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Achieving Relevance in Direct Digital Marketing: Segmentation and Optimization

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In the previous installments of this series I introduced the idea of relevance in digital marketing and listed five keys to achieving a relevance-centered approach.

So far I have defined the concept of relevance in the realm of direct digital marketing and discussed the first two keys to achieving relevance with consumer and customer communications. The first key is overcoming the organizational barriers that subvert integration with a holistic view of the consumer. The second key is establishing marketing's right and responsibility to piece together the technology puzzle.

Both of those keys focus on organizational constructs and operations. But tactical execution is also an important focus. Accordingly, the third key to achieving relevance in direct digital marketing is segmentation and optimization.

New Principles Are Needed

Segmenting an audience base and optimizing for measurable communications performance are not new concepts. It is fair to criticize, however, the traditional association of segmentation and optimization concepts and tactics with erudite marketing processes and out-of-reach business intelligence applications.


Those tools are too often beyond the reach of marketers; as a consequence, everyday tactical achievement of communications relevance suffers.

Segmentation strategies and messaging optimization are rarely viewed correctly: as the right, responsibility, and opportunity for the marketing organization—and not merely for senior executives and managers.

Today, a more proletarian view of segmentation and optimization is needed.

Free Data With Advanced Segmentation

As discussed in the previous installments of this article series, achieving relevance in direct digital marketing demands that the entire organization and processes be aligned to support operational integration.

Segmentation tactics that take place in one corner of the marketing operation merely help proliferate a siloed consumer experience. Processes that span channels but are out of touch with frontline operations obstruct flexibility and fluidity.

We need a different kind of data environment, one that supports new segmentation principles—one that is holistic and comprehensive, as well as accessible, to the marketing populous. That environment is the data mart.

As opposed to a warehouse, the data mart is a user-friendly storefront where valuable data attributes are merchandised and browsed. Here recipes are defined in advance or on the fly based on what looks good on the shelf. The direct digital marketing data mart is defined by access and action, instead of restriction.

Consistency and Fluidity

Simply extending the right and opportunity for the marketing team to create and deploy segmentation strategies is not the only key.

The ability to maintain the integrity of a segment's definition across channels is an imperative. Cross-channel consistency is a consumer expectation. There is a single brand in the consumer's mind, not a loosely associated group of departments. Communications across channels should, at a bare minimum, reflect consistent segment and content assignments to reinforce message impact and increase effectiveness, across channels.

With consistency as a baseline, fluidity is a secondary objective. Leverage the specific context of individual channel interactions, consumer behaviors, or observable events to inform content strategy, but with the capacity to modify the strategy as behavior warrants. For example, online and offline messaging can vary for a consumer who has shown propensity to be an "online responder" as opposed to an "offline responder."

As the sophistication of direct digital practices grows, and consumers adopt more technology in their lives, marketers must account for changes in demeanor or preference. Likewise, segmentation strategies that account for today's perception of the brand—whether very satisfied or unsatisfied with a recent brand experience—must fluidly adapt when perception changes.

Real Time View of the Consumer

Effective segmentation must incorporate a real-time view of the consumer. Sophisticated data modeling, business intelligence, and audience segments often are based on a static and outdated snapshot of a consumer profile.

Consumer behavior, events, and milestones are insightful attributes that fall outside the frame of the static snapshot. Segmentation principles today need to account for online behavior, retail behavior, and milestones that are used to initiate or trigger communications that are far more timely and relevant.

For instance, a static snapshot of a consumer profile may indicate a satisfied customer who has the propensity for a significant upgrade in services, or is ready to make a big-ticket purchase. With real-time access to data indicating the customer also visited the website recently to browse products, this behavior adds the "research phase" indicator to an already defined propensity. Now there is a micro-segment defined for someone ready to act immediately.

Propensity alone should not define the design and deployment of direct marketing. Propensity, plus intent, creates the more valuable "opportunity" segment—where the marketer can respond with well-timed messaging.

Quantitative and Qualitative Standards for Optimization

Simply put, optimization means observing the principles of relevance that work and the principles that don't, then applying that learning to future opportunities.

Classic objective forms of optimization include cell testing, A/B testing, multivariate testing, and more. Optimization of this type is facilitated well in direct digital marketing because of its inherent measurability.

Optimization, however, goes beyond the numbers. Subjective requirements must also be considered: What is the feedback from your frontline retail or call-center employees? What are your customers saying about your brand online? What comments are found in the inbox where replies to your campaign emails and SMS are delivered?

The deluge of consumer feedback is forcing marketers to adopt a new, more-qualitative standard to communications optimization.

The entire marketing operation—not only the aristocracy of marketing sciences—is responsible for optimization of every communication: from the frontline employees who must accurately relay consumer feedback quickly, to behind-the-scenes marketers who must own a process for aggregating and digesting quantitative and qualitative knowledge.

The entire organization must adopt objective and subjective standards for optimization.

DNA-Level Optimization

The pace and speed of communication, and the nature of consumers' increasingly sophisticated expectations for personal attention and on-target information, are relentless. Optimization is an internal clock that keeps the quality of the content at the forefront of the marketer’s consciousness. An effective optimization cycle is as follows: an hypothesis of effective content, content creation, execution, analysis, and redesign. If the cycle lags, or any one of the steps is overlooked, the internal clock sets off an alarm.

The consumer's sophisticated expectations also demand channel-neutral strategies, accounting for the website, email, social media, mobile tactics, and more. To aggregate this view of consumer interaction across channels, and respond accordingly, is no small task.

Optimization standards are established at marketing's DNA level and are an inherent responsibility of the entire organization.

Operational and Tactical Populism

Segmentation and optimization tactics of a marketing organization are proletarian. This thesis is consistent with the first two keys to achieving relevance in direct digital marketing: breaking down organizational barriers that subvert integration; and empowering marketers to take responsibility for technology decisions where consumer-facing communications are at stake.

Generating better ideas for more-relevant communications is not exclusively the domain of senior executives. The well-understood practices of segmentation and optimization should be re-examined and reassigned as a responsibility across the marketing organization, while the tools for tactical execution are made accessible and useful to the proletariat.


Bryce Marshall is the director of strategic services at Knotice (www.knotice.com), a direct digital marketing solutions company. Bryce is a contributor to Knotice's blog, The Lunch Pail (lunchpail.knotice.com), and can be reached via bmarshall@knotice.com.


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Bryce Marshall is the director of strategic services at Knotice (www.knotice.com), a direct digital marketing solutions company. Bryce is a contributor to Knotice's blog, The Lunch Pail (lunchpail.knotice.com), and can be reached via bmarshall@knotice.com.

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