The Long, Hard Road to Marketing Sophistication

Just a small town girl
Livin’ in a lonely world
She took the midnight train
Goin’ anywhere

—“Don’t Stop Believin’,” Journey

Where are you on your customer journey? It’s a question you hear a lot these days, usually from the mouth of some slick-but-brainy founder of a data-driven marketing platform who has a glass temple erected to code in Sunnyvale, staffed by Stanford and MIT graduates speaking a language not well comprehended in our sector of the galaxy. So, if your silent response to the question is, “Huh?”; if your particular customer journey is like that of the girl in the Journey song—aimless for the moment—don’t despair. You are not livin’ in a lonely world, not by a darn sight.

This week, Experian Marketing Services (EMS) formed a support group for marketers meandering on a digital path littered with forks and exits and dead ends. It introduced the Experian Marketing Sophistication Curve, and marketers can gauge where they sit on it by taking a free online assessment. Don’t be daunted. In developing the curve, Experian found that the average sophistication level of marketers falls somewhere in between a two-year-old finding his mouth with a spoon instead of his chin and a grandma who’s learned how to dispatch her first tweet.

I took the 10-question evaluation myself, giving answers I deemed to be the norm that I hear from marketers I talk with on the phone or meet at conferences. Asked about my understanding of my customers, I answered that I had a database with PII, but that my behavioral data wasn’t channel-specific. Concerning my program for attributing sales to marketing programs, I confessed that my company lacked one. When I received an email showing my place on the Sophistication Curve moments later (at left), I learned that I was just emerging from level one—single-channel optimization—and climbing a steep grade to multichannel marketing proficiency at level two. Cross-channel marketing was the next milestone, standing between me and cross-channel optimization far off in another land. Then I opened EMS’s white paper on the Sophistication Curve and found I had landed exactly where the average marketing organization now sits.

“There’s no doubt that organizations have perfected single channels. That’s where the skill sets are, that’s where the bonuses reside,” says Nancy Shaver, principal consultant in cross-channel marketing at EMS. “Changing that organizational behavior becomes a task for the CMO or anyone who manages multiple channels. You have to step back and say, ‘I want to have the high-value dialog with my customers that’s going to improve my ROI.’”

There are several ways to begin your ascent up the curve, Shaver says. One is to formulate a calibrated contact strategy across channels to understand the value of each touch of your customers. That’s especially important for a company reliant on a high-cost channel like direct mail that wants to understand how to augment a campaign across channels. Instituting a revenue-driven accounting system could be another way to supercharge your sophistication level, especially in achieving buy-in for new systems and programs from upper management.

The key thing, in any case, Shaver says, is to shake off data paralysis and just get started already. “People who have been in marketing for a while aren’t comfortable with algorithms and business rules, but they need to realize it’s not necessary to do the kind of heavy lifting it takes to build an internal structure,” she says. “There are plenty of service providers to manage your data files for you.”

Because roadblocks can and will pop up anywhere in entrenched companies, Shaver says that the best advice she can offer to upwardly mobile marketing sophisticates is to identify a fellow traveler willing to take your customer journey with you. “Go find a buddy in your company who is equally interested in optimizing marketing results,” she says. “Don’t try to boil the ocean. Pick some high opportunity areas to start with and build. This is a long haul.”

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