Don’t Drown in Data. Use it to Make Experiences More Human (and Enjoyable)

Over the past decade the pendulum has swung heavily from memorable brand experience anchored by creative expression to data-driven campaigns fueled by all type of connected systems.
In many instances, the push for data has pulled us too far away from the human element that makes the best products and services generational must-haves. Don’t get me wrong, data is important. But deriving wisdom to create consumer rapport using that data is integral to long-term success.

(Full disclosure: I am an avowed Bill Bernbach disciple and spent several very enjoyable years at the agency that bears his name, DDB.)

In a world where ‘communications’ were the staple of the marketer, advertising icon Bill Bernbach was the chief whisperer to many of the world’s leading brands from McDonald’s to Chivas Regal to Alka-Seltzer (a fun triad to consider).

Marketers are putting experiences together to unlock certain consumer behaviors.

Of communications, the ever-quotable Bernbach famously said, “In communications, familiarity breeds apathy.” The meaning was fairly simple. Monotony was not a great sales enabler. We tune out the expected occurrence. Words too oft repeated become wallpaper. Bernbach saw this early on and managed his teams and their clients away from it.

What even Bernbach could not have anticipated was a world where communications was no longer the core staple for marketers. It is a tool, but not the tool as it once was. Today’s marketer is different. Instead of relentless focus on putting words and images together in combination to unlock a certain consumer emotion, marketers are putting experiences together to unlock certain consumer behaviors.

The Salad Days of Data-Driven Marketing

Let’s look at some examples of how understanding the consumer is still the lynchpin to loyalty and engagement, and data is a tool to get a brand through its journey to each happy customer. 

  • Brian M. is a lapsed customer of your trendy Salad Restaurant concept. What’s the right product, experience and value prop to seal the deal and get him back in the door? Turns out Brian has no issue with your salads. He has a problem waiting in queue for them. Allow him an easy way to order ahead and pay. Now he’s a regular. You might only uncover this insight through trial and error. First a discount. Next a bonus opportunity (Buy a salad, get a protein bar). Still nothing. Finally, you don’t incent him at all. You focus on the experience. Use the app, order ahead and pay through the app with a stored card and your greens will be waiting for you at the time of your choosing. Brian’s now a regular once more.
  • Liz C. comes three times per week but always gets the same thing. Might be fine in a coffee shop, but in most restaurants it’s a recipe for fatigue if not disaster. Maybe a free vegan protein bar with purchase of a seasonal special will convert her to a full menu regular. Again, try things that your combination of personal expertise and experience, AI and machine learning technical capabilities, and ‘wisdom of crowds’ cohorts have responded to under similar circumstances, and pretty soon Liz will be joining you four days per week– at higher price points too.

Figuring out how to maximize the potential of every individual customer is daunting. It requires interrogating the data to deeply understand the behaviors and patterns of each customer intimately. From there you can find the right course to set each customer on to better experiences for them and better profitability and revenue for you. Of course, there’s the matter of aperture. Brian hasn’t read an email in ages. Liz lives for her apps. Brian doesn’t plan ahead so he has to be pinged to remind him to order. Liz builds time into her calendar to order lunch. What she needs is a surprise waiting for her upon opening her app at precisely 11:15am.

There’s more to marketing salads than meets the eye.

Talent and Technology

Bernbach famously said persuasion is more art than science. I directionally agree with the Great Man, but I don’t think they’re mutually exclusive. Great technology can make very creative and intuitive people all the more persuasive. So getting all of each customer’s relevantdata in one profile is critical. The general idea is that your profile should be purpose-built for action. You’re not building a repository for posterity. You’re building a canvas to design experiences with and upon right now. It should contain everything you need to make informed engagement decisions, but nothing you don’t.

The consumer is still the lynchpin to loyalty and engagement …

You may want to keep a customer’s old email address in your data warehouse for some potential use case down the line. If you’ve switched ecommerce platforms, you may have stored the old user ID, which you’d be wise to keep, but you don’t need that to engage that customer today.

