Is marketing science or art? This much-loved debate topic in the marketing circles generally ends up with the conclusion that it is part both. Whatever be the truth, the question itself has turned irrelevant in the digital age. Data science and automation are seen as the new age auto-pilots that are driving more and more activities considered core to marketing, impacting both the science and the art of understanding the customer behaviour.
Marketing is turning out to be one of the crafts most disrupted by the digital revolution. Much to the dislike of traditional marketing proponents (and perhaps to the delight of technologists!), it is now a lot about codifying the entire intelligence chain – capturing the wealth of digital data, organizing it, applying algorithms to process it and feeding back actionable decisions to other functions – all in real time, with end to end automation, and at lightening quick speed. While there is still room for creativity, it is no longer a unique competitive differentiator. Increasingly, leading organizations are known for harnessing the power of data to listen to their customers closely, understand them better than others and respond in ways that make their customers feel important and connected to the brand.
So, what has changed?
This is no-longer about annual boardroom strategies driving the branding and marketing investment plans that probably get revised once a quarter. The digital revolution has brought marketing and sales function closer than ever – it is now possible to integrate sales operational data with customer feedback from social or other channels in near real-time, empowering marketing managers to literally take hundreds of thousands of decisions around their digital spend in a snap. This has taken the ability to understand the customer to an altogether different level.
Why is this happening now?
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It is necessary
Today’s consumers are well-informed, impatient, unforgiving and demanding. More than ever, it is imperative for brands to constantly fight for consumer mindshare and stay relevant. The ability to listen and respond to customers is no longer just an add-on to the core product or service but something that can make or break the brand experience. In that sense, the consumer is not just evaluating the product against alternates, but also comparing the overall experience to unrelated segments (for instance, I want buying a laptop to be as convenient as booking a taxi). The offline battle has now moved online and the only way to stay in competition is to connect to the customers throughout their shopping journey. This would start by identifying all the touchpoints, understanding the data that an organisation has that can tell how the interaction is going and working on capturing the missing pieces. Doing this would require clever use of social listening tools and making data science an integral part of the organization.
It is possible
Over the years, most organizations have invested in digitizing the core (internal systems like ERP, shop floor technology, etc.) and edges (commerce portals, mobile apps, social engagement platforms, dealer management solutions, etc.). Some still do not realize, but they have a wealth of real time data flowing in – Operational Data like sales transactions, customer interactions through phone, chat and email and customer experience data like surveys and social listening. The magic lies in the ability to assimilate it, process it and take data-science aided decisions in real time.
Follow this by using a range of automation solutions to apply these decisions on marketing activities like digital ad spends, Search Engine Optimization and personalized campaigns and you could have the power to create brand intimacy like never before.
Advanced analytics tools combined with social listening can be used for real-time experimentation and better understanding of customer sentiment about product and service attributes. The ability to slice and dice structured and unstructured data enables marketers to come up with micro-targeting strategies and an opportunity to immediately engage with and delight customers.
Where does this lead us?
Segmentation-of-one is no longer just a buzzword – it is being done successfully by organizations who have invested in digitizing all customer interactions, collecting real time feedback through social listening, harnessing the data through advanced analytics tools and closing the feedback loop to make each of their customer interactions count.
For those who are just starting this journey, it is imperative to think beyond the traditional mindset. Data science needs to be blended into the marketing and branding function instead of viewing it as something done by a standalone parallel team doing their own stuff. This is not unique to marketing alone. The earlier trend of setting up Digital CoEs is undergoing rapid change as their role is evolving from doers to enablers. There is a distinct shift in the skill profiles that are now being hired as part of core teams – from traditional marketing skills to technology and analytics expertise. So is the change in spend patterns – most CMOs are looking to drastically increase their marketing analytics spend in the coming years.
It is high time that businesses wake up to the reality and promise of data analytics for understanding the customer behaviour. The key is to move beyond the experiment mentality and perpetual pilot syndrome and commit themselves fully into embracing the digital wave. Otherwise, in the words of H.G. Wells, “Adapt or perish, now as ever, is nature’s inexorable imperative”.
The author is a partner at Deloitte India