What makes world-changing innovators like Steve Jobs, Thomas Edison, or Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin different? Entrepreneur and best-selling author Peter Sims set out to find the answer to that question in collaboration with faculty at Stanford’s Institute of Design. Innovators, he found, follow similar approaches. Rather than starting with the “big idea,” they take experimental steps, making small bets, then quickly “course-correcting” from what is learned into another round of experimentation.
An experimental mindset, of course, is also what’s required in today’s new world of marketing, given the growing complexity of the digital ecosystem. We use data to test, improve, and then test again to better engage the consumer across every device, platform, and channel. That’s the essence of experimentation. But there is another issue at stake in today’s marketing. Technology advances that continue to rapidly shape the Internet have swept away many limitations in communications and commerce. Those advances have also transformed marketing and your ability to optimize the customer experience. Let’s explore how.
What’s at Stake?
A new Gartner study on 2015 marketing spending identifies the customer experience as the “new competitive battleground,” with 89 percent of companies expecting to compete primarily on that basis by 2016, compared with 36 percent four years ago. Even more, it’s expected to be the top item in innovation spending in 2015. Nonetheless, recent research from Econsultancy on customer experience optimization reveals that CMOs and their marketing teams may have some significant hurdles to overcome. In their survey of more than 600 in-house marketing leaders and supply-side professionals, Econsultancy called optimizing the customer experience the “defining feature in this new era of marketing.” Yet key findings showed:
- 70 percent companies surveyed report they are “just starting the process” of collecting and integrating data across channels, technologies and databases.
- Only 3 percent of these leaders say they have a strong capability for using cross-channel or cross-device data for real-time website or mobile app personalization.
- Less than one in five (18 percent) of companies surveyed use a single customer profile for most of their marketing applications. And almost half (45 percent) use no single customer profiles at all.
Are Marketers Ready?
Marketing organizations are clearly in a time of transition as they engage with consumers across this omnichannel landscape. But I believe there may be another lesson to be learned in this research.
During recent years, we’ve witnessed vast changes in technology with an explosion in network bandwidth, and exponential gains in computing power and storage capacity. Almost instantly available computing power and network capacity have become the foundation for a tidal wave of new innovation. The good news is that today’s Internet-based technologies free the marketing organization to manage data and optimize the customer experience in ways never possible in the past. The bad news is that marketers may still assume they are limited by the constraints of the past – outdated ideas and legacy technologies. Consider these changes:
- Collecting the Data: Exponential improvements in Internet network bandwidth mean that limitations in uploading and transferring data are greatly reduced. Marketers can now collect all data, rather than just samples or segments.
- Improving Experience: Optimized tagging and faster computing speeds make it much easier to collect data without adversely impacting the user experience with long load times.
- Storing the Data: Storage capacity has grown at exponential rates, not unlike computer processing power. Now, we can not only collect any granularity of data we want, we can store it all at very low cost.
- Querying the Data: Major advances in “big data” storage systems and the ability to dynamically query unstructured data using data mining and machine learning is an important new capability for marketers.
In essence, it’s now possible to collect, analyze, and act on much larger scale of user-level data than ever before. As a marketer, you can adopt an experimental mindset in testing and optimizing everything from marketing campaigns to online advertising. You are no longer limited to trend analysis only due to aggregate-level data, given the increasingly easier access to user-level data captured in individual customer profiles.
Mobile is a great case in point. Brands are under intense pressure to optimize for mobile users, and typically do so using Web-based applications and native mobile apps. Native apps, which are more intuitive and personalized, typically are hard-coded using software developer kits (SDKs). Any changes in the app must be sent back to the developer for re-coding, then re-submitted to an app store. Fortunately, new innovation in this space enables marketers to avoid this cumbersome process by testing mobile apps, then making modifications within minutes without using the SDK approach. As a result, the mobile app now can be optimized virtually in real time based on user behaviors – enabling brands to act at the increasing speed of consumers.
The evolving technology paradigm, combined with a truly stunning cycle of innovation in martech, is fundamentally changing the game for marketers. Yes, the customer journey is complex. But marketers now have the opportunity to optimize this experience using the footprints of data consumers leave behind with each interaction. It’s time to leave the past behind – and embrace experimental innovation.
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