Three deadly marketing automation mistakes – and what to do about them

Marketing automation is a relatively new concept which can work magic for businesses of all backgrounds. However, of the companies who invest, many fail to maximize their return from that investment, or even utilize marketing automation technology to its full capacity. The truth is many of the ineffective strategies boil down to several common mistakes.

In this post, we will discuss some of the most frequently-committed blunders and how to fix them. Let’s dive in.

Not segmenting email lists

This is one of the most common mistakes that will kill your ROI. Perhaps the biggest advantage in today’s marketing mix is, you have the means to put the right content to the most interested eyes. According to a study by the Direct Marketing Association, segmented and targeted emails make up for 58% of all revenue. Throughout your database of leads, your prospects will inevitably be in different situations. You must keep up on these insights and divide your lists accordingly.

There are many ways to segment your email lists. In addition to demographics, you will need a firm understanding of where people are in terms of the buyer’s cycle in order to target and automate emailsproperly. If you have certain people who have been long-term customers, you will need to approach correspondence in a much different way than you to would someone who has just signed up.

For B2B companies, chances are, you have clientele across a plethora of industries and organization types. Therefore, your messages must speak directly to your leads’ line of work.

Using Hubspot’s Visual Workflows App, you can automatically group your email recipients with segmentation logic based on previous interactions. In turn, you avoid the long, tedious task of sorting your emails one by one.

Focusing on selling instead of nurturing

Barraging your audience with automated promotions is a surefire way to end up in the trash folder. Going back to the buyer’s cycle, you need to be sensitive to where your prospects are and emphasize education in your messages.

During the awareness stage, you want to address common issues and grievances related to your industry. Start by sending content that showcases your expertise in the field and that you are trying to helpthem, not explicitly sell to them. This can be things like whitepapers, e-books, or even links to articles you’ve produced.

When the prospect is in the consideration stage, you should provide more in-depth resources to help them learn more about their potential purchase. Think about sending hands-on material like instructional videos or product specs. These automated messages need to be crafted with the thought that recipients are committing to solving their problems and are looking for all the necessary information to help pull the trigger.

For the conversion stage, you need to focus your messages on validating their decision. This can be post-purchase surveys, product recommendations, or simply a message asking if they have any further questions.

If you run an e-commerce website, conversion is all the more important. You absolutely need to send automatic follow-up emails after every abandoned cart. Bayard Institute recently gathered 37 different studies on cart abandonment rate and found the average cart abandonment rate is nearly 70%!

The ecommerce platform underlying the website makes all the difference here; a full-featured one like Shopify will ensure your shopping cart gets all the required functions right:

The purpose of marketing automation is to guide people down the sales funnel in a seamlessly helpful way. Using it solely for the promotional aspect will render your strategy much less effective.

Overlooking internal communication

An extremely common misconception about marketing automation is you only need to set it up and the platform will take care of the rest. There is A LOT more to it. Marketing automation is meant to cover nearly every aspect of your business’s online experience, from your website all the way to social media. It will get out of control in a hurry if you fail to keep frequent tabs on your campaigns.

And that needs people from all departments to manage tools and communicate results with one another.

You will quickly learn that marketing automation is a constant game of analyzing every reaction to your actions and pinpointing roadblocks across the board. Before you even begin implementation, be sure you have a reliable internal system in place. Monitoring progress will likely require input and contributions from every department.

Project management and collaboration tools like Workzone are built for these kinds of tasks – you can ensure everyone stays on the same page throughout every aspect of a campaign. From content creation to customer support, you need 100% involvement so nothing slips through the cracks.

At the end of the day, marketing automation does a lot to save time and resources when it comes to monotonous tasks. However, you need to be watching the whole process like a hawk to interpret results and plan your next move.

Conclusion

Automated marketing is a true taste of the future in business operations. While it’s still very new, it can take a good amount of time to establish a rhythm. Do you best to avoid these common mistakes and you will see your ROI increase.

– by Pratik Dholakiya

You’ve got SPAM: how inactive subscribers affect deliverability

As email marketers, we all send a variety of email streams based on various frequency schedules. We are often pushed to continue to grow reach.

Many organizations find themselves sending emails to all opted-in subscribers regardless of their engagement in a misguided effort to keep pushing forward. It’s so easy for organizations to think that more emails + more sends = more revenue.