Once you have those core ingredients essential to persuasive marketing, you need all the engagement tools to bring your knowledge and insights to life. At a minimum, that’s generally your email, push, and in-app inbox. That should be enough to check most of the marketing boxes.

You’ll also want to ensure that your non-marketing internal customer-facing people all have access to the same real-time profile. A great personalized product recommendation beautifully crafted and smartly delivered is all for naught if the customer calls Customer Service with a question and gets a very uninformed colleague, not because your colleague was disinterested, but because she had no access to the profile through the system of record for Customer Service. If you’re a retailer, connecting your floor associates to the real-time profile via clienteling apps is a great way to deliver white-glove service even if you’re a blue collar auto parts chain.  Not only can the associate be better versed, and therefore better positioned to deliver a better customer experience, they’ll also be better positioned to actually add to the profile — “Customer expressed an interest in rebuilding carburetor this spring.

Giving to Get

One of the more remarkable campaigns out there right now is Domino’s “Points for Pies” promotion. To my mind, it’s a perfect example of marketing not simply conveying a message, it’s also delivering the response. That thrust and parry is functionally ‘the product.’ The program offers loyalty points for customers who upload pictures of their pizzas into the Domino’s “Piece of the Pie” app. Not only is it clever in that it’s well understood that food is among the most popular things for the Instagram generation to snap photos of, it’s downright genius to award points for any pizza — even competitors’ pizzas.

First, you’ll glean massive competitive intel by region, neighborhood, individual restaurant and even individual customer. Understanding who you’re up against is half the battle, and mobile’s geo-specific nature enables a better understanding than yesterday’s CMO would have dreamed possible. On top of knowing where consumers are buying their pies, you’ll know more about when by daypart and weekpart. With that information you can have a better sense of when to time your messages by customer, critical for optimal engagement.

Pizzas are various combinations of flour, water, tomato sauce, cheese and toppings. Giving away a few pizzas in exchange for this rich customer data is like trading a large Cheese and Pepp for a bag of gold. Freely-given first-party data are the kinds of unique ingredients a skilled marketer can use to massively increase their share of the pie.

This is marketing not just as a conveyor of the offer or even creator of the message, but creator of experience.

Bernbach would have a field day.

The Drunkard, the Lamp Post and the Modern Marketer

Speaking of Bernbach, while he was my "guy," he had contemporaries of equal regard and achievement. One of those legendary "Mad Men" was Bernbach’s rival, and in many ways his opposite, David Ogilvy. It’s said that marketing is the fusion of "Art and Commerce." Well, if those are the options, Ogilvy is definitely commerce. An early pioneer of testing and data, Ogilvy famously said, “Never stop testing, and your advertising will never stop improving.” 

… and data is a tool to get a brand through its journey to each happy customer. 

I agree that testing, both formal and informal, is constructive to most types of consumer engagement. Ogilvy would be in his glory today; a kid in a candy shop of testing and data. Modern technology platforms will allow you to send five different forms of campaigns in five different directions and see which comes back the winner. He would have loved that. More often than not, there is no clear winner due to various forms of variable, Bernbach’s frequent contention, but there is always much to be learned. Then and now, it’s down to the marketer’s judgement how to proceed next.

Even Ogilvy himself agreed. “I notice increasing reluctance on the part of marketing executives to use judgment; they are coming to rely too much on research, and they use it as a drunkard uses a lamp post for support, rather than for illumination.”

Spot on. Imagine the paralysis by analysis today versus then!

The best marketers use data to light the way forward, not cover their behinds. That hasn’t changed. Today’s CMOs do increasingly heed Ogilvy’s sage advice. Aside from the modern toolset, today’s marketer is just wired differently. One of Ogilvy’s most quoted insights was, “The consumer isn’t a moron; she is your wife.”

In the same way, today’s CMO isn’t a moron either. She is your wife.