Over the past year, we've been on a journey to becoming agile marketers. We consider this to mean being able to have real conversations in real time with our potential buyers, providing them value throughout their journeys with our brand.
From starting off with no idea where to head, to hitting our first roadblocks, to beginning to bring together technologies to better identify and interact with our customers, it's been quite the adventure thus far—and we've made a lot of progress.
At our latest Harte Hanks Marketing Advisory Board Meeting, Marketing Manager Marla Schilling took some time via webcast to explain that progress and what our process toward more agile, human marketing looks like today.
Our Vision and How We Got Started
Our primary goal was to be more human in our marketing, even though we largely interact with our prospects and clients digitally. For example, as someone comes to our website, we should be able to figure out what they need help with—whether that's finding content around a specific practice area or industry, finding an office location, or even just some space to browse without being bothered.
This is easy in a physical store. An associate can ask "how many I help you?" and quickly learn from the shopper's verbal and non-verbal responses. But how do we do this in a digital space? How can we listen, as marketers, to what our customers are searching for in order to present them with that information and content at the right times?
We started out by developing a marketing "war room" and scoring our website visitors to determine if their visit warranted some sort of outreach on our part. But this wasn't a human at all! Marla explains:
So, the Boutique was born (see how our name change came about here). The war room team reworked their processes always looking at decisions through the lens of a human sales associated in a brick-and-mortar boutique. This associate would always try to better understand the customer and his or her needs to deliver value in the moment.
Our Current Manual Process
We currently go through a very manual process—every single day—to try to understand who is interacting with us via our website and what sort of conversation they're having with us so that we can respond appropriately (humanly). This includes:
1. Assessing website traffic. We use a few different technology platforms to determine who is visiting our site and what content they're engaging with. Which ones look like the visitor is having a meaningful conversation with our brand?
2. Heat mapping. Combine the data from various platforms into a heat-mapped timeline to see the journey of a given company visiting our site, over time. This helps to give us some insight into their intent or job to be done.
3. Journey assessment. Review the journeys we've outlined with heat maps and discuss what we think the visitor(s) is communicating to us, based on their behavior.
4. Next step in conversation. We determine what content we should provide in response to the digital dialog the customer is having with our brand.
Marla gives some more detail here:
Here's what one of those heat-mapped journeys looks like:
In this case, it was clear that this company was having a marketing conversation showing a lot of interest in our 5 Pillars of Best-in-Class Marketing. Visitors were coming back frequently to explore the individual pillar pages with the most interest in personas. We reacted to their digital dialogue by sending marketers within their company a video on Why Traditional Personas Aren’t Good Enough Anymore and the blog post Persona Myopia Ruins Digital Marketing.
Moving to Automation
Our current process is a lot of work and requires a lot of human-power every single day. As we move forward, we are implementing two key pieces of technology to help us automate this process so that we can spend more time focusing on strategic improvements to the process. These technologies include a customer data platform and a website personalization engine.
Our customer data platform (we're using Signal Hub) will help us to determine who is engaging with us, what sort of conversation they're having—as well as what our next turn in the conversation should look like (e.g. what content to serve them next through which channel). Put another way, Signal Hub will take over tracking all of that data (and more!) that we currently manage in spreadsheets and make sense of it for us. Our website personalization engine will allow us to personalize our digital experience in real time to react to the direction from Signal Hub and provide the visitor with the right content. (For more details on this process, check out Interpret B2B Buyer Signals with Artificial Intelligence).
Our goal is to have this automation in place by spring of this year.
The next big step after that? Incorporating things like social data and other information from third-party sources to get an even more complete, holistic idea of who the visitor is and what sort of context they're visiting our website in (which we'll be able to achieve by integrating Signal Hub with our Global DataView solution).
The Marketing Advisory Board's Reaction
We ran through our daily process of journey assessment with the Harte Hanks Marketing Advisory Board. They noted some key questions that we're still grappling with.
Because a lot of our tracking is dependent on IP addresses, Kim Whitler, Professor at the Darden School of Business, and Scott Neslin, Professor at Dartmouth's Tuck School, wondered how we can tell if we have a single visitor from a given company or if there are multiple people from that company interacting online with our brand. Right now, we make some educated guesses based on User IDs assigned by our technology platforms, as well as what browser each visitor is using (most people have a favorite browser and will not switch between, say, Chrome and Safari). If we see visitors using different browsers, we assume they are different people. But it's not an exact science, and it's something we're still working out.
Scott also wondered if we were making use of predictive modeling to improve our conversations and results. He suggested that we could examine previous journeys we've mapped and layer in the results of those journeys (did the visitor continue to engage with us? Did they eventually become a customer?) to determine where to focus our efforts and what content to provide visitors moving forward. The answer is 'yes!' This is part of what Signal Hub is doing for us. Harte Hanks CMO Frank Grillo explains:
The point of all of this work is that we want to prove that you can do this currently manual process at mass scale to interact with all of your brand's digital visitors more humanly. Harte Hanks CEO Karen Puckett describes it as "demand gen evolving." Instead of pushing mass messages to a bunch of contacts that may or may not be interested in us at all, let alone at that moment in time, we're reacting to our prospects and customers and having the conversations they want to have on their terms.