But is that right?

Many fail to realize that more emails can begin to have an inverse relationship with revenue.

The role of ISPs

Everyone knows what it is like to see our inboxes constantly bombarded by endless special offers, discounts, new product launches, asks for donations and a myriad of other topics.

The average email address receives approximately 121 emails per day.

Most subscribers have learned to scan their inboxes by sender and subject line before deciding which emails they actually have time to read or even care about. The ones that don’t pass this quick litmus test become part of subscriber’s mass delete.

Someone else is paying close attention to this: ISPs. They know that the moment their customers feel overwhelmed with unwanted emails, they will move to a new provider.

ISPs have a huge vested interest in protecting customers from torrents of irrelevant emails. Each time your subscriber doesn’t engage with one of your emails, the ISP dings your sending reputation.

Over time, those ISPs will start to route your emails directly to the dreaded SPAM folder and then all of your campaign stakeholders are going to be banging on your office door with pitchforks and torches wanting to know how this happened.

The ‘honeymoon’

Take a moment right now to log into your personal email account. Look at your SPAM/Junk folder.

What do you see?

There are the obvious SPAM emails you probably don’t recall ever subscribing to, but look a little deeper and you will probably see a few that make you stop and say, “Oh, I signed up for emails from X that one time I needed Y.” How did that end up in your junk folder?

Here’s how – they stopped engaging with you.

Take a step back and remember that “honeymoon” phase a retail brand or non-profit had with us right after we initially signed up to receive emails. Maybe we liked certain products, maybe we needed a gift for a friend, maybe we just wanted a promo discount or maybe that non-profit is dear to our hearts.

There was some initial reason we signed up to receive email notifications, but did the organization continue to listen to what we were telling them from our engagement metrics?

How far after our “honeymoon” phase should the brand have sought counseling when we stopped engaging? The answer is not so clear.

Preventing inactivity

Most marketing departments look at email subscribe date and last engagement date without accounting for the frequency of engagement.

One year of inactive subscriber data is very different for a brand that sends out 12 monthly emails in a year versus one that sends out three emails a week.

Frequency of sends and the inactively by subscriber based on frequency of sends needs to be understood if you want emails to keep getting routed to inboxes.

Email marketers should be analyzing current engagement metrics to establish open baselines for 30, 60, 90, 120, 180, 270 and 360 days.

The goal is to identify date ranges where subscribers are most susceptible to fall off. Identify those subscribers at risk for becoming unengaged and test various content strategies based on all available data that will re-engage subscribers.

Failing to create relevant content that engages inactive subscribers can create a self-fulfilling prophecy for a brand: As more subscribers become unengaged with the brand, many of the popular email clients such as GMAIL, Yahoo and AOL will begin routing those emails into SPAM folders.

This can result in email clients labeling you as a SPAM sender and that means your emails will go straight to SPAM folders across their entire subscriber base.

Once this happens, you are toast. You have difficulty reaching any Inbox, even among your newest subscribers that are just entering the “honeymoon” phase.

The best practice to avoid this is to create relevant content that resonates with your subscribers. Make sure each subscriber is stratified into the most appropriate segment and work toward creating one-to-one customer journeys.

Take a step back and look at your overall communication process. Analyze the data. Test into new segments and treat segments differently and you will be rewarded with subscriber engagement.

– by Billy McNair

Brands & E-retailers: The only way is partnership

The current e-commerce status quo that minimises brand engagement and prioritises sales is potentially damaging for both brands and e-retailers for a number of reasons. Not only are brands likely to start seeing major e-retailers as an unfortunate necessity, and less as key partners helping inform their retail strategy, but they will also limit their audience to bargain hunters always looking for the lowest price, which only caters to opportunism.

Traditional brand wisdom dictates that it is vital to create a rich brand experience at point of sale to have a real and lasting impact on the shopper.

However,in the competitive e-commerce arena, retailers largely use price as the main point of difference to win sales, neglecting the opportunity to convey any other attributes that make brands and their products attractive.

There are even start-ups emerging, such as Brandless in the US, who are challenging the traditional thinking behind big brand names and the hidden costs that tend to come with buying from them.

Brandless estimates that 40% of the cost of a product is what they call ‘BrandTax’ and has nothing to do with increased quality. As such it has set up a model which removes the brand name, and the associated cost, to offer consumers a cheaper alternative without compromising on the quality.

