Human to human: The end of B2B/C marketing

When I first began my career, I’d hear people say things like “business is business,” which they would use as an excuse for treating people badly. Today, more people are realizing that business is actually just people, which completely shifts the paradigm. Your approach should shift with it.

Marketing has traditionally been segmented into two categories — business to business and business to consumer – also known as B2B and B2C.

Even these names imply an impersonal, transactional approach to customer relationships – and that’s exactly what we saw. Fortunately, business thinking is evolving and there’s a better approach – human to human (H2H).

H2H starts to say:

“I’m not a business and you are not a business or a customer. We’re both human and we’re going to have a conversation about something which will hopefully benefit both of us.”

Think of H2H as simply talking to someone, communicating the same way you would if they were standing in front of you. In a conversation, you share information that needs sharing and you can expect some immediate feedback. And while technology often feels less personal – think spam emails and robo-calls – it’s now giving us the opportunity to turn that around and be more human.

Human conversation

Imagine I go into a restaurant and receive poor service.  I might fill out a comment card and, based on my experience, I expect that comment card just to go into a void. I never actually expect the company to talk back to me.

Today, we have online review pages, and many restaurants have Facebook pages or Twitter accounts. If I leave a message there for a company, I’m much more likely to get a direct response. Since the restaurant can see who I am on social media, they can provide a personal, immediate response. And that response shouldn’t be pro forma marketing-speak. It’s more like a conversation with a friend who you let down. Offer to make it up somehow. Sorry you had a bad experience. What can I do to make it up to you?  Can we offer you a discount on your next visit, or a refund for part of your meal? That’s treating the customer as a human.

Too many companies still haven’t figured this out, and it’s worse among companies marketing to businesses. They have all the same channels as consumer marketers – email, social media, phone, along with ample data about their customers, but much of the language they use is still purely transactional.

There’s little or no attempt to understand the person they’re talking to, or where they fit it into the purchasing process. They treat every person as if they were the decision maker, so most of what they’re sending falls on deaf ears. They are in the company’s customer database, but they’re the wrong people. They’ve moved to a new job or even to a new company. And on top of all that, every single email those customers receive is an attempt to sell to them.

This results, all too often then, with the wrong message, being sent to the wrong person, through the wrong channel, in the wrong tone and at the wrong time.  Hardly a great H2H experience!

Instead of sending constant sales pitches, how about trying to establish a relationship with your potential customer? Start by understanding the person’s role at the company. Once you know what he or she does, you might decide to send relevant content about industry trends and best practices in their area of expertise.

Remember:  they’re a human. And you wouldn’t just walk up to an unfamiliar human on the street and say: You’ve got to download this thing, here’s what it costs. You need to build trust with that person first.

Human understanding

Today, familiarity and trust can be created more quickly using data and information that is readily available. At FullContact, we research prospective customers using internal tools that help us understand them as individuals – as humans.

Let’s say we find that a prospect is a fan of the Green Bay Packers and that they also graduated from UC Berkeley – as did Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. As a way to introduce ourselves, we might send her a care package through the mail, which includes some fun Aaron Rodgers paraphernalia. We are a company with great insights on humans.

We like to get to know our potential customers as humans as well. We think this gift demonstrates both of those things.

As you might imagine, we get some interesting responses. Some people are a little surprised that we can actually get that much data about them. Other people think it’s fantastic that we took the time to understand who they are, and they want to discuss how that approach might help their company.

Forward thinking companies are getting much better at relating to their own customer as a person as opposed to a number. And as people become more aware of how companies can use their data to deliver better service, they will come to expect more out of their relationships with those companies.

But collectively, we’re still at a very early stage on the journey to meaningful H2H customer communications.

To get there, we need to think differently about each interaction we have with a customer. Every web comment, every email, every Tweet about a product is an opportunity to engage with a customer on a one‑to-one level. It’s time to retire B2B and B2C and embrace H2H.

