From Audience to the Individual

Prompted by Avinash’s post on Recency (if this topic interests you, there is much more here), I have to return to an idea that keeps running through my head:

Why do so many Marketing people fail to understand the basic underlying dynamics of Interactive / Online Marketing?  Relative to the Comments on Avinash’s post, why would Marketers not be interested in the Recency metric?  If the Marketers are not aware of it, why would Analysts not push it to them, show them the power of it?

The more I think about this issue, as I have been for several years now, the more confident I become the answer is quite simple: Nobody ever taught most Marketers how to communicate properly to Individuals.  Their training, their experiences, their peers, their conferences, all of it is about Marketing to Audiences.  The nameless, faceless hordes represented by GRP’s.

They simply don’t know how to do it any other way. 

And as a result, neither does whoever they report to. 

Which means any Marketing Accountability or Productivity Metrics, if they exist, are about Audiences, not Individuals.

So, all the Marketers care about are Audiences, these one-off blips on the screen, as opposed to Individuals, who carry longer-term, Potential Value to the Company that can be measured with Recency.

That’s why they allow the blasting of e-mails, they buy untargeted impressions.  They repeat what they know from offline, online.

Sad, really.  A one-way thought process in a two-way world.

What can we do about it? 

I’m going to talk about these concepts with a few Marketers during the AMA’s Digital Marketing Lab at M.planet next week.

I’ll let you know how it goes…

Update: I should probably skip Marketing, go straight to the CFO.

4 thoughts on “From Audience to the Individual

  1. Jim,
    I agree with you that one of the reasons for the lack of visibility and usage of metrics like Recency (in spite of you and me thinking it is a wonderful metric) is what I call “organizational and experience heredity”. Essentially, as you mention folks do what they have been doing for years or were taught to do by their mentors and/or organizations.

    However, I also think another reason for this is that addressing individuals needs more effort than addressing audiences. Many a times a new process might need to be set up, sometimes new information needs to be created (e.g a customer key), and sometimes information has to be consolidated etc. And my hypothesis is that (unless proven wrong) many a times folks just cop out of this extra effort and go with what is available without looking at a long-term vision. What many don’t realize is that yes, there is effort involved in the front-end, but once that basic infrastructure and information is there, there are tons of relatively simple things you can do (RFM being one) that will allow you to cherry pick customer targeting or do a better job of retention.

  2. Ned, I think that’s a rational answer, though I’d very much like to understand the “cop out” thought process in more detail, especially if I’m going to try and do something about it!

    Personally, I think people (perhaps driven from the IT side) make the process or evolution too complex, they try to reach for data mining or some idea that’s way beyond the skill sets and experience of the company. These kinds of efforts tend to fail under their own weight.

    Another possibility, related to this complexity problem, is Marketing people simply don’t know what they would do with individual information, so there’s a failure to drive a precise and limited scale project as proof of concept. I’ve provided a lot of these test ideas over the years.

    You are absolutely right – once the ability to report on Recency, for example, is gained, there is very little additional infra effort required, since this same metric is so flexible and can be used in many different ways. Perhaps that’s an idea to focus on and surface for people.

    Thanks for the comment. I am looking forward to the Digital Lab at M.planet to play out some of these ideas in an interactive environment with Marketers from companies of all sizes and verticals!

  3. Jim, I would be really interested to learn what feedback you get at the Digital Lab – that should be an interesting conversation.

    One other thing you might want to ask is how many of them actually have an analytics department/group. One thing I have learned from experience is that the ‘traditional’ Marketers sometimes have great ideas but are not analytical or tech savvy enough to convert that idea into action (My reference to traditional marketers here is towards folks that do creatives, ads, campaigns etc.). And if they don’t have the right analytical support, sometimes they turn to IT. But unfortunately, their IT counterparts might be tech savvy but not business or analytical savvy. So the whole excercise turns out to be a frustrating experience for the Marketer and they end up doing something either they know or something their agency recommended.

    The model I have successfully followed is to actually have an analytical group dedicated to analytics that supports/partners/works with the traditional marketers I mention above. For the analytical folks this provides a platform to learn and broaden their knowledge, and for the traditional marketer this gives an opportunity to execute some of the ideas they might have or dig deeper (their analytical friends can help with this being more knowledgeable in SQL, databases, SAS etc).

    Of course, interestingly enough, in the web analytics world these two groups are slowly fusing into one. More and more “analysts” are involved in campaigns and the like and the Marketers getting more analytical :-).

    Anyway, just some thoughts :-). If I don’t put a hard stop here, my post might end up looking like a book. Like you and Avinash, I am deeply passionate about uncovering and executing on things that can help us understand our customers better and there is a lot one can do on that front.

    Have fun at the Digital Lab.

  4. Jim,

    Some thoughts for business and marketers to start communicating properly to Individuals rather than as Audiences, would be getting their involvement and eventually commitment in the creation of unique personas to their business. Once they start seeing the small wins based on the data and results, they might start understanding the difference in communicating to Individuals rather than as Audiences.

    Just some thoughts from someone passionate on how we could help better understand the customers and create a better overall experience.

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