For brands who rely on a retailer to get their product to market, this brings to light an interesting challenge. They are bound by the retailer’s e-commerce strategy and their perceived need to sell on price, therefore brands are unable to offer customers the engaging experiences they would ideally put in place if they were selling directly to consumers.

The value of partnership

However, the current e-commerce status quo that minimises brand engagement and prioritises sales is potentially damaging for both brands and e-retailers for a number of reasons.

Brands are likely to start seeing major e-retailers as an unfortunate necessity, and less as key partners to inform their retail strategy. For e-retailers, it means they are focusing on an audience of bargain hunters always looking for the lowest price (opportunist shoppers), ruling out those whose are decidedly more considered, and potentially more loyal.

There is clearly a massive opportunity for e-retailers and brands to form partnerships that can be mutually beneficial to both sides. The path to purchase has changed for consumers. It’s now complex and non-linear.

The way a person interacts with marketing messages on a daily basis is as diverse as it is unpredictable. Although technology and consumer behaviour has evolved, the mental processes shoppers use to make decisions remain the same.

To understand consumer behaviour, brands and e-retailers need to focus on heuristics – the hardwired shortcuts people use to make purchase decisions, regardless of brand, category or channel. There are 128 recognised heuristics, and working with Durham University Business School, we have identified the nine most relevant to purchase decisions.

These ‘Sales Triggers’ (as we call them) allow us to make behavioural science useable for brands and e-retailers.

We leverage them to deliver Brand Commerce marketing that delivers more effective sales. It’s a refreshing approach that enables brands and e-retailers to work together to break the e-commerce price rut:

Look beyond price as a key differentiator

While price will always be a significant factor in customers’ purchasing decisions, it is not the only thing that influences people’s choices when purchasing. Emotional ideas are key to trigger sales online more effectively.

For example, surfacing the ‘Better than Average’ Sales Trigger prompts consumers to trade up. ‘Instant Gratification’ drives impulse sales and increases rate of sale. By delivering the right Sales Trigger at the right moment, interactions can be turned into transactions.

Test and learn, and test again

When shopping, a person’s purchase decision is dependent on four factors; whether they’re thinking independently, being influenced socially, thinking fast and shopping instinctively or thinking slow and deliberating over what they buy. These factors vary by brand, category and situation. As does the devices they’re using and the time of day.

Through stronger collaboration between brands and e-retailers, different combinations of Sales Triggers can be tested to identify the most effective mix for driving online sales. By working together to drive sales, it benefits both sides in equal measure.

The future growth of e-commerce is dependent on true partnerships between retailers and brands and it can begin with recognising that consumers purchase using emotions that can be triggered beyond pure price promotion.

– by Andrew Watts

Exploring the future of ecommerce and web design

Ever wondered how the internet will change how we shop in the future? So have we.

In a new whitepaper by Plusnet, experts have been giving their predictions based on the two established ways the internet will evolve: speed and availability.

Internet speeds could potentially rise to ten times the current broadband speed if emerging technology is anything to go by, and new, faster mobile connections will grow quicker and more widely available across the world.

Ecommerce

Shockingly, only 47% of the world can currently access the internet. This number will rise in the future (it’s already risen by 4% since 2016). Greater availability of the internet across the world will open up new and emerging markets, especially in Africa and South America (two continents with some of the lowest number of internet users in the world).

Faster connections will also improve conversion rates across the web, which is good news to anyone with an online business. It’s said that “For each second improved in website loading, the conversion rate improves by over 2%.”

This new online area won’t just mean increased profits across the board (if any), but it will offer even more opportunities for ecommerce brands to speed up their website performance to have customers purchasing before they’ve had a second to think.

Augmented reality isn’t just for catching Pokémon – the ability to try on clothes using a smartphone or tablet as an augmented reality mirror could be on the horizon. 3D printing is another emerging technology that could be exploited by retailers, as the ability to 3D print samples of clothing and try them on may a reality in the not-so-distant future.

Web design

Web designers rejoice! Improved internet speeds will mean the dreaded restrictions on the complexity and ambition of a design due to loading times will be curtailed. This will allow designers to include better imagery, slick animations, and all the GIFs, videos, and visual bells and whistles they desire.

