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Marketing in an Always-On, Real-Time World: Using Data, Devices to Motivate Customers

By Andrea Fabbri

Every B2B and B2C marketer is trying to figure out how to connect with customers effectively across channels and over time. BrandingBusiness Director of Strategy Andrea Fabbri recently spoke with Andy Frawley, author of Igniting Customer Connections and the president of Epsilon, to discuss engagement and experience across channels—mobile, social, digital, and bringing them together in real time so that brands can improve their relationships with customers for the long haul.

Fabbri: I would like to start this conversation with three statistics that really caught my attention in your book. The statistics are the following: 90% of Americans use small type of devices sequentially throughout the day; 81% use a smartphone and a TV simultaneously. And 20% of tablet owners say that they purchase products advertised on TV while watching TV. What’s going on, Andy?

Frawley: One, those statistics are illustrative of two things: One is we live in a multi-device world and we can probably all argue that we all have an attention-deficit disorder these days. People are using the devices simultaneously but they are using them in slightly different ways. The other thing that’s going on is the path to purchase or the path to conversion used to be a very linear thing and now it’s completely non-linear. People are entering a conversation on one device, buying on another one. They’re often doing it in sort of unusual patterns. They’re looking at one website and buying on a different website.

It means that marketing needs to be in the moment, happening in real time. It’s very dynamic. In this environment, marketers and CMOs need to step back and say “Is my approach to designing, executing and measuring my marketing strategies right in this new world?”

Fabbri: Let’s talk about the approach that you recommend in your book. You obviously advocate for a different way of creating customer connections and engagement with customers. Can you please talk to those things? Can you describe this new engagement model? What is it and why should it work better?

Frawley: The essence of this new model is two key concepts. One is that while we’re talking today, brands that may be listening to this in the future are having hundreds of thousands or millions, in some cases 10 millions of what I call atomic moments of truth. They are interacting with a customer—whether it’s a consumer or a business. In that interaction, which again increasingly is happening in real time on a connected device, they can either create value in their brand or they can destroy value in the brand. They can create value in the customer relationship or they can destroy value in the customer relationship. That’s happening all the time.

The second key concept is because that’s now happening on more and more powerful devices that allow a much more personalized and richer experience, marketers can think about two concepts together that historically they’ve thought about separately: engagement and experience. ,Getting people to engage with the brand (opening, they’ll click, like it on Facebook, whatever those engagement methods are) now can be combined with how they’re experiencing the brand and trying to make an emotional connection. The emotional connection has historically been something we thought about in mass media: we created powerful TV ads that really have people sort of connect with the brand from an aspirational perspective, whatever case may be. We can now do that on a smartphone and we can do it in a way that it’s hyper-targeted to a consumer.

What we’ve found–and in the book we did proprietary research that proved this thesis–is that if you can move engagement and experience together at the same time, you will create a much more valuable relationship and, in aggregate, drive brand and business equity in a way that is not just incrementally better but in some cases just function better.

Fabbri: What do you see companies doing well?

Frawley: One of my favorite examples is Walgreens, a client of Epsilon. We do a variety of things for them but we run their loyalty program, “Bounce rewards.” Within the loyalty program, they have lots of atomic moments of truth. Obviously people are in the store; they’re buying stuff; they’re getting rewarded; they’re going online.

That’s all very powerful but to get the point across, we realized that people could actually earn points in the loyalty program by uploading your Fitbit into the program. You can actually get loyalty points based on how hard your workout was. You think about an environment where you go for a run and back. It’s a good run. You have that euphoric experience. You come in and you upload the data and you get rewarded. Then when you get back in the store not only do you have more points but you’re getting coupons and incentives to go buy health and fitness products that maybe would have been bought outside of Walgreens in any other case. That’s the engagement and emotional connection we try to drive.

One of the exciting things I think about the world we live in today is some of these approaches can be done pretty simply through social media. Social media is a great equalizer for small businesses versus large business. They can reach lots of people well beyond their geographic footprint. They can have a very direct interaction with them. I think there are applications of these ideas across a broad spectrum of company size and capabilities.

One of the complications is that as you have a greater ability to deliver these messages to customers, you also have to create a lot more content and a lot more personalized content. That requires a different approach. And, of course, how you measure this is more complex in a multi-channel world.

Fabbri: One of things also say in your book is that good customers aren’t your only customers.

Frawley: Part of the challenge here is to give a framework for marketing professionals to think through how they allocate their investment dollars, their marketing budget in a way that it’s spread across keeping good customers, getting more share from their customers and then obviously going out and acquiring their competitor’s good customers and maybe not spending as much on a customer that’s marginally profitable. All businesses have those. The backdrop of much of this is also a different way to allocate the marketing budget or the marketing investment dollars in a way that they have the highest probability of return.

What we find is that people don’t mind getting communicated to as much if the content is relevant, if it’s something that they’re interested in and if it’s something that they attach value to. What consumers and small business don’t like is when they get things completely out of the blue, which they perceive to be very invasive. It’s a building effect, the better the communications are, the more relevant, the more real time, the more the content is personalized, the more likely people are going to want to receive that and then open, click, buy.

Fabbri: Is there a blueprint that you can offer?

Frawley: Everybody has to prioritize. You can’t just do all this magically at once. We encourage companies to go where the money is. That’s the first priority. Not only that, it usually comes in a set of desired experiences. What do you want the customer to experience? In this situation when they’re in the store and they have their smartphone, what does the optimal experience look like? We create these customer experience maps if you will.

From there, you can look at that and assess if you may need additional technology enablement. We try to do that in the context of driving a particular experience that we think is going to drive a business outcome, a sale, whatever the case may be. That is really a matter of starting to deploy communications with a rigorous approach to customer learning.

One of the changes that are quite profound is that many large companies plan their whole marketing calendar out of a fixed number of large campaigns. Those campaigns may take weeks or months to plan and they run for weeks and months and they take weeks or months to measure. The switch in mindset in people towards technology is that you may have a thousand campaigns running all the time. That’s where we at Epsilon work with clients to engineer site capabilities that enable that so they can target customers, generate content, measure what happens, continually improve in an environment where it really is happening all the time.