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The future of marketing will be all about customer data

Mar 21st 2011
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As I've mentioned in previous posts, Boston is rapidly rebranding itself as what Boston Globe columnist Scott Kirsner, and perhaps others, have dubbed as the Innovation Economy.  This week the focus was on marketing.

MITX, under the umbrella of FutureM, organized dozens of  (mostly free) events dedicated to exploring and sharing how the newest technologies and insights are changing the way that marketers think, create, engage, and measure.  It was information-packed, exhilarating, and exhausting.

This post focuses on what excited me most as a B2B marketing consultant.  Hint:  My company's tagline is "using customer knowledge to increase sales".

Get it right the first time

Speaker after speaker referred to the fact that many products fail simply because they don't address a compelling market need-something that companies could have determined prior to building and shipping the product.  Therefore, a lot of talks centered on various techniques that companies can use to gather customer information before and during the development process-and after the product ships.

Gather customer data early and often

While companies talk about being customer-centric, many treat marketing research as "one and done".  They gather customer data at the outset of a project, perhaps once or twice during the development cycle and right before the product ships, rather than doing so on an ongoing basis.  Moreover, few companies perform research after the sale to find out why they won or lost.

A lot of the speakers, on the other hand, gather customer feedback weekly, others bi-weekly, and still others monthly throughout the development process.  Many recommended getting to market quickly with what Eric Ries referred to, in the Customer Development session, with a Minimally Viable Product (MVP)-and iterating post-launch to magnify the learning.

The point they emphasized is that everything is always evolving:  the surrounding environment, enabling technologies, the competition, customers' requirements, and a company's understanding of its customers' needs.  Therefore, the development and marketing processes must be iterative,  and so must customer research.

Go where your customers are

Conventional marketing research relies on filtered information.  The sieve may be through the lens of particular functions such as Sales or Customer Service or the choice of questions for a survey or focus group.

Panelists encouraged audiences to gather feedback directly-and from multiple perspectives.  At the Customer Development session, they recommended going on site and observing customers' environments directly, watching them work, and seeing with whom they interact.  At the Product Strategy session, they also recommended involving whole teams, rather than just individuals with a particular perspective (such as design, marketing, development, etc.)

Focus on actions not words

How many times have you seen market researchers ask a prospective user which features matter most-or what they would pay for something?  As we've discussed in this blog before, users have no idea-because they don't fully grasp the circumstances under which they'll be making the decision.

Instead, panelists at the Digital Marketing session recommended focusing on actions rather than words.  That is, learn from customers clicks.  At the Product Strategy session, Katie Rae suggested putting up PPC ads to see what attracted user attention.

At the Customer Development session, speakers recommended asking for the order, even if the product was not finished yet.  That way, you know that prospects truly value what you plan to deliver.

At the Customer Engagement session, panelists encouraged participants to focus on the big picture.  In addition to finding out why people came to the site, they recommended finding out where people went when they left the site and what they did with the information they got during their visit.

Engagement fosters relationships

At one of the sessions, a panelist pointed out that it's now up to marketing to build and nurture relationships.  As we've noted elsewhere in this blog, by the time they contact a company many prospects have made their buying decision and just want to negotiate the terms of the deal.

Therefore, panelists at the Customer Engagement session noted that marketers must find out where prospects congregate and what they are discussing.  Doing so will enable marketers to engage prospects in a way that prospects find relevant.

At the Digital Marketing session, panelists said that in the future marketers will deliver less content and more utility.  They may engage prospects by facilitating conversations among them, rather than through direct participation.

They may also provide utility by helping improve users' offline experiences-even those that don't directly relate to the company's offerings.  For example, a pharmaceutical company may sponsor an exercise program and a law firm may help hospital inpatients learn from others' experiences.  When it comes to providing utility, mobile will often be the platform of choice because phones travel with their users.

Analytics are no longer optional

Another recurring theme was the importance of analytics-especially post launch.  Here, panelists focused on some of the related challenges including the rapid pace of change, integrating the various systems, making sense of all the data, and using the insights to empower communicators throughout the organization.

The marketer of the future?

At the Digital Marketing session, the panelists agreed that the marketer of the future must be a strong communicator, love technology, embrace qualitative and quantitative analysis, and adapt easily to change.

Visit these hashtags to see what others had to say #engagem #custdev2 #futuremdigital #prodstratm

Written by: Barbara Bix


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