Improved connection speeds and performance will open the door for web developers to experiment with more ambitious designs that change and adapt to user behaviour, as Chad Rubin of Skubana explores:

“Each webpage can react with how shoppers browse an online store. You can incorporate videos and GIFs without worrying about them not loading. It’ll be a game of who can design a better, more expansive shopping experience on their platform.”

Greater availability of the internet across the world will also generate further demand for web designers, and boost the appeal of web design as a profession. A sudden rise in new potential ecommerce business owners could present a great opportunity for fledgling design firms to branch out into other continents, filling the gap until homegrown skills can catch up.

Potential setbacks

It’s not all sunshine and roses, however. With any widespread shift in the way the world works, there’s barriers to the widespread adoption of any new technology.

Privacy is the hot topic that’s likely to be the biggest hurdle to overcome, with a survey from ComRes revealed that 79% of people have concerns about their privacy online, with another survey from Verint Systems showing 86% of the public would want to know when data is being passed onto to third parties, while 1 in 9 people want to know how brands keep their data secure.

Alleviating these valid concerns will be key for brands who want to be on the ground floor of emerging internet technology and to make the most of these emerging innovations.

Take a look at the whitepaper here.

– by Karl Young

Closing the sales and marketing gap – to maximise eCommerce opportunities

With rapid advances in digital marketing, data and technology, the journey from awareness to sale can now be very short thanks to eCommerce solutions. You can learn about a product, consider a brand and buy all in one go from a shoppable Instagram post. eCommerce is driving the majority of retail growth and presents a significant opportunity for brands. However, as customer behaviour changes, brands need to ensure they don’t get left behind with legacy sales and marketing models.

Traditionally, many brands have had separate marketing and sales teams, and often each of these have very different objectives. Marketing teams need to reach the right customer at the right moment and are measured by brand awareness and reach metrics. Sales teams need to meet sell-through targets and are assessed on percentage of added value acquired in a deal or incremental sales driven in a short time period.

Commercial agreements within the sales teams are often held to aggregate sales targets which drive efficient short-term sales. This is not always the case for marketing activity as the data available for sales driven on a granular level across retailers is not available. Brands really shouldn’t be allocating digital budget without visibility of the impact on total sales (both direct and from eRetail sites).

Unless a brand is managing eCommerce directly, there will be a gap of transactional data when trying to understand the true commercial return on marketing investment and there is a major disconnect from the sales being driven through retailers.

On the other side, you have sales teams agreeing to digital media plans with retailers when they are rarely experts in digital media. While the concept of the formats being offered by retailers is not unfamiliar (i.e. priority shelf positioning), most brands have digital specialists within their organisation or at their media agency that can support in scrutinising these media plans or ensure that commercial agreements are inclusive of marketing requirements.

Brands that can close this gap between sales and marketing are able to maximise the revenue opportunities from eCommerce. There are some clear steps that brands – and their retail partners – can take to capitalise on the eCommerce opportunities.

Brands can upskill their sales teams to ensure they are asking the right questions when agreeing digital media plans with a retailer, or they can involve digital specialists.

When a sales team receives a programmatic plan or an on-site placement, for example, as part of their commercial agreement they should consider viewability, industry benchmarks and creative refreshes. These are all standard questions for someone with a digital marketing background.

As retailers struggle to catch up with marketplaces like Amazon in terms of sharing data in real time, they should work with third party technology providers or research companies to identify proxies for retail sales.

In 2017, Amazon’s revenue from advertising grew close to 60%. As Amazon develops their self-serve platform to report back on media investments, retailers need to provide similar data and services for brands. Brands need to challenge retailers to evolve even more quickly in this rapidly changing landscape.

Marketers should have a better understanding of how their awareness activity is driving sales in the short term and influence on purchases in the long term.

Brands can do this through commercial agreements to receive more frequent granular data, by using attribution models inclusive of retailer’s sales on an aggregate level or working with research companies who can provide proxies for conversions on retailer sites.

We have seen an increase in brands developing eBusiness teams, which is a great first step in bridging this gap. It is more important than ever to understand how all media activity collectively impacts brand sales and the true value of digital marketing included in commercial agreements.

