Why brand is everything in a data driven world

The 2017 Mood of Marketing Report showed us just how deeply data and digital transformation is disrupting the old approaches of traditional marketing. New technologies and a customer first focus have CMOs and their teams at the front of a digital wave, creating a whole new set of table stakes skills, and kicking off a talent arms race to secure people with the right stuff. 

But for all this breathless change, Mood of Marketing also told us something else. Increased digital communications can (and do) go wrong, creating easily tuned out commoditised noise. Smart organisations avoid this by placing a premium on brand. Later in this piece we’ll spend some time with a couple of our CMO respondents to see how brand is giving them cut through in their messaging. But before that there’s another trend we need to cover out of the report - personalisation.


Personalisation - the promise versus the reality.

“Successful marketers create personalisation based on customer needs. Using design, test, and proof cycles, they identify the simple personalisations delivering best value, and then use data and ROI to iterate further improvements.” says Nathalie Morris, General Manager Data Powered Marketing,Qrious.

Personalisation is the holy grail of data driven marketing: the right message, at the right time, to the right person. And in a world where data is accelerating our understanding of customer, it should be a simple thing to execute… right? Unfortunately, it’s just not that easy to get personalisation right. In conversations with Nathalie, she identified at least three barriers to effective and valuable personalisation:

  1. Scale - most New Zealand customers gain personalisation expectations from global organisations, where resource and audience scale is significant. Here in New Zealand the scale of audience, data, and resource to deliver those experiences is hard to come by.
  2. Investment - a similar issue to scale. It’s important to realise that the investment required to deliver personalisation is the same for a smaller New Zealand organisation as it is for a global giant. Whether you have one hundred thousand customers or one hundred million, set up, technology, and resource costs are the same. With smaller scale usually meaning a smaller ROI, this can make it a difficult space for New Zealand organisations to play in
  3. Rhythm and cadence - most marketing teams in New Zealand are structured to deliver regular campaigns, often linked to product cycles originating elsewhere in the business. Successful personalisation means always on - constant small iterations to wring improvements based on data and test. This is a change of culture and structure that many organisations find hard.

For Nathalie, successful personalisation might also look a little different to what most expect. Natural and non-creepy personalisation doesn’t necessarily reflect your personality or habits - it’s much more contextual than that. She uses the example of holidays and Kindle - “I’m really impressed by Amazon. Soon after I book a holiday I start getting book recommendations aligned to my booking. That to me offers real value, enhancing my experience with both Kindle and marketing”.


Overcoming the challenge of scale in a smaller market

In talking with our CMOs about personalisation, it’s scale they focus on most. Effective personalisation for targeted offers requires strong segmentation. And the truth is, with a total adult population of around three million people to draw from, it doesn’t take a lot of segmentation before even our biggest enterprises are down to a potential audience below five figures. That can make adequate ROI a challenge. For Astrud Burgess, CMO at ANZ, adding layers is the key to successful personalisation. 

“We’ve learned to be realistic - people talk about the segment of one, but real, effective personalisation doesn’t often look like that. If your offers aren’t relevant and appropriate, then they are closer to spam. For us, relevance can come from contextual information. Calculators are a great example - knowing if someone’s in the market for a mortgage means you can then provide personalised and relevant information. I can then confidently ladder that back to our overall data strategy - providing a valuable and useful service, and a good outcome for the customer”.


The primacy of brand in a data driven world

But even if you can get personalisation right, without a compelling and clear brand message you won’t have earned the right to talk to your customer. When we asked our CMO respondents who they thought was getting it right in today’s data driven environment, they namechecked Z and Air New Zealand, and then John Lewis internationally. All three of those have a clear and consistent brand message - and all three use it to earn the right to talk with their customers. Here’s the thoughts of Julia Jack, CMO at Mercury - “Energy is a pretty low engagement category, let’s face it. So whilst personalisation is of course interesting to us, and we do use it, brand still dominates for us”.

Astrud agrees - “70% of all search is branded. Brands are the short-cut for most people when using search. Without brand cut through they don’t add ‘ANZ’ to their credit card search. A lot of people initially found it counter-intuitive… brand? When data tells us so much? But the truth is, people relate to brands, and in a world where data can tend to be a commoditised experience, organisations are using brand to create better, direct relationships with their customers”.

For Julia, there were a few consistent traits to great brand building. “Number one - don’t lead with product. Product is usually reactive and short term, and the opposite of brand... which is about a long-term relationship. Number two - Once you’ve found your brand story, be consistent. Organisations that refresh their brands regularly are usually doing it for the wrong reason - and consumers can’t build a relationship with brands that are always shifting. Number three - and this is such a great way to lead if you get it right - get your CEO on board and make sure they truly live your values. If they are public figures they can be great shorthands for your consumers. And finally, no matter how strong the pressure, don’t just default to “cheaper”. It will work for a while, but ultimately engagement, retention, and true 360 degree customer value trumps price drops”.

So there you have it - the thoughts of some of New Zealand’s leading CMOs on the 2017 Mood of Marketing Report. The world is changing, at times quicker than it seems possible. But in the midst of all this change, some truisms remain. 

  • The organisations who place marketing at the heart of their thinking are winning
  • The marketing teams that place customer at the heart of their thinking are winning
  • And though technology and data is changing almost everything about the way marketers work, unless you have a compelling brand driving cut through and consumer engagement, then you are going to struggle

From the team at Qrious, thanks for engaging. If you haven’t already downloaded the 2017 Mood of Marketing Report, make sure you do, and also subscribe to our blog to get the latest data powered marketing insights.

Missed the first three parts of the series? 
Part 1: Leading New Zealand marketers share how to get started with data.

Part 2: How successful marketers deal with data disruption.
Part 3: The rise of the marketer: bigger budgets and more resources.


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