Bringing the Human Back to Marketing through Digital Transformation

May 8, 2018 Karen Puckett

Wipro’s WINNOVATE 2018 event is taking place May 14th to 15th in San Francisco, and Harte Hanks CEO Karen Puckett will be joining executives from Microsoft, Uber, Discover and Nokia in a panel discussion on Operations Transformation in the Digital Age. We captured some of Karen’s insights on technology and transformation ahead of the event in this interview.

What is the connection between technology and customer focus? Over the past decade, it seems technology has done much to disconnect companies from their customers.

Karen: Many technical innovations in the 90’s and early 2000’s focused on marketing efficiency and cost reduction. Today’s marketing technology helps us access more data about the customer, and then analyze it in real time to produce insights about what each customer really needs.

Some new marketing technologies make it easier for customers to tell us what they want. Inbound systems involving social, phone, email, chat and voice recognition are great examples of this. Other marketing technologies are more intuitive, where customer needs are inferred from the digital breadcrumbs left behind as they move through their journey.

Intuitive marketing analytics use artificial intelligence and machine learning, along with fast-cycle test-and-learn methodologies. Let me give a simplified example. Let’s say our marketing analytics tells us a customer on our website wants “A.” So, we serve up “A.” If they click on “A,” then the hypothesis is confirmed. This represents the first leap in customer focus: the latest marketing analytics try to respond to the customer as an individual, rather than as a generic website visitor.

The second leap in customer focus occurs when the customer does not respond to “A.” The subtle marketing transformation is: Don’t keep offering “A!” The customer just told us they don’t want “A,” so let’s regroup and try to do a better job of anticipating their needs with our next offer. In the old marketing frame, you keep offering “A” until you create a new marketing algorithm next quarter or next year. In the new marketing frame, you refine your marketing strategy for each customer in real time.

In the old marketing frame, you keep offering “A” until you create a new marketing algorithm next quarter or next year. In the new marketing frame, you refine your marketing strategy for each customer in real time.

The new marketing technologies are all about listening to and learning from the customer in the moment. Rather than marketing defining customer needs based on market research conducted months or years ago, we now use technology to strategize in each moment with each customer. This helps us to be far more responsive to customer needs. It represents a major transformation in marketing. Company success depends on making this leap. To fall behind in marketing technology is to lose business to those who use it to be more customer-focused.

What barriers keep companies from making technology-enabled, customer-focused transformations?

Karen: One of the barriers is marketing silos. Every marketing department needs silos to get things done. Websites, data warehouses, content, email, direct mail—they all need dedicated teams to accomplish day-to-day tasks. The problem is that customers don’t care about our silos. They just want to be well-served. This creates a constant struggle for marketing departments: How do we organize to get things done, yet maintain an integrated view of the customer and present a unified voice to the customer? This problem never goes away entirely; it is inherent in every marketing organization.

We see some companies use “war rooms” with considerable success. These groups focus on individual customers during the lead generation and qualification cycle. They are authorized to bypass the silos and go straight to the customer.

Numerous technologies help marketing silos communicate with each other more effectively, such as customer relationship, campaign and content management systems. They provide dashboards and drilldown capabilities to facilitate coordination across silos.

Perhaps the largest transformation barrier is a reluctance to invest in these new technologies.

Perhaps the largest transformation barrier is a reluctance to invest in these new technologies. C-Suite members often struggle to understand the new technologies that are critical to competitiveness. Tech-savvy board members are hard to find. CFOs tend to be biased toward cost savings or hard assets. Marketers struggle to demonstrate ROI because it is harder than ever to link specific investments to specific returns. All of this makes it hard to approve major marketing technology investments.

Those who manage these barriers will be the winners. They are the ones who are fully engaged in using technology to help drive customer-focus across the organization.

What is your vision for transforming the customer experience?

Karen: The vision is to make marketing more human. Marketers need to know the little things about customers and what is important to them in the moments that really matter. This helps us connect with them in a more human way.

Marketers need to know the little things about customers and what is important to them in the moments that really matter. This helps us connect with them in a more human way.

There are three basic steps. First, you need a comprehensive, 360-degree view of the customer. This big data perspective includes not only demographics and firmographics, but also the devices customers interact with, previous engagements with the brand, and the steps these customers have taken up to the moment in each one of their buyer’s journeys.

Second, you need to synthesize this massive amount of data down into a much tighter set of signals about who the customer is and what they are likely to need. This is called the signal layer. It constantly scans for new information and boils it all down to a signal that indicates a specific customer needs something specific from us in a specific moment.

Third, the signal layer is used to drive other marketing programs that connect with customers via website, email, telemarketing, field sales, direct mail, and so on. When these marketing systems are driven by highly personalized signals, we make the big leap toward making marketing more human.

You might also want to check out: How to Be More Human in Your Marketing with Signals.

About the Author

Karen Puckett

Karen, Harte Hanks CEO, has an experienced track record for winning, and she knows our business inside and out. Not only has Karen been a director of Harte Hanks since 2009, she also brings nearly 15 years of COO and president experience in the telecom, cloud and managed services industries in both consumer and business segments, stemming from her time at CenturyLink, Inc. During her tenure, she was instrumental in leading the company’s transformation from a local telephone business to an industry leader in advanced communications services, and driving revenue growth from $1.5 billion to more than $18 billion. Karen has a proven track record of successfully growing a company both organically and through acquisitions (she’s overseen 15 of them) and in navigating a business through shifts in industry dynamics.

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