As a marketer, you might find yourself facing a persistent conflict.
Do you go with the status quo and pursue an approach to marketing where every customer is treated the same and most interactions are built on guessing what customers might respond to?
Or do you take a data-driven approach to personalizing the customer experience through a multitude of touch points and sophisticated technologies?
Both options have problems.
The first is a wholly outmoded tradition and proven to be ineffective.
The second generates so much data that it’s seemingly impossible to manage.
Complicating this further is an upside-down approach to the way marketing programs tend to be put together.
There is a “features and tactics first” approach. This involves constantly assessing and implementing new tools and technologies to help complete day-to-day tasks.
As a final step, marketers attempt to insert a tactic into a strategy, with the hope that the two roll up into big-picture objectives.
Clearly, this approach is misguided and only creates more confusion.
So what can be done to avoid this trap?
Why we need to focus on clear marketing objectives over tactics
An objective is a specific result that a person or company aims to achieve within a certain time frame.
It may seem simple, but starting with clear objectives first before other decisions are made is key.
The problem is that sometimes strategies and tactics are defined as objectives.
For example, a stated objective might be “achieve better email engagement.”
But in reality, this is a strategy.
Similarly, “I want an abandoned cart workflow” might be defined as an objective – but this is actually a tactic.
Building out a marketing program from a tactic is like constructing a sink and a kitchen counter — and then building the rest of the house around (Read more...).
Sure, it can be done. But it’s definitely not the most efficient way.
How did the process for building marketing programs get so turned around?
The buildup of more and more data is making marketers’ jobs more difficult.
It’s slow and incremental at first. But as more data is generated, ever greater amounts of pressure build up — particularly in ensuring rising customer expectations are met.
In the end, marketers find that in the face of increasing amounts of data, there is now also an assumption that they are able to operate as tech-savvy digital natives, and constantly prove ROI.
But the truth is, most marketers got into the field not because they love data science and managing a myriad of different tech tools. Rather, because they love the art of communicating through creative.
Then they were taught that speed trumps accuracy. Because, for a long time, speed to market was always more important than quality of the interaction with the customer.
But with the advent of big data, it’s now possible to do both.
We can make better decisions about personalization within the context of what constitutes an outstanding customer experience.
What’s standing in the way of better marketing decisions?
Many marketers have taken to blindly gobbling up tech to take care of every problem that comes up – never mind the cost or integration issues.
As a result, humans have come to serve the machines, more than the other way around.
The result is a constant state of being in a rush – and downloading tools ad hoc regardless of feature overlap, cost, or security issues.
There is a rush to do all of this without a clear path to objectives – in other words, without a clear why.
This feature-first fixation exists because as humans, we can’t keep up with the vast amount of data constantly coming our way.
So, to meet daily goals, we will do what we’re most familiar with (such as using a favored tool or feature). This, however, lies at the root of the problem when implementing tactics before identifying objectives.
The solution: Objectives over tactics
When taking a step back from campaigns, it becomes clear that the best results-producing tactics can only be determined by objectives.
Tactics really shouldn’t even be part of the initial conversation.
Right now, people are stuck working to make tech better.
But in reality, tech should be making them better. It should be applied in the most optimal ways possible so that it can help them achieve the objectives of the brand.
The shift that has to happen is to move away from snatching up the features and campaign tactics that may seem to belong in the toolbox.
And instead, we should kick things off with the right questions, asked in the right order.
- What do I want to achieve?
- How am I going to get there?
- What are the tactics and tech that will help me get there?
When more data analysis is delegated to machines, you can dedicate more creative energy to strategy.
Customers will only continue to demand more from brands, and in turn companies will demand more from marketers.
By starting with objectives first, you can meet those demands — and get back to the kind of marketing that marketers love.
Sean Brady is President of Emarsys Americas.