Fixing the Integration Disconnect

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André Lejeune, CEO, Selligent
André Lejeune, CEO, Selligent

Few marketers engage their customers with a fully integrated marketing system, although it's often not by choice. Even when they can point to the opportunities—and revenue—lost from disconnected silos or convoluted integration processes, they face a series of challenges to reverse the situation. From company politics to overcoming legacy infrastructure to choosing between different-featured products, marketers need to know what route to take and what capabilities they truly need to succeed with an integrated system for customer engagement.

The payoff is worth it.

Done right, the integrated suite gives brands several key benefits. First, brands gain a lot of value from their investment since they can avoid buying different solutions and the IT cost of connecting them. Second, brands can create consistent customer experiences across all channels by operating from a single customer view, available in real-time. Finally, it simplifies day-to-day operations: A single solution for customer engagement, with easy-to-use interfaces, increases productivity, and in the end, that's why marketers look for new tools.

Often, though, it's the pain points that really drive marketers to integration. Although usually lacking a fully integrated marketing system, all businesses have some components in place. Typical configurations include:

Disconnected email

Today, everyone can send email. But a typical email system is used for “batch-and-blast” campaigns that send identical messages to large groups, rather than engaging in dialogues with individuals. Beyond superficial personalization, there is little tailoring of content to customers' interests and behaviors and there is little connection between email and other company systems. Nor is frequency managed on a customer-by-customer basis, often resulting in the best customers receiving too many emails.

Impersonal websites

Again, every company has a website. But most Web content management systems (CMS) are designed to optimize Web pages, not individual customer experience. Because they don't track individual behaviors, the systems serve everyone the same pages and measure which pages perform best on average. This misses the opportunity to tailor the Web experience to each individual by serving different pages to different people. Failure to identify and track individuals also precludes tightly integrated cross-channel campaigns, an increasingly important way of interacting with customers.

Isolated customer data management

Many companies have no central customer database. Instead, each customer-facing system maintains its own customer files, typically limited to data gathered by the system itself. Where a central customer database does combine information from several sources, it is usually accessed by analytical systems for reporting, segmentation, and predictive modeling. Those sys­tems may push lists or model scores to customer-facing systems, but the customer-facing systems rarely connect directly with the central customer database. This is particularly problematic for real-time interac­tions, which need the most current information for optimal results. And no business can afford to miss out on the invaluable insights to be gained from the effective merger of offline and online activity.

These configurations all contribute to an inability to execute. Without immediate, direct access to shared customer data, customer-facing systems cannot reliably execute ongoing campaigns. With separate campaigns in each channel system, marketers cannot reliably coordinate treatments across channels. In theory, shared data and cross-channel campaigns are possible with disconnected systems. But they take so much time and labor that it's not practical to repeat them on a regular basis. So marketers must execute their most customer treatments without them.

None of this would matter if customers didn't expect companies to recognize them across all channels and treat them consistently based on complete knowledge of previous interactions. But, that's exactly what to­day's consumers expect. Meeting that demand requires the ability to look at offline and online data, both contextual and behavioral, in a single, integrated view. Disconnected systems have become a luxury that marketers cannot afford.

Goal-driven integration

Few companies will replace all their existing systems with a single customer management suite. Instead, their best move is to use an integrated marketing suite with a mix of functions most valuable to their goals—rather than an approach that puts unnecessary demands on time, budgets, and resources.

First, it should complement existing Web content management systems by creating personalized Web pages for delivery by the CMS.  The suite also needs to taps data from existing systems, including a central customer database if it exists, and place it into a dedicated marketing database directly attached to execution systems. It should also be able to replace existing email systems, right away or gradually, providing full capability regardless of email volume. This not only saves the cost of a separate email provider, it breaks email out of its silo to optimize conversion in a true cross-channel strategy.

A goal-driven approach to integrated marketing lets marketers create customer interaction scenarios that span channels and time, powered from a single customer view. Rather than suffer from an approach to integration that's disruptive and difficult to get approved, integrate marketing systems more gradually by critical objectives. Not only can this focus overcome the internal challenges blocking the path to true integration, it can help marketers most effectively engage with customers on their own terms in the omnichannel world.

André Lejeune is CEO of Selligent

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