Journey-based context: the rocket fuel waiting to give targeting and segmentation a boost


Direct marketing’s methodical, performance-dominated approach to targeting and segmentation left a commanding legacy. While they may no longer identify as ‘direct’ marketers, many practitioners continue to manufacture audience segments and propensity models based exclusively on reaching internal goals. So, while talking a good game about being ‘customer-driven’, they still find themselves thrusting brand messages at customers.

Based on campaign objectives, traditional orchestration executes executive decision-making at great scale. There’s no doubt that this works. But being campaign- or offer-based, it also tends to be short-termist, construing customers as targets. By association, we subscribe to a notion of ‘collateral damage’; perceived irrelevance stemming from our lack of accuracy. The casualties: fatigue, negative sentiment, missed opportunity and ultimately, lost customers. To the glee of newer direct-to-consumer brands in particular, today’s consumers are quick to vote with their feet. So unless marketers can grasp individual journeys across all touchpoints and all time, they face a destiny with diminishing returns.

Campaigns are far less effective at winning and retaining customers than they once were. To achieve sustainable competitive advantage, B2C marketers must deliver self-perpetuating cycles of real-time, two-way, insight-driven interactions with individual customers.

Forrester, ‘The Power of Customer Context’, December 2018

We need to think beyond the campaign. If brands genuinely seek to ‘put customers at the centre’, they need to invert their well-trodden approach – and spend more time listening to customer intent. This will inform an unfamiliar, yet pivotal question: is this the right thing to do for this particular individual?

Journey-based context is the only way to drive long-term engagement and commercial success

Journey-based customer context connects and interprets every individual’s motivations and experiences, across all channels (yes, even physical ones such as a dealership or branch) – over time. This then supports relevant, consistent and evolving conversations, spanning the entire business (including marketing, service and sales). And by providing relevance and value at every step, we can intuitively shift attention from brand to customer, fostering lasting relationships based on trust. Deviating our motivations from short-term targets to long-term engagement may seem counter-intuitive but rest assured; with receptiveness, fortunes follow. Long story short: context eclipses attributes.

Applying journey-based context to targeting and segmentation

Guided by customer intent, our conversations become ‘engagement-led’. Where campaigns have a natural lifespan, engagement-led marketing is an ongoing, evolving conversation, with up-to-the-minute context guiding orchestration. With this in mind, I’d hesitate before adopting ‘segmentation’ and ‘targeting’ nomenclature. But given the focus of Marketing Week, it’s worth sharing a couple of pertinent applications:

As a basis for selection: The orchestration of dynamically populated audiences means we are effectively segmenting ‘in the moment’, choosing whether (and how) to converse by harnessing all available journey insight. Put simply, we read signals of intent to help individuals reach their intended goals. This is customer-, not campaign-centric, making it radically distinct from traditional targeting.

To validate or enhance traditional targeting: Context is the most powerful filter we can apply to our targeting. If attributes are the basis for selection, context can provide a layer of confidence that all known journey insight (from every touchpoint) has been considered in our quest for relevance. Equally, using this lens to remove inappropriate selections significantly drives campaign efficiencies, supporting overall engagement.

Engagement as a KPI

As organisations evolve from activating attribute lists to harnessing intent, they are moving away from perceiving customers as ‘targets’ within ‘segments’. Customers are being empowered to guide on when, how and where to converse – and the ensuing engagement drives significant commercial benefit (see stats, below).

Of course, there will always be a need for broadcasting campaigns, offers and launches at scale. But fundamentally, while it can feel a little uncomfortable, we need to reduce our reliance on the hand-to-mouth nature of brand-driven, short-term marketing campaigns. Without infusing context, the approach can be wasteful and, crucially, fall short of putting customers first. This means less marketing at. More conversing with. And, as unorthodox as it sounds, turning to our customers for a little help with our targeting.

Wil Lynch is Head of Engagement at Thunderhead

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