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‘It’s the customer, stupid’: time for digital marketing to focus on human relationships

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Can digital marketing bring the customer back into focus?

Just stop for a minute and try to be an honest, normal person. We in the digital marketing sector have earned quite a reputation. Digital Advertising is apparently a business made from disrespecting people (in ways that we’ve always thought are harmless). We show lots of ads that are distracting, annoying or that get in the way, and most of the rest are ignored. (Remember, be honest.) Digital ads overall do return a profit for advertisers, but that’s just because they’re cheap. There are so many of them, they’re so cheap, it doesn’t matter that almost all of them achieve almost nothing.

Let’s think about this - and no need to be normal now - because in fact, we’re not normal. We’re intelligent, creative communicators. We understand people and their psychology. We know what good feels like. We know how to communicate - and we know how to dream.

Where our industry finds itself today, that just cannot be anybody's dream for digital communications and technology, or for the products and the marketing of the future.

A change of direction is possible for our industry though, and - this is the good news - it’s not just a theoretical possibility or a noble aspiration. There is a commercial advantage to be won for the businesses that change the most, and the earliest, and - with market forces behind it - the rest of the industry will follow.

We will begin to see digital advertising repositioned, and not just superficially. In the future, we won’t try to 'target' and 'hit' prospective customers; we’ll 'serve' them. The key to our industry’s renewal will be a change in its attitude and intentions, and a blurring of the lines: between advertising, product and customer service.

Bill Clinton’s first presidential campaign is celebrated for a great repositioning: of the US’s Democratic Party. The slogan for Clinton’s winning campaign was a fresh statement of renewed, confident leadership, and it implied that the opponent Republicans had forgotten an age-old, essential truth: “It’s the Economy, Stupid.”

The opportunities for Digital Marketing to do great things for business have never been more significant; but we will need to refocus - starting now - on real human relationships. Our campaign slogan?

‘It’s the Customer, stupid.’

The manifesto?

1. Be useful and generous; don’t act like a dick

Buy advertising because it’s part of your product, and part of your long-term relationships with each customer. Whatever you’re advertising, realise that your product can be service or a subscription now, and that your advertising is for sustaining and building trust, loyalty and a connection.

Don’t burn prospective customers by aiming simply to acquire transactions at any cost. Set generous, brave targets, like building the perception that your brand is useful. When it comes to revenue, measure and attribute lifetime value, and set that as the conversion target for your campaigns.

2. Do use data, but focus on first-party

Advertisers hold first-party data because they collected it themselves, as a product of their relationship (however nascent) with their customer (or prospect). For each person whose data an advertiser holds, it’s the first-party data that’s the unique advantage, because the relationship and the data’s description of it doesn’t exist for any competing advertiser. Invest in it, use it, build on it.

The other reason first-party data is so important is that it is as much about the product (and the service) as it is about the customer (or how to “target” and “hit” them). This is what will make one product’s advertising succeed over another: it’s when the product is better than the competition’s, and when the advertising is made part of the product.

Always remember: the quality of the customer’s experience with your advertising, and your product, is constantly working to earn and keep the permission you have to use the customer’s data and maintain your relationship with them. Be honest, pretend to be normal, and ask yourself, “Is this a good ad?”

3. Product, Customer acquisition, Customer Service, CRM: plan it as one

The reason a business advertises is because it has something to offer. It’s seeking new relationships. It has a product to offer and a service to deliver. It wants to be useful and valuable, to deliver satisfaction and win loyalty. And it wants to charge handsomely in exchange.

And yet advertising plans aren’t often enough a close part of all this. It’s as though when the campaign has done its job, it’s only then that the customer relationship begins - and that just doesn’t make good sense.

In digital, the campaign, the customer, the product and the way it’s consumed - and serviced - the cross-sell and up-sell, the added value - all of these can be continuous. That’s the dream of digital: that we can communicate in the joined-up, personal way that humans naturally expect.

And when the product and the communications are joined up, the value of the relationship between a brand and its customer goes up. All of the elements of product, service and communication should be planned as one effort, by people who actually work together.

We’re going to see our industry change direction. We have constant new opportunity to connect with people, and all the business and data tools we need. We’ll see a repositioning, and it’s obvious really: “It’s the customer, stupid.”

Kevin Joyner is planning and insight director at Croud

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