Your customers will be glad you did.

– by Scott Axcell

Reordering the data treasure trove: how to be GDPR ready

For marketers, Gartner’s prediction that 8.4 billion connected things will be in use this year means two things. Firstly, they will have access to a treasure trove of data. Secondly, the omni-channel nature of this data means it’s likely information will be held across multiple isolated platforms, making it hard to find true insight gems.

And with the May 2018 GDPR deadline fast approaching, making such huge volumes of fragmented data manageable — and compliant — on time will be no mean feat.

But the challenge isn’t insurmountable. It is possible for marketers to reorder their data and transform it onto a controllable, single store of insight using technology already at hand.

What’s more, embracing the GDPR’s mission to quell consumer distrust and protect online privacy could deliver valuable rewards for businesses; especially those that take an early lead on championing transparent data usage.

So how can these issues be tackled to ensure GDPR readiness?

Connect the dots

At present, consumer data is often siloed on several levels. For instance, data from website visits is kept separately to social, mobile data, and email insight.

And it doesn’t end there: offline data is also frequently stored separately to digital data, so in-store purchase information and catalogue orders have their own datasets too. But to understand consumers and serve relevant, timely messages — as well as keep data practices in check — it is crucial to link all activity.

This sounds like a tough task, but in fact, the data within multiple silos can be connected to form a data hub using models such as Unified Data Hub (UDH) or data-centric web services. This enables marketers to achieve a single view across datasets that allows for the creation of centralised segments and can be easily adapted over time to accommodate new tools as further engagement channels are introduced.

Admittedly key entity data can be complex, depending on the type of business, but once integrated it offers an efficient and effective means of joining-up the consumer journey, regardless of the devices involved along the way.

Ensure compliance

Bringing data together is one thing, but to achieve full GDPR adherence there are many other factors marketers will need to consider; such as when, where and how they are using, and storing, data.

To help them on their way, here are a few of the core processes they must follow to get a firm hold on first-party data and keep brand-customer relations strong.

Obtain consent

All businesses involved in collecting personal data (defined as any data that can be used to identify individuals, from economic to social information) need to obtain clear consent to do so. Requests for consent need to be simply worded and explain how data will be used.

Be transparent with data

Once consent is given, businesses can only use the data in question for the purpose originally stated. Furthermore, they should not hold data longer than is necessary and must delete personal information if requested by the user and if it is not essential to their services.

Report security breaches

The GDPR stipulates that any breach of data security must be reported to the local data protection authority within 72 hours of discovery.

Implement ‘privacy by design’

Businesses are obliged to implement ‘privacy by design’; in other words the construction of all systems, projects, and procedures must include privacy protection measures.

No-one would question that customer data is a valuable asset for all businesses. But the vast amount of data being generated, and its fragmentation, can hamper marketing efforts, in addition to making data compliance difficult.

Yet by connecting information in a universal data hub and bridging silo gaps, marketers can effectively store and analyse customer data insights, using technology already at their fingertips.

And taking that leap towards GDPR compliance can do a lot for retaining consumer trust and enhancing communications – it’s simple, it’s effective; it’s the way to stay ahead.

– by Lindsay McEwan

Marketing Agility: making the buzzword a reality

Marketing agility has become a buzzword in the industry; the ability to adapt quickly in response to customer behaviour, market conditions or a change of business direction.

Achieving this requires organisations to fundamentally change the way that they work, challenging traditional campaign cycles and processes that felt comfortable and adopting new ones that, quite frankly, will, at first, feel wrong.

Experience is now the product

The evolution is being driven by competition – no sector is free from disruption – but also by the customer, in what has become the experience age. Consumers no longer want products; they want to buy into brands that have purpose and to feel some kind of affinity with this purpose.

They also want to be able to engage with the brand, not just before they buy, but throughout the entire lifecycle as users and owners. This engagement is driven by them, at times that suit them and via their channel of choice, and they expect a seamless and personal experience.

