Imagine you have a problem with your contact lenses. You visit an unfamiliar branch of your optician, only to find they have no record of you.

Such experiences are frustrating for companies as well as customers, because they fail to match the high expectations brand managers are trying to create, says Woody Driggs, global advisory customer leader at EY. “There is a gap between what marketers are defining and an organisation’s ability to deliver it.”

To avoid this, Mr Driggs says marketers have to take on more responsibility for client projects. “They have to define customer experiences and work with IT to ensure they are delivered.”

But becoming more involved in the selection of advertising and marketing software is not simple, because there are so many products. Scott Brinker, chief technology officer of Ion Interactive, says: “Marketing has exploded from an ancillary communications function to [being] the Grand Central Station of customer experience.”

Scott Brinker
Scott Brinker: ‘Marketing has exploded [into] the Grand Central Station of customer experience'

He recommends thinking six to 18 months ahead about what functionality you want sales and marketing teams to have, and testing products before making a commitment. This is relatively easy, he says, as most packages are available over the internet.

He also says companies should stick to industry-standard architecture: “You want to understand how you can get data in and out of systems, so that if things happen that you can’t predict, you will be able to plug in third-party products.”

One of the biggest changes has been the ability of mobile technology to enable more personalisation, says Diana Marian, marketing strategist for UK-based consultants Ampersand Mobile.

But most mobile customers are disenchanted with their experience, she says, because apps tend push information and do not engage people.

To offer personalised experiences, marketers need sophisticated tools to target, segment and communicate with mobile users in real time, says Ms Marian. She recommends choosing software that helps identify customers according to particular characteristics, such as demographics, user preferences, historical buying patterns and location.

Providers such as XtremePush, Urban Airship and Localytics do this well, she says. “[They] also provide dashboards so that marketers can measure how many users have responded and the level of activity.”

Being able to track customer motivation is also important. “At the moment, systems are poor at understanding whether customers have bought items for themselves or for others, and how much their mood has influenced them,” Ms Marian says.

While it is possible to let purchasers report their moods and motivations, she adds that people’s reports of their moods are unreliable. Sentiment analysis software struggles to cope with idiosyncratic and non-concrete concepts such as sarcasm or irony, for example.

Measuring motivation requires large quantities of data. The more data are available, the easier it is for marketers to extrapolate and draw conclusions about what people may like. Being able to aggregate data from separate sources such as wearable devices and the internet of things will enable greater personalisation, Ms Marian says.

Mr Brinker adds that organisations can be experimental with software that performs specialised tasks, such as content marketing, search engine optimisation, online webinars and interactive content, because it can be discarded relatively easily.

But “foundational” software is harder to change and requires a longer-term view. This includes customer relationship management (CRM), content management for the web and mobile, and marketing automation, including email and ecommerce.

Foundational software should be introduced first, says Mr Brinker. “It is easy to get excited about cutting-edge apps such as Pinterest, Instagram or specialised analytics, but if you don’t have a sound foundation, it’s difficult to map insights back into CRM or marketing automation.”

Another common error is not having enough technical people to evaluate products. Ideally, you want hybrid professionals, “marketing technologists” Mr Brinker calls them. These people, who are becoming more common, have a technical background but are focused on applying it to marketing.

Such professionals can help evaluate and implement tools while appreciating what marketing teams want to achieve. Without them, Mr Brinker warns that: “If marketing people buy software independently, they can end up with a bunch of cool tools that they can’t connect to the rest of their systems.”

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