What marketing success means in the age of the customer

They say that retaining a customer demands as much skill as winning one in the first place. In what Forrester calls the “age of the customer,” this is truer than ever because the modern breed of today’s digital, hyper-connected customer is simultaneously highly demanding, yet brutally unforgiving of any brand that fails to deliver.

The proof is all over the trade press. Just look at the number of stories about the inexorable adoption of ad-blocking by unhappy customers which have caused something akin to panic in marketing circles.

That’s entirely understandable. The digital advertising industry is really trapped between a rock and a hard place. On one hand it has long been focused on driving technology to generate efficiencies. However, it is also faced with customers that are becoming increasingly resentful about intrusive and often irrelevant advertising that interferes with their enjoyment of the Internet experience.

So what’s the answer? Actually, it’s quite simple. Put the customers’ needs first, then reap the rewards. Does it work? Yes, because research has proven there is a clear competitive advantage for brands that exceed customer expectations 2 . In fact, exceeding them has become one of the hallmarks of successful brands. In the digital realm, that means delivering a personalised customer experience is no longer an option – it’s an absolute prerequisite.

Ironic symmetry

As an industry, advertising continues to adopt increasingly advanced technology to better target the digital customer. However, in an ironic sense of symmetry, customers have given us a taste of our own medicine and embraced technology to create their own ad-free digital experience.

That raises two questions. How can we defuse this technological arms race? And what should we do to encourage people to embrace advertising again?

In my opinion, we need to return to the fundamental dynamics of advertising, and avoid following in the footsteps of the UK carrier Three, which partnered with Shine Technologies to provide network-level ad blocking. This misplaced focus on the cure rather than prevention is not the answer, but in delivering a better advertising experience based on one-to- one hyper-relevant marketing.

Of course, that can be easier said than done. For example, Verizon’s recent fine by the US authorities for using a ‘super cookie’ highlights the level of sensitivity and transparency required when attempting to connect customer data points to unlock more relevant and targeted advertising experiences.

What they want, when they want it

Remaining relevant in the age of the customer depends on delivering a personalised experience. The ability to provide customers with what they want before they want it has to be our collective ambition; communicating one-on- one rather than to a large and homogenous group.

The personalisation of digital advertising is the new battleground, and it must expand to encapsulate the entire brand experience. That includes on and off line, on and off domain and across multiple sales and service touch points. It’s a complex process because the path to purchase is no longer linear. Technology has multiplied the number of engagement opportunities across a myriad of sales and service touch points, from call centers and service centers to retail branches, apps, social pages, e-commerce sites as well as digital and traditional advertising channels.

In fact, the latter are rapidly digitising – incorporating digital out of home and smart TVs. Brands have to prepare themselves to connect these moments of engagement and trace the customer journey. The ultimate goal is to deliver a unified view that enables the brand to anticipate customer needs.

A good example is Starbucks, which recently achieved a 17.8% year-on- year increase in quarterly revenue by enabling 10 million loyal customers to pre-order and pay for their coffee via an app before even entering the store. This by-passed the queue altogether, allowing customers to collect their beverage straight from the pick-up point.

The philosophy of digital advertising 

Personalisation is as much a philosophical mindset as it is a data and technology challenge. Many tech companies grew fat in the digital advertising realm on the basis of optimising ROI for brands. But in the age of the customer, this approach is simply too one sided. Rather, brands must now use the same technology to prioritise and optimise the customers’ experience, and doing so will naturally lead to ROI gains.

If they want to survive, brands must change their strategy, structure and culture to place personalisation at the heart of the organisation. Silos within the organisation have to be banished, and replaced by collaboration and horizontality. Only then can the data flow freely and the customer journey be revealed. Many brands have already made progress in digitising their marketing efforts, and the personalisation of digital advertising is a natural starting point. However, to do so, they need to draw upon new partners offering different skillsets.

That’s already happening. A new set of solution providers, combining specialisms in customer experiences, ad-tech and media buying, have emerged to offer business transformation through digital advertising personalisation platforms. They provide the expertise and capabilities to unlock and connect customer data from on and off domain sources, digitising and merging data from offline touch points, and applying technology to create a unified customer view with platforms to execute against it.

Furthermore, these partners enable brands to deliver the “next-best- action” at scale across their organisations. That’s the key to providing a seamless and instantaneous customer experience.

Again, the proof is in the details. According to the Teradata 2015 Global Data-Driven Marketing Survey , 90% of marketers already believe that personalisation is the future. That’s a comforting conclusion which suggests that digital advertising has a secure future.

In the final analysis, the age of the customer has seen a tremendous democratisation of advertising technology that commands new rules of engagement and respect. Personalisation is a healthy reminder that customers are the pulse of advertising. And that placing a customer’s needs front-and- center is the only way to win back and – perhaps more importantly – retain their trust.

Ryan Pestano, vice president, Product and Operations APAC at Amobee,