Campaigns Don’t Cut It Anymore

McCormick’s engagement experiment resulted in the spin-off Vivanda.


Whether ads are on websites or mobile apps, in videos or emails, on search engines or text messages, consumers do whatever they can to not engage with them. Half of consumers say they actively tried to avoid commercial messages in all of the above, according to a survey of 68,000 North American consumers conducted last year by Forrester Research. And if you’re reading this and saying it couldn’t be your advertising, reconsider. Based on Forrester’s huge random sample, the analyst firm states that it has “95% confidence” that the results have a statistical precision of plus or minus 0.4%.

Statistical precision is exactly what targeted marketing efforts continue to lack, write Forrester analysts Carlton Doty and Rusty Warner in the report, “The Power of Customer Context.” The two warn veteran marketers to wean themselves off campaigns and instead attach themselves to a “North Star”—their brand’s identity among consumers—and use that to guide all their marketing activities.

“You have to change the way you think about campaigns. You must move beyond awareness-building and look at them as a way to spark specific customer interactions,” Doty says. “It’s not just facilitating interactions to feed a funnel; it’s not just about a transaction. It’s about people coming back. Think of mobile apps, for example.”

Getting people to reengage with mobile apps, though, is no mean feat. A 2015 Forrester study showed that people spent 85% of their smartphone time in apps, but a subsequent ComScore study found that they spent 80% of their time in the same three apps. The means to reengagement, according to Doty and Warner: Build a contextual marketing engine. Driving this engine is the “interaction cycle,” a self-perpetuating loop in which insights trigger interactions and interactions trigger new contextual insights. It can be assembled from parts already lying around the marketing workshop, they say, like marketing automation, customer databases, and real-time analytics. What truly makes it run, however, is a driver with a new mind-set.

“You will be left behind,” the Forrester Report warns, “if you remain enslaved to campaign cadences and leave customer experience up to call centers and interface designers.” Contextual marketing engines are built to bridge the gap between these two disciplines. “Companies have to take what they learn from interactions and use that to innovate on this platform, like mobile apps,” Doty says. “A new kind of interactive approach is required.”

Nike is one of the go-to examples for using wide appeal and brand recognition to personally interact (and suck data from) users of its FuelBand and members of its Nike+ community. It’s been widely praised for the fact that, as a result, it’s been able to cut its ad budget by 40%. Yet its ad budget is still $3 billion. How do smaller, non-celebrity brands figure to play in the direct-interaction game? Doty and Warner say size doesn’t necessarily matter if the contextual engine is kept humming. “Marketing’s job now is to identify and use context to create repeatable cycles of interactions, drive deeper engagement, and learn more about the customer in the process,” they write.

Doty and Warner point to McCormick & Co. as an example of a traditional company able to engage in context-driven interactions with customers. Leaders of the 125-year-old retail spice company decided it wanted to develop a digital engagement model with consumers. They designated a digital business development director, partnered him with the IT department, plucked a couple of people from their regular roles and told them to go build something. “This all was started on a shoestring budget, maybe a couple of hundred thousand dollars,” Doty remarks.

What emerged was FlavorPrint, a website launched in 2013 that gives people recipes based on their cooking equipment and what they have in their pantries at the time. It starts out by taking people through a colorful questionnaire narrowing down their taste profiles. The more that people interact with the site, the more finely tuned the profiles become, and the greater the opportunities for relevant engagement with site visitors. So successful was McCormick’s interactive gambit that it spun off its engine into a tech company called Vivanda to replicate it for other companies.

Doty and Warner offer tips to marketers in building contextual marketing engines:

Manage the engine as a product. Not a project. That approach is what led to the creation of Vivanda. It’s not a one-off, it’s an always-on engagement machine.

Reconceive content. Focus less on the creative role and more on how you manage, deliver, and distribute content.

Get agile. Push your vendors and partners to work in much shorter time-frames and to test-and-learn quickly. Think about how frequently leading apps are updated.

The Forrester analysts believe there will always be a place for mass brand recognition campaigns, but a lesser one, and one driven by targeted interaction. “In the past it was all about awareness. Now it’s about being more precise about whom you want to build awareness with,” Doty says. “But I have to tell you, if you’re working at a media-buying agency, start looking for a new job.”

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