Most marketers believe they’re operating at an advanced level, but Forrester Research’s analysis puts two-thirds of companies at a beginner stage. Plus, there is a fine line between helpful personalization and creepy intrusiveness, and heavyhanded use of marketing technologies can push campaigns over that line.

Brigitte Majewski, vice president and research director, Forrester Research

Customer experience (CX) is clearly top of mind for marketers. When we asked B2C marketers about their annual priorities, only growing revenue beat improving CX. Marketers want better CX more than they want to improve their ability to innovate or accelerate their shift to digital business.

We agree: Marketers need to champion improved CX for their brands if they want the growth they crave. We also recommend that they start such CX evangelization close to home—with their own marketing experiences. In addition to improving product and service experiences, brands need to improve their customers’ experience of being marketed to—by a lot.

Combined with identity resolution and increased automation, companies have created adtech and martech stacks that are creeping people out.

Marketers are likely surprised by this perspective. We asked marketing decision makers about 20 different marketing innovation activities in their organization; nearly three in four said that they were mature in their company’s use of those activities to meet their customer-obsessed business needs. But in our own assessment of those same marketers, 68% of respondents received results that put them squarely in the beginner stage. And the beginner status shows.

Personalization pitfalls

Consider personalization: Marketers use personalization to make their marketing more relevant and to help it stand out. The irony is that with all the customer data that marketers use to personalize, the one thing they seem to have forgotten to find out from consumers is whether they even want personalized communications at all. Our data shows that only 27% of US online adults say they’re willing to let retailers use their personal information to personalize experiences.

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Who can blame this cohort for opting out of personalization? Combined with identity resolution and increased automation, companies have created adtech and martech stacks that are creeping people out. We think our phones are listening to us. And then, Facebook admits it is doing this. Instead of infringing on customers’ sense of privacy, you can use preference centers and privacy segmentation to add levels of personalization to the cache of customer data you collect.

But even those who want personalization are let down by today’s clunky executions. Example: J.Crew just invited me to open an email with the promise that the styles I love are now on sale. I do love J.Crew styles. I do love sales. Unfortunately, the email content highlighted a pair of lovely shoes that I had already bought—and returned because I didn’t like how they looked. Sorry, J.Crew, I don’t feel like buying those shoes again. I’ll be a bit wiser before opening another promotional email from you.

Autopilot technologies that fail to fully connect the data dots and follow up with customers to understand if they receive value risk tone-deafness and teach consumers to be wary. Behavioral metrics like clicks will go down over time—by then, the brand damage will be done and more expensive to fix.

The evolution of audience-based targeting

Or take audience-based targeting: Moving beyond basic demo targeting is smart, especially as we approach an era of greater gender fluidity and economic uncertainty, which will hamper inferences made using traditional categories of age, gender, and income. But brands in sensitive categories such as healthcare and finance should be especially careful. Quicken Loans got in trouble for questionable data gathering and targeting.

We’re not saying you should throw away all the tech and start over—not in any way. The challenge is that marketers have started to use very powerful tools in the spirit of customer-obsessed marketing. Sometimes, these tools and technologies outpace our collective understanding of what’s good and right in marketing for our customers. Now is the time to pause and reevaluate your marketing assumptions about how to target and personalize. As a society, we stand on the cusp of dramatic changes fueled by AI and machine learning. The automation will be staggering—but are we automating the right thing?

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Too much focus on the short term

Lapses in customer obsession for marketing result not from intent but the decision to cut creativity in the face of increased short-term pressure. Our research shows that marketers know that they should balance short- and long-term goals, but shareholder demands, measurement naiveté, and a revolving door of marketing leadership push them to sacrifice long-term results for short-term gains.

The result is a promotion-/direct marketing-heavy plan that overfocuses on short-term goals like sales that are executed in ways that repel prospects and customers. This is the trouble my beloved J.Crew has gotten itself into.

So embrace a better CX for marketing.

This post originally appeared here.

 

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