Servicing this expectation requires a fundamental shift where organisations genuinely put the customer experience at the top of the agenda. The implementation of a customer experience platform is a step in the right direction but you can’t give someone a car without teaching them how to drive it.

Getting real value from that platform for the customer and the business will require change across the board, in thinking, ways of working and culture.

A fundamental and cultural shift

Digital projects tend to focus on a technology change, such as platform migration, or a finished deliverable; a new website, for instance. Very rarely are businesses free enough from the constraints of time and budget to be able to prioritise the adoption of new ways of working over ‘finishing’.

And this, in itself, perpetuates old ways of working; spending all the budget up front on the big launch and leaving little or no resource for creating the tools and techniques to support rapid future change.

It’s useful to draw some parallels between the evolution of software development and the current agile trend in marketing. Big waterfall projects are similar to the big campaigns that marketing teams often still rely on. Plan and design everything, get it right on paper, then commit to a big spend to build it and launch it with a bang.

Nobody wants to do that in software anymore, as they realise that no amount of cleverness at the design stage will be worth anything if you’re not creating what your customers need. And nothing is more real than the purchasing behaviour of actual customers to determine that. So launch something small, quickly and then iterate.

Once you are able to change and adapt rapidly, then you can start to understand the data and analytics to optimise your experiences going forwards and respond to outside influences.

Data and Insight

To be truly agile, marketing teams need to embrace data to ensure that behavioural insight captured on a customer experience platform is turned into actionable insight and business results. Capturing the data is where technology comes into its own; helping to collate information across touch points and identify what is and isn’t working well.

Turning data into insight itself can bring with it a whole new set of challenges. Who owns the data? Is it the right data? Is it going to answer the questions that need answering? Data that lives in a silo doesn’t help when it comes to looking holistically at the customer journey.  So organisations may find that they have to refocus and restructure to really make sense of the data and use it to drive agile practices.

A new way of working requires new roles

While putting customer experience on the C-suite agenda will help drive organisations towards a new agile way of working, change must be driven throughout the organisation. There’s so much talk of ‘breaking down silos’ but this is easier said than done.

The introduction of new roles can however catalyse necessary change and help to embed customer experience into the DNA of a business.

We are already seeing the emergence of Journey Managers, Experience Managers and Chief Customer Officers – roles which simply didn’t exist a few years ago. These arterial roles are agile by design; you can’t silo them because they span the whole business and customer journey.

Great customer experience comes down to the ability to sustain relevant conversations, at the right time on the right device. And that means having the right people on board and the right processes in place.

Technology Adoption

Change is hard and it is often easier to stick to old, familiar ways of working than to embrace new ones. Investing in and building new technology solutions is hard enough. But getting a large organisation to successfully leverage and use new technology is even more critical.

An organisation can spend what they like on technology, but without investing in adoption, they simply cannot expect to change working practices and become more agile overnight.

Adoption is about people, not technology. Put yourself in their shoes, understand their mind-set and don’t expect them to feel as positive about the new technology as you do. Not only is change hard, it is not always desired.

Training should be bespoke to different teams and relevant to their specific needs and concerns. Organisations with a truly customer-centric view should realise that their employees are internal customers and personalise their journey to agile in a way that is appropriate to them.

Turning this new marketing buzzword into reality is not an overnight process. It changes projects from outsource-able, ‘do it for us’ activities into business transformation or change programmes. The latter are significantly more challenging to get right, particularly in big companies, requiring technology investment, organisational and culture change and plenty of training.

However, in the experience age there isn’t a sector that is free from disruption and therefore, there isn’t an organisation that can afford to stand still.

An agile organisation will be better equipped to respond quickly and efficiently to change, to engage with their customers with relevant content on their terms and to deliver value back to the business and the customer from significant investment in technology. And let’s face it, delivering that value is all that really matters in the end.

– by Miro Walker