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In the first installment of this series on relevance in digital marketing, I defined "relevance," specifically in the realm of direct digital marketing, as follows:

Tailoring direct digital marketing communications to customers and prospects, and ensuring that the information, offers, and calls to action are optimized based on a user's known attributes, behavioral attributes, and past activity.

The five keys to achieving relevance in your direct digital marketing are these:

  1. Overcoming organizational barriers
  2. Piecing together the technology puzzle
  3. Segmenting and optimizing
  4. Taking an incremental approach
  5. Having a plan

I focused, in the second installment, on overcoming organizational challenges as the first key to achieving relevance because that starting point is often overlooked. For many marketers and brands, the most significant hurdles to delivering relevant and timely marketing communications originate within the organization.

Now let's look at the second key—technology.

Technology is a big piece of the puzzle, potentially as significant as—and closely related to—organizational challenges. Technology is so important that marketers and brands that are dedicated to relevance need to roll up their collective sleeves and shake up the technology infrastructure of their organizations.

Why? It may sound obvious, but relevance with your consumer communications requires technology that makes the process more efficient and more effective, not painful and prohibitive.

Consistently maintaining a relevance-centered communications strategy can be difficult with a patchwork approach—whether it extends to your organizational structure or technology base. The content and data gymnastics required to deploy a relevance-focused multichannel campaign are daunting.

So how does the marketing team piece together the technology puzzle? There are two critical steps every brand must take.

Step 1: Get serious about technology and feature consolidation

In the past, there have been as many software platforms and providers as there have been digital-marketing channels: one application for email and for Short Message Service, specialty providers for apps and social media, distinct platforms for website content, social media, ads, search marketing, and disparate databases behind all of it.

There are four aspects to direct digital marketing that brands must consider as part of a relevance-focused technology solution:

  1. Data. Where is profile data stored? How accessible is it? How flexible is the data environment?
  2. Targeting and segmentation. How are you identifying the right audience for the right message, across channels?
  3. Content and delivery. Are data and content closely aligned and manageable at a holistic level? Are campaign definition and deployment more than a couple of clicks apart?
  4. Analytics. Is the organization as knowledgeable as possible about what is happening in the market? Can what is learned be applied easily in the immediate future?

Here is some good news: Consolidation is happening right now. Technology providers are offering solutions that fully integrate some, most, or all of those aspects across complementary digital channels.

For instance, your email service provider may offer solutions for mobile marketing and social-media management. Your website content management service provider may have an integrated ad-serving and analytics interface. Some providers may offer a holistic solution with a centralized profile database, simplifying the proposition of extending relevance across channels.

Investigate your options for technology consolidation, and be aggressive in seeking opportunities for consolidation. You stand to gain efficiencies by using a single platform or provider to define, develop, and deploy your digital communications.

If the content and data needed to deploy the messages can live in one place, that is an enormous advantage, because so many of the common snags associated with schlepping data and content between applications are already worked out.

Centralizing disparate databases into a single, profile-centric view of your customers and prospects cuts down on application and resource costs simultaneously.

Step 2: Marketing needs to sit at the head of the technology table

Today's digital consumers are growing more sophisticated every day. They demand more fluid and consistent communications from their favorite brands and become quickly frustrated by brands that cannot respond to those demands.

Consumers expect direct interaction with a single brand that views them as a single individual, whether they are in a retail store, online, or interacting with a call-center representative.

If internal organizational structures and the technology base are getting in between marketing-communications professionals and the consumer, you are losing ground in the battle to stay relevant. And if your IT department is getting between marketers and the technology, the situation is even more dire.

If your IT team is nobly carrying the torch providing a homegrown solution, I have bad news: It's time to look at an outsourced solution. Consolidation and competition means third-party solutions are more cost-effective and now a necessity, not a luxury.

Today, Marketing must have a seat at the table in the technology decision-making process. If Marketing is held responsible for the brand's connection with the consumer in the digital realm, it cannot afford to be isolated from the technology-evaluation process.

IT will always play a significant role to ensure security, privacy, and integration points within the established infrastructure. But the days of IT determinism in the traditional sense are over.

Turn the tables. Empower the marketing group to audit marketing and database platforms and applications to fully understand what value they deliver or what headaches they cause.

Understand where there are redundancies and where there are opportunities for consolidation and data centralization. Identify trusted partners within that landscape, and work with them to develop broader solutions.

Chances are, as providers race to deliver more solutions to their customers, they will embrace any opportunity to prove their mettle.

Seize the reins

The technology puzzle is no longer an area of operations that marketing-focused professionals can afford to ignore or defer to other entities within the organization. Failing to seize the reins and aggressively driving application consolidation results in more disparate and inconsequential interactions with consumers and prospects.

Stay tuned for the upcoming installment in this series. I will investigate the importance of segmenting and targeting in a relevance-centric approach to direct digital marketing.

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

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