– by Cassandra Stevens

‘Tis the season for Augmented Reality

Any and every seasonal period, whether this is Christmas or Valentine’s Day, is fraught with competition from opposing retailers. It’s a metaphorical pile-up in terms of brands clambering over each other to reach the purse strings of their prospective customers.

The truth is, customers buy because of their need – the art of persuasion is really eroding away at a rate of knots, and even the annual Christmas ads only real appeal aesthetically; something that is treated more as a feature film and a measure of creativity rather than a wooing technique.

Marketers are constantly grappling with ways to ramp up the experience that they offer to consumers, with many falling short of the immersive preferences that ‘smart’ consumers are now accustomed to.

Seasonal shopping periods lend themselves so well to immersive experiences. Whether this is augmented reality (AR) or VR, shoppers really have a chance to engage with the brand they’re thinking of purchasing before they hand over the money – it makes the entire experience less transactional and more entertaining.

So, what should retailers be looking at to engage consumers over the seasonal period and what are the benefits of using this immersive technology during the peak shopping periods such as Black Friday and Christmas?

Peak shopping

In September, Adobe released a report which found that brands using innovative forms of engagement, such as Augmented Reality (AR), are well-respected by consumers with half saying they appreciated the brand in question.

The emotive feeling towards a brand is largely dictated by the experience the consumer receives. Brands that don’t offer engaging experiences might be bought from but this will be out of necessity, not a feeling of desire on the part of the consumer – a transactional experience rather than an enjoyable one.

Peak shopping periods put brand loyalty firmly in the spotlight. Images of consumers fighting over TVs and other electrical products are frequently circulated each year, after the US-adopted Black Friday sales bonanza hits, but how many shoppers are actually looking at the brand logo on the front of these products?

Probably very few – a 40-inch TV is a 40-inch TV, isn’t it?

Well, the likes of Panasonic and LG would beg to differ. The millions of pounds they’ve spent on marketing and advertising throughout the retail calendar year is, for one day at least, eroded as sale-hungry shoppers lower their expectations and forget any brand affinity in favour of a bargain on a big flat-screen.

But, Black Friday paints a very different picture to Christmas shopping where, typically, people will plan a day in the weeks preceding Christmas where they have time to browse the shops and look for presents for those family members who shrug their shoulders when you ask them what they’d like.

Christmas bonus

The Christmas shopping period is therefore the perfect time for retailers to look at how they’re engaging with their consumers and the experiences that they deliver to them. There’s a reason why retailers invest time and money on shop front design and props around Christmas; they know that people will notice.

But shop front design is too static for today’s connected consumer.

– by Richard Corps

Rebuilding confidence in digital advertising: Our survival depends on it

Advertising decisions are not made in a vacuum.

Every dollar and metric is carefully scrutinized by CMO’s to ensure that the company is receiving maximum return on its investment. If campaigns are ineffective, they will be quickly pulled and resources redirected to more lucrative channels. Digital advertisers are beginning to understand this reality.

Not because digital advertising isn’t as, or more effective than traditional means, but because of a phenomenon specific to the digital world: ad fraud.

Ad fraud has become somewhat of an epidemic in the digital advertising industry.  Forrester Research estimates that it led to an estimated $7.4 billion in losses in 2016 alone.

Forrester also estimates that this number will swell to nearly $11 billion by 2021 if immediate steps are not taken to root out fraudulent activity and create a secure online environment for advertisers.

Why is this our problem?

While on the surface this may seem more a problem for advertisers than publishers, this is a dangerous and short-sighted point of view. The viability of the digital advertising market depends on advertisers having confidence in our ability to effectively reach their target buyer.

If the data shows that our market is rife with fraud and large percentages of budget is being wasted, advertisers will not hesitate to pull away from digital and invest in other marketing channels.

Ad fraud is multi-dimensional and can impact advertisers on many fronts that affect their bottom line. Every fraudulent click or impression represents ad dollars wasted, and those dollars add up quickly. Our customers, which are the advertisers, expect and are demanding a platform they can trust. If we as an industry can’t reverse this trend and address these problems to advertiser’s satisfaction, a drop in revenue is almost certain to follow.

What can be done?

To effectively fight back against ad fraud, publishers must make a significant investment in terms of both technology and manpower to monitor for and prevent fraudulent traffic and malware. In the 24/7 world of digital advertising, this is what is required to deliver a product that advertisers can trust.

