“I only live in the past and the future; my existence is solely devoted to a) thinking about what will happen next and b) thinking back to what’s happened before.”
Chuck Klosterman, one of my favorite essayists, wrote the quotation above. It comes to mind whenever people say, “live in the moment.” As a motto, living in the moment fights human nature at its core. History tells us that our future will be riddled with surprises, whims, phases, excitement, boredom, delays, milestone successes, and abject failures.
The majority of companies and brands don’t consider life’s lack of predictability when they build customer journeys. Instead, they sketch out a hypothetical path that’s flattering to their view of the world economically. Although companies leverage data available to them, customers deviate from the prescribed journey due to changes in environment. If you want proof, a recent myth-busting survey by Aberdeen found that 96% of chief marketing officers (CMOs) are not satisfied with their ability to deliver customer journeys. Another by eConsultancy found that only 12% believe their marketing is real-time enough to keep up with customer needs.
Data science and automation play a part in solving this problem, but that’s only part of it. Companies must surrender to the fact that customers move about the world in a sporadic and fickle way. In the age of Digital Darwinism, customers move faster than the companies trying to reach them with products or services. It’s not enough for brands to predict, respond or even react to customers anymore.
They must adapt.
Introduction to Adaptive Marketing
My definition of adaptive marketing is the use of data, technology and processes to build customer experiences that evolve instantly based on the behaviors, interests and needs of real people. The goal is to create a more malleable strategy for engaging customers across channels. Adaptive marketing assumes that people’s lives take non-linear paths. Rather than try to guess those paths – or automate them into hypothetical journeys no one follows – companies should let customers dictate their own path and have a system that adjusts quickly and intelligently for them on the fly.
In my mind, there are three core areas of focus needed to start your path to adaptive marketing.
1. Pragmatic Identity Management, Both Online and Offline
Marketers should shift their focus from “a universal customer profile” or “360-degree view” that spans all systems and applications. Sure, it looks beautiful in a consultant’s slide and utopian in software demos. But the reality is, it’s expensive and it usually doesn’t work (read: last twenty years of software history). That’s because those systems operate on inherent structure in a decidedly unstructured world when it comes to customer identity.
As customers vacillate between digital devices and offline channels – such as going to purchase something at a retail store or doing research on their phone – they create disparate identifiers about themselves. When on a desktop computer, they generate a cookie. On a mobile phone, they generate a device ID. A customer relationship management (CRM) system, data warehouse and email system weren’t designed to understand those interactions. Even when force-fitted to ingest that kind of data, they do so with great latency. This hinders marketing’s ability to reach that customer quickly and consistently across paid, owned and earned media.
Adaptive marketing acknowledges the complexity of all these IDs by leveraging an ID Graph. The ID Graph understands, ingests and ultimately links these IDs together. These IDs can be generated from anonymous interactions – say with digital advertising. They can also be generated through known interactions on your earned and owned digital marketing channels, such as website, social or email. In some cases, it will make sense to federate all of them to one ID. In other cases, maybe for privacy reasons, they should remain separate.
2. Actionable Audience Data
Once we have a better approach to identity, companies must re-think how they fill in the picture of their customers with relevant data. An adaptive marketing system connects valuable data from known systems – such as email, CRM and web analytics – and leverages it alongside third-party data used for advertising.
To be clear, this doesn’t mean CRM or other transactional data warehouses don’t play an important role. Far from it! Instead, let them do what they do best. They should store transactional data and make it persistently available to the adaptive marketing system when needed to orchestrate a consistent experience for an individual audience.
This pragmatic approach to leveraging customer data for journeys supports what Andrew Frank at Gartner would call a push from personalization to persona-fication. Essentially, this means that while it’s well and good for companies to have a goal of delivering individual experiences by unifying data, the bigger goal should be to have a system that connects with the right data for specific audiences that share similar attributes. For the customer, the result will feel personalized and relevant. For the marketer, they have an approach that scales.
3. Behavior-Based Orchestration
An adaptive marketing platform recognizes customer behavior, preferences and interests. It then evolves instantly based on those factors. This is done through marketing orchestration. When done correctly, experiences are not only determined based on binary forks in the road, such as whether someone purchased a product or opened an email. The experience adapts based on the totality of behaviors the customer might perform, such as engagement with specific content or activities that happen offline. It also needs to be fast. In today’s world of instant gratification, customers want what they want quickly, even if they’re not yet ready to buy.
Part of orchestrating the experience is predicated on the ability to optimize it. It’s vital to test, test and test again. Marketers must monitor audience engagement and how that ties to specific conversions through analytics platforms, adjusting the experience automatically based on those results.
True to its name, I expect this concept of adaptive marketing to evolve in the coming months, so stay tuned here on the Modern Marketing blog for more ideas and stories of how Oracle customers are doing it today.
Author Bio: Chris Lynch is the Senior Director, Product Marketing at the Oracle Marketing Cloud.
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