The Future of Digital Marketing is Already Here

Targeting and Personalization


Today, the needs of all marketers are converging, creating a common set of goals. As marketers, we now strive to:

  • Build deep, enduring relationships with our customers at an individual, personalized level
  • Create engaging experiences tied together across channels and time at scale
  • Drive conversions and get insight into spend and effectiveness

Let’s think back to the movie Minority Report, which was filmed in 2002 but set in 2054. In a famous scene, Tom Cruise’s character walks into a Gap store. He scans his retinas, and the ad begins speaking to him: “Welcome back to the Gap Mr. Yakamoto, how are those assorted tank tops working for you?”

This movie predicted that, 50 years from now, personalized, 1:1 marketing would be the status quo. Director Steven Spielberg must have had a crystal ball – except that his timing was off. This type of personalized 1:1 marketing is much closer to reality than we’d think, thanks to the advent of tools and technologies like iBeacons (which can trigger messages sent to your phone based on your proximity to a certain location) and richly customized user experiences (easily implemented with real-time personalization tools).

Watch the clip from Minority Report on YouTube here:

For another great example of a “futuristic” marketing experience, we can look to British Airways’ excellent #Lookup campaign from late 2013. In the clip below, a child runs across a digital billboard and points upwards at a real airplane flying overhead. The billboard uses real time data gathering to locate the exact moment that a British Airways aircraft flies over, as well as when and how to display the advertisement. Even more remarkable, the system checks weather feeds to determine the height of nearby clouds, finding out which flight is visible and which information to display.

Watch the British Airways ad on YouTube here:

I’d argue that the future is already here, especially when it comes to presenting highly engaging, personalized, relevant advertising to consumers. The convergence of digital and “offline” marketing, in addition to the multiple screens and devices proliferating the landscape, are working together to make marketing more dynamic and engaging than ever before.

The question is: how can the average, or even slightly advanced marketer take advantage of these new possibilities, achieving new levels of personalization and relevance in their own marketing campaigns?

1. Understand Behaviors and Context

There is so much data available to marketers today. There is data that the marketer has already captured from prior user engagement in their marketing automation or email platform, there is purchase activity captured in CRM or in homegrown customer database systems, there is first party data from audience operating systems like Acxiom, and there is data from DMP/DSP firms like Turn or MediaMath. There is a tremendous amount of data to be gathered from social channels, review sites, in-store experiences, and elsewhere. All of this data should be utilized to keep marketers informed about customer behaviors and context within their “customer journey.”

multi-channel life

As the graphic above illustrates, today’s consumers move seamlessly across digital and offline channels.  According to a recent Experian QAS® survey, 36% of U.S. organizations interact with customers and prospects in five or more channels.

But, according to Experian’s 2013 Digital Marketer report, “fewer than 10% of brands are executing true cross-channel communications informed by one view of the customer.” That means that there’s a huge opportunity to increase relevancy for marketers.

2. Build Deep, Enduring Relationships with Customers Over Time

Let’s face it, it is frequently more cost effective and easier to keep and grow an existing customer than it is to constantly acquire new customers. Marketers have traditionally been split into acquisition and retention teams, with the acquisition teams receiving the lion’s share of resources and budget.

I’d argue that marketing is awakening to the concept that they have tremendous assets in their current customer base – if they could only build deep, enduring relationships over time. It’s not a new concept; firms have always looked at the CLTV/LTV (customer lifetime value/lifetime value) metric. But in order to impact and improve the CLTV, a marketer must evaluate their entire customer journey and identify points of contact throughout that journey that can drive desired outcomes. Desired outcomes could include additional sales, upsells, reviews/advocates, social comments, renewals, and more – however you measure success.

The chart below illustrates how complex a customer journey can be.  Managing all these different touch points, over time and across channels, can be a daunting task. This is also where marketing automation platforms often come in, helping marketers begin to automate and orchestrate these myriad touch points to drive maximum results and build enduring relationships.

customer journey

3. Make Every Channel Personalized!

As marketers, we’ve steadily improved how well we personalize in the email space, familiarizing ourselves with tokens and dynamic content. These items call upon your database to help populate and provide a measure of personalization in each person’s inbox, and are proven to dramatically improve conversion rates and return on your email campaigns. But remember that email is just one channel. How can a marketer personalize on all channels?

Start by curing your case of “website amnesia” – do you treat every website visitor the same, regardless of previous visits or their status as customers? These visitors might be your most loyal customers, yet you treat them as though you don’t remember them at all. How good does it feel when your favorite barista remembers your name and regular drink? That same positive customer experience can be replicated in digital marketing channels. Done right, it will elicit the same customer loyalty and deeper, more enduring customer relationships over time.

Website personalization can make your web and mobile channels as personal as your email.  With real-time personalization tools, marketers can engage even anonymous visitors with personalized content or calls-to-action that can potentially drive a 30% increase in conversion rates. Marketers can also personalize content for known visitors using rich marketing automation CRM information. Why not give your  VIP customers an enhanced experience? You might personalize content based on behavioral/contextual data (as we discussed above), location, firmographics, DMP (data management platform) or first-party data from sources like Acxiom.

For example, a retailer could use real-time personalization to 1) identify where a customer is located and 2) offer that customer a “Free Shipping to ___” offer.

In Conclusion 

We might not be scanning retinas at retail stores yet, but by listening to your customer’s behaviors and context, looking at the entire customer journey, building deep and enduring relationships, and applying personalization to more channels, today’s digital marketers can enter the new era.

What do you think? Is the future of digital marketing here?