For a few years now, I've been speaking and writing a lot about Connected CRM, explaining how to build competitive advantage through targeted experiences that address customer needs and behaviors. Even in that brief amount of time, advancements in data, analytics and technology have propelled our ability to create more personalized engagements across media, channel and device. It is now possible to manage interactions at scale throughout the customer life cycle to optimize the value of customers and segments.
The key word is scale. The rapid digitization of media and channels has created a growing—and constantly fragmenting—number of highly dynamic and addressable audience platforms such as Google, Facebook and Twitter. More than 74% of online adults are active on these networks. The proliferation of these digital audience platforms has created an opportunity for marketers. Major brands are investing heavily in bringing scale to this addressability, and many are shifting their media spend in that direction. Just a couple of years ago you couldn't target display or search at the individual level; but today, programmatic media buying is the norm.
To take advantage of these platforms, and to create relevant engagements with massive numbers of consumers, brands need to develop a new set of capabilities, tools, metrics and processes, as well as the skills to use them. A new breed of marketer is emerging—the Platform Marketer—who has a deep understanding of cCRM principles coupled with the knowledge and innovative vision to thrive in the ever-expanding digital audience platform environment. Because of the increased complexity involved in leveraging data, technology and analytics in this new era, the brands that are able to capitalize on addressability at scale will create sustainable competitive advantages.
As I've observed this trend unfolding over time, it has been my goal, and my advice to clients, to structure the organization in a way that supports building customer strategy as a business strategy. In addition to implementing this philosophy enterprisewide, marketers also need to develop competencies in data, analytics, technology and experience design. Since digital platforms are evolving so rapidly, time-to-market is a significant factor in deciding whether to build or buy capabilities. For some of these competencies, the necessary organizational developments happen organically; for others, outsourcing is the answer. And sometimes they happen through the acquisition of niche companies that simply do it better.
Whatever the method of obtaining the capabilities, business leaders are beginning to realize that addressability is the future of CRM. Doing it right requires involvement—really a mandate—at the highest level of the organization. I have been in more CEO-level conversations about this subject in the last six months than in the past six years. The digital consumer is causing disruption for almost every marketer. As people change the way they learn about brands, companies are being forced to change the way they engage consumers or risk becoming irrelevant. Even the definition of "addressable platform" is changing. Suddenly a car is addressable, a television—even a household appliance.
Prominent audience platforms such as Facebook, Google, Twitter and Pinterest are in a great position to move along with marketers' objectives. Every solution they provide allows brands to better understand, align and link economic transactions, which enables them to be more efficient with their marketing and more relevant to the consumer. The problem is that they have all constructed walls around their data, hobbling efforts to be truly integrated across platforms and devices. Until the publishers come together to create effective linkage, innovative marketers will have to find their way around the walls to bring the data together and provide attribution solutions that drive better decisions.
This is where service partners become crucial assets to a customer-centric strategy. Forward-thinking agencies are building the knowledge and assets required to help world-class brands transform their marketing organizations with Platform Marketer skills that enable true cCRM. These services include everything from management consulting to technology development and integration, data and analytics expertise, and digital media and channel execution services. The objective of this new breed of agency is to complement and accelerate the ability of marketers to capitalize on addressability at scale.
David Williams is Chairman-CEO of Merkle, which he acquired in 1988. He is the author of the book, "Connected CRM: Implementing a Data-Driven, Customer-Centric Business Strategy" (Wiley Publishing, 2014). In the book, he shares his knowledge and experience, with the intent of helping world-class brands build stronger, more profitable relationships with their customers.
Merkle, a technology-enabled, data-driven CRM company, is the U.S.' fastest-growing independent customer relationship marketing agency. For more than 25 years, Fortune 1,000 companies and leading nonprofits have partnered with Merkle to maximize the value of their customer portfolios. Using an approach called Connected CRM, this new breed of agency offers platform marketer competencies that help brands achieve addressability at scale through digital audience platforms. Merkle applies an industry-focused methodology to providing management consulting, technology development and integration, data and analytics, and an array of digital agency services. Today, Merkle has more than 2,400 employees in locations in the U.S., China and the U.K.