Marketers Failing Interactive Part of Interactive Marketing

Forrester Study: Consumers Want Cross-Channel Engagement, but Companies Are Falling Behind

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Attention, marketers: You're falling behind your consumers.

A "huge disconnect" between consumer behavior and marketer behavior persists -- thanks largely to CMOs who have not empowered their interactive marketing teams to deliver the consumer experience, consistent across channels, that people expect these days.

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That's the message of a Forrester Research report, "The Future of Interactive Marketing," out today, and explained by Principal Analyst and Research Director Emily Riley. Consumers, Ms. Riley said, "expect the information about them to carry across a mobile, hand-held, call center, website -- and that very rarely actually happens. They think that you, as a marketer, should know everything about them and be one step ahead of them in terms of addressing their interests and needs."

But marketers still lack adequate skills, resources and technology to meet that expectation, she said.

The report found that 30% of large companies have fewer than 15 interactive-staff members. That's a constraint that limits the interactive team's ability to use anything other than digital media in executing campaigns. And teams are still, more often than not, siloed in marketing organizations, separate from disciplines such as creative and production. In fact, Ms. Riley's research leads her to believe that less than a quarter of Fortune 500 companies have effectively integrated interactive marketing teams.

The report's findings raise imperatives for CMOs in structuring their marketing organizations to deliver on the future of interactive marketing -- defined by Forrester not as building online campaigns, but "enabling collaborative customer relationships -- through any medium or experience."

Credit: Base: 233 marketers with revenues of $500 million or more. Source: December 2010 US Interactive Markeing Online Executive Panel Survey

"We're looking back at the last decade as the decade of consumer empowerment; the next decade should be the decade of marketer empowerment. We've been talking about consumer empowerment for so long that that's not really the story anymore," Ms. Riley said.

Forrester's solution, detailed in the report and at its Marketing Forum this week? C.O.R.E., which stands for customize, optimize, respond and empower -- a proprietary mission and framework.

"Create customized interactions across channels," Ms. Riley said. "Optimize so that you can deliver in real terms. You might be really good at email or search, but rarely do you have good understanding of the customer's behavior across all the channels, and that needs to change.

"'R' is really that the interactive marketing organization needs to be actually responsive to address consumers' concerns in real time with people and technology," she said. "And it goes beyond customer service at this point. It's about the brand promise. If they like the spokesperson in your campaign, why can't they talk to them [just like the Man Your Man Could Smell Like in the Old Spice ads]?" Finally, she said, "'E' is the empower part for the interactive marketing team: Allow them to test new things."

Ms. Riley highlighted internet-only marketers, Groupon and Gilt Groupe, as ones that understand these principles extremely well and are adept at tactics like integrating email and social media.

Indeed, "our interactive-marketing team is our marketing team, they're really one and the same," said Heather Freeland, CMO of Gilt City, Gilt Groupe's Groupon competitor. "In the digital space, you're more inherently thinking this way and you have the channels built in where you can have those conversations with consumers," she said. Added Elisa Steele, exec VP-CMO at Yahoo: "There is no such thing in my mind as an interactive-marketing department. ... So marketing practices, I call them, whether it's brand or communications or consumer or b-to-b, we're organized functionally, and every one of those has to be awesome at interactive," she said.

"Ultimately I think the report spoke to the fact that interactive marketing will become the marketing organization," Ms. Freeland said. "It's up to CMOs to find the way to embed that within and among the different groups now rather than keep it completely separate."

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