For starters, standard operating procedure should be that all traffic is scanned by both internal and third-party MRC certified tools. It’s critical that they reside on all pages, tracking IP addresses and the quality of the traffic, so publishers can then validate site traffic and ensure ads are being seen by real people. This continuous monitoring ensures that any suspicious or malicious activity is quickly identified and mitigated, saving the advertiser from paying for fraudulent views.

How should advertisers protect themselves?

As the digital advertising market continues to evolve, brands need to take proactive measures to help ensure that their advertising dollars are delivering a solid return. As a starting point, they should only work with publishers that are transparent with in terms of their data.

Quality publishers offer real data and viewability into how ads are preforming and what audiences the ads are being placed in front of. If a publisher isn’t receiving this level of insight into their campaigns, there is an issue. Total transparency is key to running a successful campaign and should be demanded by all advertisers.

Additionally, brands should be putting the onus on their publishing partners to solve the ad fraud problem as part of earning their marketing dollars. At a minimum, publishers should be able to prove that they are taking tangible steps to fight ad fraud though industry accreditations and certifications such as TAG and MRC.

Where do we go from here?

We are already seeing the pendulum swing in the direction of publishers needing to prove the quality of their offerings to advertisers before receiving an actual dollar commitment. Ad fraud has risen to a level where many leading brands are demanding greater transparency and effort from their publishing partners. For example, Procter & Gamble has recently stated that it will not work with any digital media partner that doesn’t take the necessary steps to become TAG certified.

As an industry, it is in all our best interests to fight against fraud and present a quality product to our advertising partners. The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) has implemented a mandatory requirement that all members register with TAG as a way of demonstrating the industries commitment to eliminating ad fraud.

We as publishers understand better than anyone that providing a quality product to our customers is not only our responsibility, but that our very survival as an industry depends on it.

– by Spencer Scott

From brand storytelling to “storyliving” through VR

In the earliest days of television, no one had quite figured out the complicated new medium and the earliest TV programs reflected that. Many were just a camera pointed at people doing a radio show. It takes time to understand and create new stories in a new medium.

It may sound silly, but today’s commonly accepted practices around establishing shots and flashbacks were once clever new devices in film and television storytelling.

VR is the next evolution of visual storytelling. And it brings new challenges that storytellers will need to work out. With VR you can’t control what someone chooses to look at, or in what order. Most people in VR seem to look up and to the right first, then behind them. This is what makes storytelling content so tough to create and manipulate for marketing and advertising purposes.

Google Zoo, Google’s creative think-tank, recently coined the term storyliving, which describes how the user interacts with a company’s brand or message through the experience they have while immersed in VR. It goes beyond traditional storytelling and captures the idea that engaging audience in VR requires interaction between the content and the user. Let’s break it down:

Storytelling vs. Storyliving

Think of storytelling as if there is an author or a director setting you in a story, and pushing you along a single linear path.

Storyliving is similar to video games in the sense that there will be paths to choose from, and depending on what path you choose, will ultimately change the end-destination of the narrative you’re set in.

What people think about when they dive into VR

Where am I?

When you put on a VR headset, you’re immersed into a new environment. VR experiences are sensory-heavy, which means you approach every move while engaging with any senses being tapped into.

Whether this be looking towards a noise, a light, or a figure, you’re learning that you have control. You’re beginning to familiarize yourself with your surroundings and you’re eager to explore, to see what this environment has to offer you.

What am I?

In any virtual reality experience (VRE), you become an avatar of yourself, or a digital body in which you live and act within. Google Zoo highlights the ability to shapeshift because it can expand the typical limits of VR, and it allows you to shift your mindset and actions based on the reality of your new body.

So, what makes storyliving so attractive?

Being able to participate

In Google Zoo’s study, they found that people are curious about everything they can see in VR, regardless of whether it’s something they can interact with; the curiosity is there to drive the question of whether it’s tangible for them.

According to Google Zoo, “VR utilizes interactivity to deepen the sense of immersion into something wholly different: participation.” People want to be able to interact, or “participate” with their virtual surroundings, and storyliving does just that.

Emotional engagement

VR content allows you to enter a space where the real world is muted, which neutralizes any emotions that exist in real-time so you can react to the content in front of you. Google Zoo noted “For study participants with busy personal or professional lives, this offered a sensory-rich space to experience solitude and connect with a specific set of emotions.”

