We're Living in a Post-Marketing World

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It might sound like a tautology, but it's not: Everything is marketing and marketing is everything.

You're about to take a flight. Let's say you're about to take a flight to the 2014 IBM Smarter Commerce Global Summit in Tampa (because that's where I am right now).

You check in on your phone or maybe you interact with a kiosk upon arrival at the airport. Then you're marketed at to join the airline's loyalty club or to upgrade your seat. You grab a stool at the airport bar and use the airline's app to make sure your flight's on time. Your flight is blessedly not delayed by weather, so you board a plane and sit down. There's a touchscreen on the seat in front of you. You receive an immediate alert if your bag goes missing and a second alert when your bag is, hopefully, found. You arrive at your destination and you get a follow-up email asking for feedback on your experience.

Every one of those touchpoints is an opportunity to interact, and if the experience is integrated, so much the (much, much) better. It might sound like a tautology, but it's not: Everything is marketing and marketing is everything.

“I like the idea of a post-marketing world, because what I care about as a customer or as a business buyer is whether the engagement I have with a company delivers value to me,” says Kevin Bishop, VP of IBM ExperienceOne Solutions. “And when it comes to an integrated experience, more and more of the interface is happening through mobile devices, and we're seeing less of a difference between marketing, sales, and service.”

In other words, an omnichannel customer journey that includes everything from social media and customer service to multi-screen mobile engagement is the #1 ticket.

Or, as social media/content strategist Jay Baer put it: “Big Data isn't the goal. The goal is big understanding. And big understanding is all about innovation.”

And how do you get to big understanding? Oh, easy...or not so easy: All you need to do is understand the customer in context. One-to-one is great—and increasingly possible—but smart segments and patterns of behavior still guide the course for customer interaction. And it's not as complicated as it sounds if you focus on simplicity and fulfilling actual, or anticipated, customer need.

But to do that, you don't necessarily have to slap someone's name on your message. That's not personalization, or not always. Relevancy is personalization. If you're walking past a sandwich shop at lunchtime and your phone buzzes with an offer for a free coffee and half off your next panini (you've opted in for mobile push), the message you see doesn't have to say à la Hal 9000: “Hello Allison. Here, is your sandwich offer, Allison. We hope you like it, Allison.” It more than suffices to say, “Hey! Hungry? Why not grab a coffee and a sandwich?”

But sometimes it makes sense to use a customer's name. Bishop is a frequent flyer. When he gets on an airplane, it might be nice if the flight attendant said, “Good morning, Mr. Bishop. It's lovely to have you with us again.”

In essence: context. Ask for the data you need and use that data where it makes sense.

“You can build profiles that are about what customers do and why they do it by assembling data in pieces over time in a gentle way,” Bishop says. “I don't care if something has my name on it—I care whether it reflects what I need when I want it in a way that makes sense.”

Because good selling doesn't feel like selling.

Says Bishop: “Thoughtful cross-sell and upsell isn't perceived as selling, it's perceived as useful—but that's because it actually is useful.”

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