Kelly Shelton wanted a new truck. Maybe a Ford, maybe a Toyota. He wasn’t necessarily sold on a brand. Shelton decided whatever company provided him with the most useful, transparent information would win his business.
So he started online research. One company stood out because it indexed online content best. When Shelton typed in certain keywords related to his search, this company provided useful information. Shelton quickly found out payment information and truck features. He read customer reviews and learned how the brand truly delivered.
Today, he drives a black Toyota Tacoma.
“Toyota did a better job guiding me to where I wanted to go,” the vice president of marketing at Boostability says. “You can’t just have a hooky message that says, ‘Come in! It’s only 100 bucks a month!’ Consumers now know they can get more info. That’s how I became an educated buyer. They won my business that way.”
Shelton’s story illustrates a new customer experience in marketing. During the traditional era of advertising (circa 1960s), you got customers in the door through a “push” instead of “pull” mentality. But customers are more in charge today through technology. Potential customers pick up their smartphone to find who best offers a compelling story, useful resources, emotional connection, insightful data and an understanding of the customer’s purchasing journey.
That kind of world wins the customer’s business.
“I remember the days where I wrote a radio script and felt like I was intruding on someone’s life, trying to get them to do something that maybe they didn’t want to do,” says Shelton, a 20-year marketing expert. “That’s evolved to today, where marketing is basically just ‘be there when they want you and need you.’ That’s ‘pull’ marketing versus ‘push’. I love what tech has done there.”
Lori Feld, who boasts 30-plus years in the marketing industry, says technology tools—often data analytics and customer journey maps—provide more effective ways to observe customer behavior and emotions. She likes to get down to “what matters most” to a customer.
“We know by gobs of research that people make decisions out of their gut and their heart,” says Feld, president of North America at MRM//McCANN. “You can automate all you want, but if you’re not able to marry that authentic emotional connection with the value of tech, you still aren’t going to win.”
Look at your data, pull out what those numbers mean and find the right story to tell on the right tech platform, she says. Almost anything is possible on tech platforms today. But just because the tool is available, doesn’t mean a business should use it. Feld says marketers today need to understand what they should not do as well as what they should do.
“If you just try to follow what you think the behavioral trend of your audience is, they could walk you right off a cliff,” she says. “Know what to do and what not to do in 2017.”
That’s what her clients are trying to sort through. She often sees businesses struggle with this digital transformation. Some tips? Ask how you can change with technology, she says. And hire people who possess tech skills as well as marketing skills.
“You can automate all you want, but if you’re not able to marry that authentic emotional connection with the value of tech, you still aren’t going to win.”
Phil Case, managing partner at Fluid Advertising, says good tech marketing can do the work of three to four full-time hires. And one of the best ways to remain relevant is to offer a willing mind to new tech platforms.
“If you’re a company without a website you’ve already failed,” Case says. “I was visiting with a gentleman [and his] 85-year-old business and their online presence is dismal. And he’s talking to us because he wasn’t sure how to digitally transform his business and redirect his marketing dollars to be more beneficial.”
Case says that if you’re a 45-year-old-and-under customer, you probably won’t call the business and ask for a salesperson—you’ll do online research. It’s the same reason why any bank he works with believes their online branch is the most important branch.
“If you don’t make a good first impression you won’t even hear from the [customer].”
Just like Feld and Shelton, Case agrees that you’ve got to tell a story through technology if you want people’s business.
“I love the term speak human,” Case says. “The audience wants to connect in a personal way. Millennials and Generation Z almost demand that. The best campaigns we’ve seen aren’t the ones who hit you with the same annoying ad that says ‘click here.’”
You’ve got to tell a more sophisticated story through ads now. When two products or brands are comparable, the one with the more compelling story wins despite a company’s online bells and whistles.
“If there’s no substance at the core then you will never have serious consideration,” he says.
Case in point
Feld says her company worked with the restaurant IHOP on various digital and social platforms. They created specific styles and tones for each platform, and also adapted content so it was more consumer relevant. When National Pancake Day rolled around in March, they grabbed a huge opportunity for storytelling and engagement.
“Who wants to post about pancakes? Unbelievable amounts of people,” Feld says.
MRM//McCANN monitored and engaged IHOP social media feeds on National Pancake Day. The company saw big increases in social media fans and followers. Feld says there’s a hard science behind creating an emotional connection with a product—even if it’s something like pancakes.
“We’re listening to what they want from the restaurant and IHOP is using it. It’s not just fun pics of Aunt Sue at IHOP—they’re using it for feedback. Everyone can relate to pancakes.”
A huge advantage of technology is that it provides real-time feedback. This feedback fuels marketing strategy, product development and even service, Feld says. Now businesses can constantly improve how they engage.
But make sure you engage underneath the hood, too. Shelton says today’s tech world requires speaking the language of Google, or knowing how people find you online. When a customer is ready to buy, they’ll land on your website so you want your online chops and search engine optimization skills to stand out.
“You can create the best content but if nobody sees it or finds it, it doesn’t really help you,” Shelton says.
Companies can win a customer’s business by embracing technology in their marketing strategy. Feld says constant engagement and adaptability are also key. As long as you can adapt, embracing those challenges makes you and your product better.
“It’s probably the most complex time to be in marketing but it’s also absolutely an adventure,” Feld says. “And it’s so fun. It’s more progressive, interesting and dynamic than ever.”