With this, there is also the aspect of emotional vulnerability. Consider facing your fears through VR, something that is actually used in practice by some doctors. By putting on the headset, the user is accepting the unpredictability of the content and allowing themselves to be vulnerable to what they could see while being in virtual reality.

So how is VR changing storytelling?

Traditional storytelling is primarily about painting a picture and having your user see exactly what you want them to see. The power of VR and the methodology around “participation” that users embrace is exactly what is changing about storytelling.

No longer can you make one single item the centre of attention in a scene. Everything in VR must demonstrate meaning for the user to have an effective and impactful experience.

Based on findings from Google Zoo, as well as additional sources within the VR space, there are two questions that need to be defined before creating new content, especially for effective storytelling:

(1) What do you want the user to see, and

(2) how do you want the user to feel? This seems obvious, but these questions are powerful because they answer what kind of experience you’re creating for the user, which is the ultimate goal behind VRE creation.

What do you want your user to see?

Re-phrased, this is asking what kind of feeling do you want to leave with your user? Do you want a lot of details for your user to pay attention to, or a blank slate with few items so there’s more emphasis on the narrative aspect? Does the scene achieve the message you’re aiming for? Does it achieve the perspective you wanted to communicate? Is there anything distracting in the VR experience that you need to consider before letting users view?

How do you want the user to feel?

What kinds of emotions are you trying to achieve with your scene? Is your content graphically sensitive? Does it play on fears, induce tears, make people smile? Ultimately, how do you want the user to feel when they take the headset off?

The Google Zoo Storyliving research is fascinating because it highlights a reality VR content developers need to face: we need a new storytelling language for this new medium. New ways of thinking about our stories will bring them into 360-degree focus and push the imagination forward.

– by Rob Kendal

Overcoming the B2B conversion hurdle: What are digital marketers missing?

A recent article on Forbes.com revealed that B2B customers progress more than 70% of the way through the decision-making process before engaging a sales representative. For many organisations, this will have made for a frightening read. And the immediate, almost knee-jerk reaction, will have been to panic about how to ‘seal the deal’ in the final 30% of the time they’ll dedicate to their pre-purchase assessment.

But the trick here isn’t to rush into offering crazy discounts or deploying pushy sales tactics in an attempt to sway the investment choice. It’s actually not to focus too much on this latter 30% at all.

Because savvier digital marketers will look at this statistic with delight. They can use this 70% of time to their advantage. It is a ripe opportunity to take the prospective customer on a content-rich journey before they’ve even directly engaged with a brand. And all whilst the customer feels in a position of control, during their research.

As with any modern marketing strategy, the content should be relevant, timely and personalised – otherwise it will be nothing but a turn off. It should naturally fuel a gradual nurture process, where sales messages are built up slowly. The focus, certainly in the first 20% of the research phase, should be to deliver high-value, educational material, that will keep the recipient engaged.

It is tempting to believe that all content will be digested thoroughly, but of course this is not the case. Technology can therefore play a crucial role here, by automating journeys and triggering next-step communications based on the individual’s behaviour along the way.

This 70% of the process is also an opportunity to glean powerful insight so that, when the individual hopefully does engage with a sales representative, a more informed and contextual conversation will follow. And, because timing is everything in the world of B2B, the same insight can be used to identify and maximise opportune moments such as renewal periods. Again, the marketer doesn’t need to worry about remembering this, if tech can automate this process accordingly.

There is an argument that the marketer could attempt to exert an even greater influence in this scenario. Whilst a poorly-timed cold call will probably do little to build on the relationship, some individuals will undoubtedly be ready and willing to talk to a sales representative before they’ve reached their 70% decision-making milestone.

This is why intelligent, effective lead scoring is so important. Even a simple scoring system – which attributes points to an individual based on the type of communication they’ve engaged with, the frequency of their visits to a website, the length of time they’ve spent on a web page and so on –  can help to highlight when, in truth, they’re ready to talk. The B2B brands that have cleverly-integrated sales and marketing tech – and departments that work together closely – are certainly the ones who see greater success in this respect. Waiting for a customer to make the first move, could provide the perfect moment for a competitor to swoop.

