Saturday, June 11, 2011

Real-time marketing hype machine

Someone recently asked me what I thought about "real time" marketing in the email space - the ability to hyper personalize marketing offers based upon relevant, "immediately captured" data. 


"Real-time" e-mail marketing seems like vision that is easily "sold" but not really reflective of what technology can attain and sociology can support. After all, it's a super-compelling idea that any idiot should easily see (my old CMO would have loved it...then again, he wasn't just ANY idiot.)


Here's what I think...it sounds dangerously like referring to garbage men as "Sanitation Engineers." It might make the garbage man feel better, but it's both an overstatement of a garbage-man's job and an insult to true sanitation engineers who do a lot more than toss trash. (Full disclosure - I used to be a garbage man...we stink every day - Sanitation Engineers don't.) 


Seems like the hype machine has spit out a new buzzphrase. Buzzphrases - like may things that buzz (bees, alarm clocks, your post-concussion head) - are not always good. Sometimes, linking a good thing to a buzzphrase causes more confusion than it is worth.


For example, let's take two related yet slightly different concepts - hyper-personalization of email  based upon known things (browser type, geography, content preferences, etc.) and tag-based optimization of email. They both theoretically offer improvement and should be tested. It sounds like they might offer more than marginal improvement over a well segmented and executed campaign. Which is awesome. But calling them real-time smacks of trying to capitalize on buzz to the exclusion of the true potential of these approaches. Sure, real-time is easier to explain to the non-technologists who sometimes make decisions. But it builds a set of expectations that these approaches don't (and shouldn't) meet.


Here's a huge barrier to real-time success - it's not enough to have "relevant/real-time/blah blah" - your organization needs to be able to act on the available data. For example, tell any airline in the world that I'm 6'2" and like more legroom...or that - since I'm an American Platinum member - I'd like elite status for any airline that wants my business. Guess what - it won't matter, because there's nothing any airline can or will do anything about that. Businesses are usually not built to serve the customer - they're built to serve the business. 

How about we master the tools that we have before trying to let technology hyper-drive things we don't fully understand? Can you update your customer service product recommendation model fast enough (what's that, you don't use one?) Can you make sure that your ESP delivers content in a timely and reasonable fashion?  Have you run optimization efforts against your email? Your landing page? Your web site? Do you have rock-solid measurement tools in place to measure your marketing results? Do you have a robust preference center that lets people get what they want? Are your sales people compensated based upon serving your customer as opposed to serving your next quarter's results? Have you solved the attribution question? Etc, etc, etc. if you haven't mastered these basics, why jump to the next hype machine?

All in all, the term "real time" in the marketing space simply seems like hype. The Google Wave. The Gripple. Call me a cynic...I'd love to be proven wrong...but sometimes the hype machine wins...after all, email is dead. The hype machine said so.

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