Marketers: Consumers Don't Trust Your Ads

It's Time to Move from Campaigns to Customer Context Marketing

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Here's a message to CMOs: Consumers don't trust your ads. In fact, fewer than 25% of U.S. online consumers trust ads in print publications, and the numbers are even worse for digital media. The truth is, campaigns alone just won't cut it anymore -- no matter how good you are at tuning them.

Let's face it: Your brand is defined by the interactions people have with it. Despite all the activity that you try to catalyze through campaigns, individuals more commonly interact with your brand outside of those carefully orchestrated messages. They may learn about your product or service prior to purchase from a friend. After a purchase, they'll use your product, connect with others and even organize activities around it. They spread messages by word-of-mouth -- positive or negative -- and that, whether you like it or not, is your actual brand image.

The context of all those interactions determines whether customers will engage with, and more importantly, transact with your brand again. Marketing's new remit is to exploit customer context to deliver utility in the moment of need. Think I'm full of hot air? Take McCormick & Co. The 125-year-old manufacturer of herbs and spices created FlavorPrint to do exactly that. FlavorPrint's promise is simple: If you tell the online tool what you like, what ingredients you have in your pantry, and what your cooking preferences are, it provides tailored recipe recommendations. This works so well that since the site was launched, repeat usage has doubled, users increased the time they spent on the site nine-fold, and McCormick & Co. has seen double-digit growth in spice purchases from FlavorPrint users.

Or consider Nike. The brand dropped mass media spend in the U.S. by 40% while expecting to grow the company by $9 billion in three years. Crazy? Check out their financial reports -- they did just fine. So how did they do it? Products like FuelBand collect contextual data and draw consumers back to its digital platform, Nike+, workout after workout. The platform uses the power of social sharing to generate more interactions, creating a scale that rivals paid media. As of August, Nike+ had 18 million members, with 15,000 joining each day.

Even if you're intrigued by this continuous interaction model, your budget most likely tells the true story: Campaigns get all the action. They're important because hitting your numbers means finding the right customer segment in the right channel with the right message. But even the most advanced campaigns don't deliver competitive advantage anymore. Why? Because your competitors can get just as skilled as you are at the campaign game. It's time to change your focus from customer acquisition to interaction management, from media schedules to customer moments, and from transactions to value exchanges.

For CMOs, it's time to consider a new way of marketing. Enter the contextual marketing engine: a brand-specific platform that exploits customer context to deliver utility and guides the customer into the next best interaction. To be clear, this isn't a shiny new toy you can buy from a big software vendor. You'll need to roll your sleeves up, assemble a team, and build the engine from some of your existing tools, and yes -- perhaps some new ones, too.

Creating a contextual marketing engine will be hard for most. To succeed, you'll have to rethink your strategy, processes and technologies in four steps:

1. Define a marketing strategy to unleash useful interactions. If you're like most businesses, your marketing strategy is focused on brand awareness, customer acquisition and media spend. Don't just adjust this for digital marketing: Rethink it completely. Start by determining your brand's North Star -- a guiding principle that shapes your brand's external identity. Then, identify a repeatable interaction cycle that reinforces your North Star.

2. Reorganize marketing processes to spark the interaction cycle. Campaigns today are executed as a one-time command-and-control process with heavy planning upfront, and deadlines tied to product releases and media schedules. Instead, brands should manage the contextual marketing engine as a product -- a living, breathing system of consumer engagement.

3. Adapt your enterprise marketing technology portfolio. There's good news here. Marketers can use existing software applications and customer databases to get started. Your marketing automation, digital intelligence and digital experience delivery solutions will all play a role. So before you buy another marketing technology platform, take stock of your current technology assets and then make strategic investments that enable machine-learning capabilities.

4. Accelerate innovation with big data and analytics. Customer analytics, and its associated tools and technologies, must become embedded in marketing. You may think you're well-versed in analytics, but it's time to change how, and more importantly when, you apply and perform analytics. Working with your technology management colleagues, experiment with big data technologies to blend a new cocktail of predictive analytics tools and methodologies to guide customer decisions in the moment.

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