All of this is assuming, of course, that the digital marketer has successfully engaged with the individual enough to be a contender for the final 30% of the decision-making process. If the brand doesn’t resonate or show up with the prospect when the research begins, there is work to be done before any of this advice can be actioned. Search engine rankings, profile building, PR and social media conversation are just some of the ways to get noticed when it really matters.

Overall, digital marketers accepted a long time ago that they have to work harder in the modern business environment. There is far less ‘low-hanging fruit’ and quick wins are unlikely. But it is possible to shape individuals’ decision making, if enough thought is put in to exactly what to say, to who, and when.

– by Nick Washbourne

A double edged sword: How to wield AI wisely

Recent research conducted by Adobe amongst 13,000 marketing, creative and technology professionals has found that organisations who are engaging with AI are 50% more likely to exceed their own business goals – which makes it unsurprising then that 46% of brands are set to adopt the technology before the end of 2018.

But what does sudden mass adoption of AI look like? Brands must be wary of using AI to conduct communication for communication’s sake. AI is more than a hype, it is already allowing businesses  today to address real issues for their customers in real-time. However, it must be implemented correctly or it risks undoing any benefits it brings entirely.

Email, phone, text, messaging apps, social platforms and now smart home devices. If we consider that each of these via artificial intelligence could be triggered by a ‘real-time’ moment, think of the implications for the customer. Every time they google something, or it starts raining or they visit a new place, they suddenly receive a host of irrelevant messaging. Brands need to recognise the danger of over-communicating with their customers, or risk being deleted altogether.

Keep it simple

In a wide ranging research report we led, an overwhelming 86% of customers who left their bank, energy, mobile or insurance provider in the last six months said they would have been more content if they were contacted in a different way. When questioned about their reasons for leaving, relevancy and timeliness had the biggest impact on loyalty. Nearly one in five (17%) complained that they never received relevant information. Another fifth (20%) said they received relevant information but not when they wanted it. This style of marketing is no longer good enough.

The Adobe report correctly highlights the importance of brands elevating themselves “above the noise of more traditional, one-size-fits-all marketing.” AI gives brands the opportunity to send hyper-personalised messaging to their customers on multiple touchpoints throughout the day. However, it is just as key to remember that just because they always can, doesn’t mean they always should.

It is a hard balance to find, yet it’s key. Consumers are ready to jump on what they may find unnatural or fake communication that reads like a robot, however they also demand personalised marketing that comes to them in the channel and in the style they would like as the statistics above show.

So the issue lies in artificial intelligence vs. the human touch right? Incorrect. It does not have to be one or the other. Using artificial intelligence allows businesses to combine both the benefits of scale and automate with human insights to create personalised, tailored messaging that still has a real human feel. This all goes towards a positive customer experience that promotes relevant but timely dialogue and goes a long away in improving loyalty and reducing churn.

Problem solver

There are new headlines every day that name and shame brands who are the “worst” for customer service in industries ranging from telecoms to automotive to insurance. The odds are, you have a least favourite of one of your providers, simply because contacting them can become such an ordeal.

AI can be a real solution to this common gripe. We recently received 2 million euros in innovation grants in order to use AI to help Europe’s mobile operators improve customer value and communication for their subscribers, and thereby customer loyalty. In the telecom industry for example, we’ve identified a lack of resources to deal with huge customer bases and specific customer problems on a case-by-case basis. Artificial intelligence allows us to develop the functionality for these mass telecom businesses to address this.

Act now

It is important for those brands who have yet to adobe AI technology, to know that input into this does not have to be significant. Brands are already collecting their customers data every day, AI simply uses that data to better understand consumers and then use that insight to adapt and create a better customer experience.

With GDPR looming, many businesses are concerned as to how that will affect their customer service offering. Whilst consumers should ideally realise that giving their data away is a good thing that will provide them with the best experience, businesses must inform customers on the benefits of the latest communication approaches. Brands must be  clear about what they are doing with the data they collect, and promote the personalised style of customer interaction they offer.

Fundamentally if they can clearly see the benefits of sharing their data then they will want to do so. Utilising this data in a transparent and accountable way could increase customer retention, increase sales and build stronger and more loyal customer relationships.

As Adobe’s report highlights, the time has come to adopt or die. Act now and implement AI technology for the better of your business or risk your consumers moving on to someone who is.

– by Sam Madden

TLK Fusion

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