn that understanding into customer-focused strategies and integrated communication tactics. This includes the ability to translate customer behavior — like buying processes or key moments of truth at different stages of the lifecycle — into business opportunities.

Analytical: It’s hard to be relevant without actionable information. And, it takes a special set of skills to understand how to manipulate and analyze data to evaluate potential business opportunities, develop models to predict response, and identify meaningful insights that marketers can leverage to customize communications.

Technical: Customer insight fuels relevance, and data — stored in disparate systems across the enterprise — play a fundamental role in helping marketers develop the insight required to deliver on customer-focused communication strategies. Integrated technologies incorporating functionality — like data management, multi-channel campaign management, collaboration, process automation, and analytics — are all critical to help marketers plan, design, execute, measure, and automate their efforts.

Process: At the end of the day, communication breakdowns and process glitches are often what make integrated marketing efforts fail, particularly when relevance — from the customer’s point of view — means that handoffs between different channels or touchpoints are seamless.

Given the realities of limited budget and staff, marketing organizations must maintain a balance across these four competency areas in order to increase marketing communications’ relevance over time. If one competency is out of balance, the organization will be unable to make progress. For example: a marketing organization may have great data-driven ideas for highly targeted or event-triggered communications, but if program execution requires manually extracting data from one system to another and manually constructing different content versions, most organizations will buckle under the weight of the program and fail to progress.

MSQ Model

The research unveils a model, the Marketing Status Quo (MSQ) Model, to help marketers assess their capabilities in each of the four competency areas and place themselves into one of five MSQ levels:

MSQ Level 1: Broadcast. These marketing organizations are campaign-centric with limited analytic capabilities or technology supporting the marketing process. Campaigns are offer-driven and few, if any, communications are targeted or customized. The organization is siloed — by product and/or channel — and executes tactically. As a next step, these organizations should focus on improving their ability to leverage basic information about customers to target outbound communications more effectively.

MSQ Level 2: Targeted. These marketing organizations are focused on serving line-of-business requirements to improve campaign results. Campaign audiences are segmented based on basic rules, and communications incorporate some personalized content elements. Staff often feels pressured to deliver more, but struggles to maintain operations. To progress their skills, these organizations should look for ways to automate existing campaign processes to make way for new programs. Strategically, they should also work on developing their understanding of how key customer behaviors might be indicators of a customer need and seek to translate these behaviors into business opportunities.

MSQ Level 3: Programmatic. These marketing organizations have a strong appreciation for the customer and are actively working to increase the relevance of their communications. While these organizations are working to treat customers more holistically, marketing tactics are still primarily specific to a channel and/or line of business. To progress, these organizations should work towards a more programmatic marketing approach by developing communication plans based on key customer segments and lifecycle stages. Communication plans should include a mix of tactics from customized broadcast messages to behaviorally triggered communications. These groups should also begin to hone their understanding of the customer through customer-specific metrics.

MSQ Level 4: Predictive. These marketing organizations have a strong appreciation for the customer, solid strategic skills, and deep analytic capabilities. While these groups are continuing to enhance capabilities across all core areas, they are primarily concerned about better — and more holistically — integrating activities across all levels of interaction with the customer. Organizational and political challenges are often a key barrier to progression. To advance, these groups must take a metrics-driven approach and have outstanding communication and collaboration skills in order to educate the enterprise, sell the benefits of their customer-focused vision, and work across the enterprise to execute effectively.

MSQ Level 5: Integrated. Few, if any, marketing organizations truly exhibit the characteristics and skills required of the integrated and customer-focused marketing organization. Those that do are best-in-class examples that others should study and emulate. These organizations put the customer at the center of their contact strategy and execute extremely well across channels and lines of business. They possess deep understanding of the customer supported by sophisticated quantitative and qualitative insight. They have established a data and technology infrastructure that is comprehensive and well integrated. In addition, their emphasis on process automation enables them to focus their efforts on new and creative ways to engage with customers.

The Marketing Status Quo Model is backed by a self-test that helps marketers objectively assess their capabilities in each competency area as well as a tool that helps the organization start building a tactical action plan to move its capabilities forward. You can obtain a free copy of the report here from Responsys.

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