Saturday, December 13, 2014

BlueConic User-Driven Marketing Maturity Model: Surprises on the Road to Customer-Centric Marketing

I’m as fond of hearing my voice as most consultants, which is very fond indeed. But the best part of my recent presentation with BlueConic was listening to the voice of someone else’s experience: in this case, the experience of more than 60 BlueConic clients, distilled into a maturity model that traced the stages they passed through on their way to full customer-centric marketing. (Click here to see the Webinar and download the related paper.)

The good thing about hearing from someone else is you find out things you didn’t already know. In this case, I was certainly familiar with the general notion of a maturity model, as a sequence of increasingly-sophisticated stages that companies pass through on their way to the highest level. And, for what BlueConic calls “user-driven marketing”, I already knew that the final stage would be a central database and decision engine that gather data from all channels and select the treatments that each channel delivers. So it wasn’t too hard to imagine that the preceding stages would start with totally disconnected channels and move slowly to complete integration. But there were still some new insights from BlueConic’s hands-on experience. Some that particularly struck me are:
  • Listening first. The very first stage of the model, Level 0, involves no differentiation at all: every customer is treated the same; in fact, customers may not even be identified. BlueConic gets involved at Level 1, where treatments are tailored to the individual but each interaction managed independently within each channel. At that stage, all the central marketing system can do is “listen” to customer activities and make the data it assembles available to the channel systems to help guide their own decisions. I would have expected the central system to actually drive decisions at that stage, but BlueConic's experience is different.
  • Coordination later. Level 2 of BlueConic’s model still has each channel running separately, which again is a bit surprising. What changes at this level is that  interactions within each channel are now coordinated by the central engine. It’s only at Level 3 that interactions are coordinated across channels, and even then the scope is limited to online channels. On reflection, an intra-channel-only Level 2 makes sense: marketers need several new skills to design and measure multi-interaction programs, and mastering those is a big enough challenge without also adding the complexity of managing across channels.
  • Segmentation. The growing importance of segmentation at successive model stages was perhaps my biggest surprise. When I think of tailoring interactions to individuals, I think of working with each individual’s data directly. Segments don’t enter into it. But, as BlueConic’s experience reminds us, practical marketing tasks like content creation, program flows, and result analysis are organized around groups of similar customers. This ensures resources are spent effectively and you have enough volume to measure results meaningfully. In fact, the segments get increasingly refined with each maturity level as behavioral data is added (Level 2), segments are adjusted in real time (Level 3), and segments include predictions and events (Level 4). Thus, the process does move closer to treating each individual differently, but always in a segment-based framework.
  • Complexity of data. This was less a surprise than an observation. Part of the presentation was a set of examples presented by BlueConic CMO Dan Gilmartin. By the time we got to Level 4, where interactions are being coordinated across all brands as well as all interactions in all online and offline channels, the example was offering a soccer jersey as a holiday gift idea to a mom reading a lifestyle Web site. Superficially, this seems like a simple, obvious thing to do.  But, on reflection, it’s amazingly complex. It requires not just knowing who the viewer is, but who she’s related to (child or spouse), the interests of that related person (soccer), and the temporal context (holiday gift buying season). That is some pretty fancy data management.

Not everything in the model surprised me. In particular, BlueConic’s experience confirmed the importance of process and organizational change to support the new technologies. BlueConic reported a steady expansion of the scope of measurements from tracking response to independent interactions (Level 1) to tracking movement through the customer journey (Levels 2 and 3) to measuring the incremental impact of each interaction on customer lifetime value (Level 4). Similarly, it showed a shift in management perspective from optimizing results for individual interactions (Level 1) to each channel (Level 2) to maximizing value for the organization as a whole (Levels 3 and 4). And, finally, it reflected a shift in control from channel managers operating more or less independently to central managers who focus on customers and segments. This all ties back to the central notion of the maturity model: that technology, process, and organization must all be aligned at each stage for the business to execute effectively.

By all means, download the Webinar and white paper, which contain plenty of insights beyond those I've just described.  Incidentally, if you're wondering about that interactive toaster, I was already aware that you could get static custom images on bread and have since discovered that there are some higher tech options.  I see no technical reason one of these couldn't be connected to the Internet to deliver dynamic messages sent by an advertiser, significant others, or favorite government agency. 

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