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For Today’s Digital Marketer, the Road to Hell is Paved with Good Intentions

What CMOs are telling us about the need to build trusted relationships has everyone looking for new answers

“Suffer now and live the rest of your life as champion”
~Muhammad Ali

Hard charging leaders, fired up managers, motivated team members – everyone is in game mode when it comes to competing in this hyper-competitive environment we call omnichannel marketing. More tools for customer engagement keeps many of us well-positioned to deliver value as some of the most consequential people in business. Mainly because winning is fun. When executed properly to deliver value and build trust, marketing can address a lot of problems that other aspects of business can’t. Including the ability to build trusted relationships.


But the rules of the game are about to change once again. Customers want increased transparency, more control, and better value, all of which serve as foundations for any great relationship. No longer are customers okay with letting companies do anything they want with their data, just so they can be sent the next best offer or uniquely timed messages. The masses are speaking up. Regulators have responded. Everyone has been given new instructions (300 pages containing 11 Chapters, 99 Articles and 173 Recitals, to be exact), to challenge us again to reconsider how we engage with customers.

Marketing’s 2018 wake-up call – in the form of the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which took effect on May 25th – is for a new level of transparency and accountability. The new regulation is also shining a bright light on those of us who thought we were doing everything that could do make our marketing programs work, but in reality – weren’t aware of how one-sided thinking in the pursuit of market dominance has hurt customers’ experience and eroded their trust.

This lack of visibility, combined with increasing demand for one-to-one, in-moment digital experiences, translates to one thing for the digital enterprise: Marketing hell.

Enormous market pressure is pushing many marketers in industries such as retail, e-commerce, media – even highly regulated industries like healthcare and financial services – to transform their businesses into “digital-first” enterprises. But without the right tools, chasing the rewards of “digital transformation” can lead to erroneous results. If you feel left out in your quest for answers during this push and pull exercise, you’re not alone.

According to a recent survey of CMOs by Ernst & Young published in Forbes Insights:

  • Less than a third say with full confidence that their department or company has a full grasp of where in the customer life cycle the trust is breaking down, and that the erosion of trust affects their brand equity.
  • 67% agree that the customer experience cannot be controlled by marketing alone, as responsibilities are distributed among numerous business units.
  • Only 30% understand the point in the customer experience at which trust is being eroded and a mere 37% do not currently segment their customer base or design distinct offers.

Now for the upside: 91% believe that creating trusted customer relationships is a primary concern across their organizations’ strategic and competitive vision, while 87% say their strategic vision includes improving customer experience. Furthermore, 34% say they understand this “extremely well”.

At the core of everyone’s problem: fragmented customer data.

Rapid innovation initiatives across the enterprise have often led to siloed data architecture. Why is this a problem? Because these attributes are nearly impossible to consolidate into unified profiles, being scattered across the digital ecosystem as they are for various lines of business, technology point solutions, markets, and regions. This makes building an actionable view of customers across channels a nightmare, especially considering that consumers may engage using three or more devices every day.

With limited customer insights, each business stakeholder has a limited ability to understand current data sets, determine what new data they should capture, and accurately measure and understand customers’ behaviors. Sound familiar?

Ever feel like marketing should perform more like a business, rather than a function? As an engine for growth, rather than a cost center, to make every dollar count and push your team’s performance and accountability?

Here’s what we know about what you encounter as a digital marketer:

  1. Despite every online purchase or click-through your company has collected over the past few years, you may still have constrictive profile data. Not just from having lack of data or even “just enough”, but also from not having the right kind of data, and the consent from customers to use it. For example, data derived from an e-commerce solution on “Brand A” includes demographic, purchase history and behavioral attributes, whereas an email service provider used by “Brand B” stores addresses and subscription information for that brand’s marketing communications programs. This meets the need for each brands’ activities. However, without being able to unify this data on the back end, your ability to reach the right target with the right message based on their preferences and products across the larger business is limited.
  2. When revenue slows due to limited audience understanding, sales or marketing leaders may decide to buy audience lists from a data broker to bring in new leads, with little understanding of how reliable that data might be. In the process, attempting to (gasp!) glue it to existing data, which ushers in a new round of unintended consequences, adding to the existing hell that marketers are in.
  3. Data stitched together into profiles from different silos across the organization, such as CRM, Marketing, E-Commerce, email service providers, and Call Center systems to name a few – may have grown stale or downright inaccurate over the years. After all, you’re serving people who, on a regular basis, make lifestyle changes, move around, change jobs, adopt new habits and routines, shop differently, and so on.

    A few months or years of a business running fast with different brands and lines of business – alongside years of change across a diverse customer base and – like black magic – audience segments become virtually worthless. This is because old or incorrect information has been stitched together from well-meaning stakeholders accessing disparate sources of data without real oversight. And, the old excuse of “we’ve always done it this way” will no longer suffice in a rapidly evolving regulatory environment. Without consent from consumers marketing with these kinds of antiquated data sets merely incurs risk for your business while leaving customers with a bad taste in their mouths.

  4. Lack of cross-functional visibility and governance of disparate data sets creates unforeseen roadblocks for marketing teams to make sound strategic decisions and deliver relevance and value in their customers’ journeys. The resulting lack of transparency also breaks the trust of those on the receiving end of your marketing programs, leading to a downward cycle of skewed interactions for your customers, an irresponsible reputation for you, and the risk of punitive action from government regulators or civil litigators.

Combined with consumers’ daily experience: an onslaught of competing online ads, social media, e-mail marketing, in-store POS, direct mail, and TV and radio advertising, a familiar theme emerges: customers are supremely fed up with being marketed to irresponsibly.

The famed Martech Landscape Supergraphic continues to tell a compelling story. With more than 6,800 vendors across 49 different product categories, it’s no wonder that there are such formidable challenges in marketing. Customer data is everywhere, and in different formats. Then, marketers are often hampered with the antiquated approaches of legacy CRM and “spreadsheet marketing”, analytics that are largely inactionable, lack of alignment between marketing and the other business units, and want of visibility into baseline metrics. Many of these approaches started with the best of intentions, but as the basis of digital marketing strategy, they simply can’t help marketers deliver the relevant and trusted experience that today’s customers expect (and deserve.)

How do you know if you’re living in “marketing hell”? You’re in a business with dozens of stakeholders from sales, product and marketing, accessing information from various sources, with no transparency over who did what with it – or when and how – and no ability to recognize a customer across devices and channels. It’s a train wreck waiting to happen, and you’re on the hook for the damage.

Are you concerned that you may be doing your customers wrong? Have you felt wronged by a business marketing to you? Tell us about your worst “marketing hell” moment on twitter with the hashtag #endmyhell.

Be sure to join me in Part two of this series, where I’ll talk about the questions you’ve been asking, the fight for real consumer advocacy, and what you need today to deliver a customer experience that actually works for customers.

To learn more about how to balance privacy with personalization in a customer-first digital world, register now for our upcoming webinar with Forrester Principal Analyst, Fatemeh Khatibloo.

By Ratul Shah

Gigya has updated its Privacy Policy as Gigya, Inc. has been acquired by SAP America, Inc. and Gigya has updated the information regarding how we collect and use your Personal Data. You can see the updated Privacy Policy here.