Sunday, August 14, 2005

Context Demands Innovation Before Automation

Back to my main theme – context.

I was sitting next to a marketer from a British utility company. They had just purchased a content management system and only then discovered they had no idea how to use it. Based on the amount of interactivity on most websites, she was not alone. Part of the blame can go on the software. Most of it is so complex to manage that we mortal marketers balk. But more of the blame is on us. We’re not being innovative in discovering the things that our customers really want and then using this knowledge to carve out an unbeatable competitive advantage.

Microsoft Insights gives an example in “What Do Customers Really Want?” A bike shop owner was faced with the opening of a Wal-Mart store in his back yard. He turned customer knowledge into a program that delivered a knock-out punch. For the past ten years he was gathering data about his customers in exchange for free lifetime service on bikes purchased at his store. He knew which customers who had previously purchased a bike with a child seat were now ready to put their kids on a bike of their own. He made a deal to these parents. Buy a kids’ bike and the purchase price could be applied to a future bike purchase as the child was ready to upgrade. He turned context into a killer campaign that held off the Wal-Mart threat.

Peppers and Rogers tell of a food wholesaler who prepared maps of each customer’s store shelving. He knew which products were in aisle 1, aisle 2, etc. Then he packed his pallets to match the store layout, making it easier for the retailers to restock items. A simple, almost hidden strategy that made him indispensable to his customers.

Another retailer thought his business was run by walk-in customers. That is until he took the time to compare sales slips with Web hits. Then he realized his walk-ins had decided their product purchases on the Web only to discover the product was out of stock. He added an inventory confirmation service to the website that increased customer satisfaction.

Each of these three examples is an innovative example of using context to serve customers. The bike guy persistently collected customer information and stored it in a spreadsheet. Another just observed the same situation all his competitors could plainly see, but they didn’t. The third integrated web data with his intuition.

What can you do to learn more about your customers?

1. Use web surveys, scripted conversations and interactive content to solicit responses that reveal important factors about the customer’s needs, wants, interests, economics.

2. Use interactive content tracking on your website and eNewsletters to watch what content each customer selects to read. Use this content selection process to build a profile of customer interests so the organization can make future communications increasingly more relevant to each customer.

3. Use a similar process to identify whether the customer has entered an active buying cycle and determine if the customer is in an early or late stage of this cycle to trigger promotional offers that are relevant to the customer’s purchase readiness.

When we start thinking differently and then add in the power of marketing automation software, context unleashes stunning power.

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