The Election Is Over, but for Brands Campaign Season Never Ends

The Best Way to Stay Relevant? Smart, Thorough Use of Data

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"A politician thinks of the next election. A statesman, of the next generation."
James Freeman Clarke

At last, the rally sites are quiet, the ballots tallied and the polling places closed. The U.S. presidential race and the latest nationwide elections have ended. There are winners and there are losers. If it were only that easy for brands.

Brands are trapped in a never-ending state of election, with streams of consumers as either their toughest constituents or someone else's. They are trapped in a tug-of -war between short-term campaign payoffs—the next election is now, tonight, tomorrow, next week, next quarter—versus long-term viability.

In addition, those perpetual voters, the consumers, today are more educated about their choices and have more choices than ever. Mark Twain said, "Don't tell fish stories where the people know you; but particularly, don't tell them where they know the fish." Believe me, consumers know the fish. In this environment, trust and loyalty are not things deserved, they have to be earned and maintained; thus, another quandary for brands.

When every state is a "battleground state" every day, practically every minute, how do brands remain relevant, viable and long-term resources for their customers, employees and shareholders? What fuels this viability? The answer is data. We are awash with data, but it isn't as simple as dipping your hand into a pile of chad and pulling out an answer. There are "rules of order" for keeping tough but valuable constituents engaged and loyal. There are disciplines that lead to stronger coalitions between short and long-term gain.

First, for the level of precision and relevance our modern world requires, the data must be filtered, refined and integrated across all pertinent data streams, internal and external. Thus, a brand must view its data as an enterprise asset.

Next, the brand must invest marketing dollars proportionally in its most valuable (profitable, loyal, socially influential or product ready) customers. I am not dismissing the importance of new customer acquisition, but we all learned in marketing 101 that marketing to existing customers has a higher payoff. Moreover, recognizing what makes a "most valuable customer" helps you prioritize and fund efforts to acquire others. Short and long-term gains can work across the aisle.

To ensure you are on course in your daily, weekly or quarterly campaigns, use your most sensitive "exit poll" information—your digital data—to optimize all your media decisions. The Internet is an amazing source of insight, but most organizations use this "outside" data narrowly, just for digital advertising—a missed opportunity. A display ad gone wrong is inconsequential. It was cheap to buy and will be cheap to correct. But using this "outside" data "in" your organization is another matter. For example, if digital data reveal that intent is geographically concentrated, wouldn't you also adjust your circular or local advertising?

What of the additional clues gleaned from leveraging what a brand knows about customers with what its media and publishing partners know about context? Most marketers don't need more advertising, they need advertising better placed. Examples? In digital advertising, it means matching a destination site's registration list against a brand's customer file. For television, it means matching set-top-box data (from tens of millions of households, not 25,000) against the customer file.

And the golden rule? Use the data these imperatives unlock for customers, for your constituents, not to do something to them. This means optimizing for long-term value. It means being the statesman versus the politician by building trust-based relationships, not quick scores. And while providing relevance to customers based on individual tastes and needs is paramount, savvy, responsible marketing leaders will be transparent in providing choice in the use of the data.

I'm convinced that there is a huge opportunity for data, when used in a responsible fashion, to drive commerce and to make lives easier, safer and healthier. Brands can campaign for immediate results and remain relevant, viable and long-term resources for their customers, employees and shareholders, their every minute, every day electorate. Brands can thrive in a state of constant election. They just need the proper fuel.

Tim Suther is Chief Marketing and Strategy Officer, Acxiom Corp.
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