Marketing has long been ruled by the creative, but advancements in technology and data collection have caused some serious industry disruption. The effect has been increased accountability on marketing investment and heightened importance on the customer experience. As a result, I am seeing today's leading brands shifting to a more scientific approach, adopting a data-driven philosophy and transforming the way marketing is done. And for the brands that are doing it right, it's paying big dividends.
Before writing this article I spent some time looking into brands that have embraced this industry evolution, so I could share a practical case for what it takes to succeed. During my research, I was fortunate to get in touch with E*TRADE, a company currently on a journey to move from an advertising led, supply-driven marketing strategy, to a data led, customer-centered approach. A recent discussion with the company's Chief Marketing Officer, Liza Landsman, offered some insight into how and why they've begun this voyage. "We wanted to shift to a better understanding of two fundamental things: First, our customers and how they integrate E*TRADE into their life, and second, how we are spending the firm's money," said Liza. She added that, "previously, fantastic advertising creative led E*TRADE's marketing, and although the strategy had worked well for years, a transformation was necessary for the next stage of growth." The company wanted to expand beyond the traditional scope of advertising and focus on leveraging the rich data that was available, to create a more targeted strategy to better understand and connect with customers.
Because this is a common discussion I have with marketing leaders, I was interested in learning what advice Liza had to offer to others who are embarking on similar digital transformations. She shared the following five tips, critical to any organization considering a shift in strategy:
1. Embrace the pain, depending on where your organization is, you may have an uphill battle.
2. Figure out the key questions you need to answer that will allow your organization to achieve success and marshal your resources against them.
3. Culture drives success, so get the right people.
4. Staff analytically, there are new skills necessary to be successful in marketing.
5. Executive buy-in is critical, so make sure you have alignment at the top.
In my experience, Liza's five tips are spot-on, and the common thread is infrastructure. "Much like a glacier, the tip sticking out of the water is advertising, but there is so much more going on beneath the surface," Liza insightfully remarked. In order to successfully pull this off, it's critical to invest in the necessary talent, technology, process, and overall organizational infrastructure. Companies today are simply not built to support this type of activity; they need to be constructed differently. The alignment from within is often times a large hurdle, which may require you to make some changes, but when you can get everyone rowing in the same direction it can lead to great success.
As you think about your own infrastructure, remember that at the end of the day, you're organizing to be able to answer two key questions: How do I create the most relevant experiences for my customers? and How do I allocate my budget most effectively? The more you rally your resources around answering those questions, the sooner you'll be on your way to leading a successful data-driven, customer centric enterprise.
Make no mistake, this is difficult. It can even be scary for some, especially at scale. But if it's difficult for you, it's also difficult for your competitors. Embrace the difficulties and use them as a way to differentiate your brand. For E*TRADE, the proof is in the pudding. Quarterly metrics look great, they've acquired more new customers through July of 2014 than all of 2013, attrition is down, engagement metrics online continue to rise, and the transformation is still in early stages. Regardless of your stage, remember to define your goals and determine the best way to organize your resources against them. Hire quantitatively minded individuals that can analyze data, and even more importantly, that can show you how to best utilize it. Ensure that your executive team is on board during the transition. Finally, don't lose sight of your customers; this transformation is for them, not you. They will thank you later, I promise.