customer context marketing black holes

Some of your best marketing technology are your biggest obstacles

by | Sep 30, 2020

Welcome to Part 2 in our 4-part series on customer context gaps and how incomplete or siloed information about your customers can wreak havoc on customer experience and your bottom line. To read previous installments, click here for part 1.

Picture a large office building filled with tiny rooms. You will find a musician, a music stand with sheet music, and a microphone in each room. Every musician in this building is collectively recording a symphony, but no one knows the exact moment to start, the exact tempo, or even if they got the right sheet music on the right day. 

This recording’s goal is not a dissonant art project, but a straightforward recording of accessible, generally pleasant classical music. So why create all this room for error?

This disorder is the state that marketers have found themselves in ever since the digital revolution, and the subsequent glut of data up-ended how we interface with customers.

Each function within the marketing department has its own tools, KPIs, and customer data. 

The Social Media Marketer, who’s focused on organic interaction and influencer partnerships, is strangely lightyears away from the Performance Marketer who’s in the same channels but focused on paid media. 

And though the distance between them is great, it’s nothing compared to their distant relationship with the Email Marketing Manager.  

Sure, they may sit side-by-side in the office, but if they’re all targeting the same human customer, they’re going after a fragmented, three-headed digitized customer.

Context gaps are marketing black holes.

Every business faces moments where customer context is either unable to be deployed or lost entirely. These context gaps, or “marketing black holes,” are the single greatest obstacle to delivering superior, context-sensitive customer experiences.

If you find yourself wishing your channel strategies were more coordinated, or everything feels too hard and unnecessarily complicated, context gaps are the likely culprit.

Individually, the consequences can be minor: 

  1. Maybe you’re promoting a new product to someone who just purchased it yesterday. 
  2. Maybe you’re asking a customer to refer a friend when she’s just had a bad experience. 
  3. Maybe your overall messaging approach makes it just a little bit too hard for customers to find what they need in high-intent moments. 

None of these things will cripple a business on its own, but collectively they increase friction and erode trust, resulting in far-reaching consequences.

Marketing black holes can take many forms.

Gaps between experiences across channels
This can manifest as messaging that is wholly disconnected from one channel to the next (e.g., email sequences that fail to account for the messaging a customer receives via SMS or the ads they get on Facebook), often resulting in a cacophony of spam.

Gaps between campaigns and journeys
This can happen when a customer qualifies (in a rules-based world) for rigid journeys. These journeys coincide and collide with one-off messaging campaigns and promotions, resulting in incongruent promotions and excess messaging.

Gaps between lifecycle stages/states
When you acquire a new customer, you get a lot of information and intent signals from them. Still, as they move along lifecycle stages, that information might not persist in the handoff, leaving retention and reactivation efforts disempowered to fully reach a given customer. 

Gaps between online/offline experiences
This manifests as a disconnect between in-store activity with digital engagement, resulting in duplicate customers and a missed opportunity to personalize their offline experience with digital intel. 

Gaps between business units
This most commonly plays out as a disconnect between customer service and marketing, where information on customers is siloed and does not cross the blood-brain barrier between the two departments. Thus, both will forever miss out on critical, context-relevant data from interactions with one team failing to inform others. The more complex your business and the more business units there are, the greater the likelihood of this happening, which will be even more frustrating for your customers. 

In practice, gaps like these make delivering consistent, compelling experiences virtually impossible.

Can no Marketing Light escape these black holes?

“Thought leaders” keep telling committed, creative, empathetic marketers to build journeys, but the market has saddled them with linear journey builders and inflexible systems that cannot sustain customer context because no one designed these tools with that in mind.

Maintaining customer context throughout all possible interactions often goes unconsidered because it’s never been possible. Without it, though, customers face disruptive experiences, conflicting messaging, and enduring frustration.

Together, marketing black holes cause extreme friction within the customer experience, and the problem only compounds as brands expand their reach and diversify their product offerings. Each new context gap is not only another friction point for a customer today; it’s an interest-accruing technical and strategic debt.

What causes marketing black holes?

The challenge of eliminating marketing black holes lies in its common misdiagnosis as a limitation within one system. The reality is more complex and arises from technological silos.

In simple terms, entirely separate systems handle a business’s ability to listen, think, and speak.

Are you collecting and storing customer data? That’s listening, handled by one set of technologies. 

Are you building audiences and serving the most appropriate product recommendations? Now you’re thinking, and another set of teams and technologies handles that. 

Lastly, when it comes time for speaking, i.e., sending messages and delivering experiences, brands are forced to use a third category of technology to make this happen. 

Yet none of the above can coordinate effectively with one another, particularly at scale.

Legacy tools and systems can’t deliver against the requirements of delivering great experiences because:

They’re overwhelmed by data. Today’s customer generates massive data that must be collected and used everywhere she is, in near real-time. No one built legacy marketing technology with the scale and diversity of this modern, streaming customer data in mind.

They’re opaque. It can get quite tricky performing an audit of who gets what. Things like duplicate messages, erroneous messages, or message collisions from being eligible for multiple campaigns at once can be incredibly challenging to diagnose because of how fragmentary the systems powering them are. By extension, when baseline auditing is hard, it’s virtually impossible to get a meaningful view into actual messaging efficacy because you can’t eliminate all of the confounding variables of undetected over-messaging. 

They don’t recognize customers. Every time a new channel comes online, it creates a new siloed identity. The push provider holds data on the customer that the ESP never considers; the on-site personalization platform has a view of the customer that’s entirely different from the one used by the customer advisory team, and so on.

They create silos. Current-gen systems fail to consider integration as a requirement. For example, no one has built an email service provider to send and receive massive volumes of data seamlessly into other multiple tools in real-time.

They’re unitaskers. No one built legacy channel solutions that account for the reality that marketers would need to manage campaigns across dozens of channels, or that a customer might one day be eligible for hundreds of triggered messages at the same time.

They’re high-maintenance. From initial setup to ongoing business-as-usual, existing solutions require significant, always-on investments of time and technical resources, with manual workflows across technologies, channels, and teams.

These limitations and last-gen dynamics exert tremendous influence on most brands’ strategic customer vision.

By forcing customer experience teams to think primarily in terms of linear journeys and limited context, even the most innovative teams find themselves abandoning any hope of a flexible, customer-centric approach. Instead, they’re limited to the rigid, stepwise experiences their technology mandates, even while technology teams plan budgets and initiatives around the massive challenges legacy vendors introduce into their architecture.

In short, well-intentioned technology has hamstrung today’s most ambitious marketing leaders. As a result, customer experience quality remains (at best) uneven, compromising hard-won market positions. 

Join us next week when we explore how to escape the gravitational pull of marketing black holes. For Part 1 of this series, click here

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