Building an “always-on” marketing model

What is the value of a campaign?

I had an interesting conversation with a client the other day, discussing the value of campaign-based marketing models. We spoke at length about how Chief Marketing Officers (CMOs) continually get pressure to drive higher marketing throughput, with lower marketing budgets (shocker!).  We spoke about perma-connected consumers and how greater distraction and less relevance are driving campaign performance to the curb. And we spoke about the increasing expectations consumers have when interacting with a brand.

But, more importantly we spoke about how to create the efficiency of which every CMO dreams.

“Always on” marketing—not new, but also not easy to adopt
What we arrived at wasn’t particularly insightful, as the concept of “always-on” marketing models has been around for a few years now. What was interesting is the fact that many brands have not been able to adopt and/or apply this type of model.

Simply put, always-on marketing models build relevant brand experiences that are personalized, automated, and at scale. To be clear, this approach doesn’t preclude brands from using all the same channels they have in the past. Nor does it force brands to stick specifically to “marketing channels.” Always-on experiences can be in-store, online, or human to human. The key is to provide relevance and drive intrinsic motivation.

Tactically speaking, always-on marketing represents a different focus. It’s an attempt to create leverage through marketing by regular communications – only at the most relevant times – rather than only communicating while a brand has marketing dollars to burn via a campaign. Think of it as less “burst” marketing and more of a sustained drip.

Why does it matter?
First, campaign-based marketing models are more difficult to leverage. Unless you strike viral gold, there’s a direct relationship between the campaign dollars you spend and the sales you generate.

Second, campaigns generally do little to engage a customer. They aren’t relationship-building activities. They can be great at driving awareness or direct response, but they do little to build loyalty and retention.

Finally, campaigns are cyclical. Marketers spend a significant amount of effort ramping up a campaign, planning media and messaging, and the like, only to have it fall by the wayside three months later.

Does this mean brands should never run a campaign again? No. There will always be a place for awareness-driving activities. The point is that those activities should not be the sole mechanism for marketers going forward.

Why are brands having difficulty making the switch to always-on?
Several factors inhibit the transformation to always-on.

Usable data. The problem generally doesn’t lie in the existence of data. It lies with the existence of usable data. In order to drive relevance, marketers need one data source they can rely on at an individual level. In most organizations, that data isn’t readily available.

Supporting architecture. Technically speaking, an always-on model requires connected systems. As you become more sophisticated as an always-on marketer, you want these systems to learn about individual behaviors and apply the knowledge to each new interaction. Simply put, this can’t happen without a connected technical backbone. 

Content marketing. Always-on marketing models require content—and lots of it. This extra content volume has significant impact on internal marketing processes, to the point where some organizations require a significant shift in available skills.

How do you start building an always-on model?
Here are a few suggestions to get started.

Focus on “little strategy.” Brands are built as a collection of very small experiences. As marketers, we need to shift our thinking to be focused on “little strategy.” The idea is that we stop emphasizing brand presence as a whole, and start thinking about all of the little interactions that collectively create a brand. Focusing and perfecting each of these little interactions lead to the brand presence that most strategies try and create.

Create the connective tissue. On a small scale, start thinking about interaction data that you can take from one channel (e.g., mobile) and apply to a different channel (e.g., in-store). Small ideas will help you understand the scale for always-on marketing and provide the context to make the implications less intimidating.

Plan for longevity. Understand that an always-on model is no longer linear. Different consumers have different expectations, and as mentioned above, the key is to meet those expectations in a relevant way. Always-on takes what was once a perishable, campaign-based relationship and helps extend it.

Creating an always-on marketing model isn’t for everyone. I’d argue that it isn’t even for the majority. But as you become more sophisticated as a marketing organization, there’s a good chance you will outgrow a campaign-based model.

Because of the data and technical implications, always-on models often take many years to deploy. By starting the planning process now, you’ll be able to make day-to-day decisions that decrease the lead time once you are ready.

For more information on building an "always on" marketing model, please reach out to Greg Poffenroth at gpoffenroth@westmonroepartners.com.

West Monroe Insights
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