Roundtable: Tracking helps to unlock online consumer journey
Revolution, in association with Equi=Media, brought together industry experts to discuss the changing online experience. Mike Fletcher reports.
Revolution, in association with Equi=Media, invited key players in the digital marketing industry to discuss the online customer journey. Representatives from the mobile and search sectors sat with financial-services marketers and digital agency specialists. The agenda was how the customer journey has developed and how the sector responds to changes in consumer behaviour.
According to Douglas McDonald, business development director at mobile specialist Upstream Systems, too many brands have tried to force the consumer down a particular digital channel, when they should be engaging with them in multiple channels, depending on their requirements. "Although consumers spend much of their time on one channel, they're happy to switch to respond to a service, to communicate or to get information," he says. "Enabling the journey is about engaging with the customer on their terms." Simon Holderness, online marketing manager at ICESAVE agrees, saying that, for years, marketers have tried to draw people down the mobile channel, despite a chasm between what mobile marketing is capable of and consumer demand.
Susie Tamplin, key account director at mobile marketing agency Sponge, insists it's about providing choice. "If I'm reading the newspaper and see an ad asking me to text in or visit a website, I'd be more inclined to do that on the move rather than call up the traditional 0800 number," she says.
Everyone agrees that for individual channels to be commercially successful and ease the customer journey, they must be trackable. Digital marketing is now flooded with data-driven systems, but does the responsibility lie with the agency or the brand?
Chris Sherlock, marketing director of credit-reference agency Equifax, believes it's the brand's role to monitor digital developments. "We will, in time, see people checking credit and applying via the mobile channel, but we're not there yet," he says.
The problem arises when there are multiple agencies looking after different channels and each is convincing the client that customer sales can be attributed to them. So, is it better to revert to the one-stop-shop agency approach?
Heritable Bank marketing director Alan Gilmour says: "From the client's viewpoint, with fully integrated agencies there's the danger that a specific channel is recommended because those working in a particular area of a one-stop-shop model need to be paid for."
Sherlock agrees, adding: "Appointing a fully integrated agency is a way of saving money, but it delegates too much responsibility.One agency will tell you the value of different channels and you hand over its monthly reports to your finance director. It's better to seek a broader range of expertise by speaking to a range of agencies, so that it's still the business's responsibility to consider all those conversations and formulate a strategy."
Gilmour sums it up: "You can outsource the responsibility, but you can't outsource the accountability," he says.
For a greater understanding of the customer journey, the marketer needs to cut through the conflict between channels. The way to do this is via the trackable data.
Google industry leader in financial services Ian Carrington often sees a conflict between the web channel and the phone. "All it takes is someone higher up to look at both sets of data, but they never do," he says.
According to Equi=Media's digital strategy director, Gavin Sinden, the reason brands are not getting to grips with the data is because there is so much of it. "We've suddenly woken up to a far more accountable world than existed six years ago," he says.
The agency's director of search marketing, Matthew Mills, believes the data is only effective if analysed with consumer behaviour. "Having a unique telephone number for your online channel will enable you to understand the volume of traffic, but the customer journey is meaningless with only that data," he says. "No two journeys are the same and different search phrases are used for each journey. The customer will compare brands online before making a decision, because digital has the ability to build brand. It's the same as a consumer looking in all the shops on the high street, then going back to the shop they intended to buy from anyway."
Google's Carrington adds: "Tracking someone who has researched their mortgage on the internet but then walks into a branch is impossible."
Sherlock recalls how, in his previous job at ebookers, the company developed a view of where customers came from and what prompted the purchase by tracking data from 2,000 numbers distributed in the press. Gilmore says in his previous role at Lloyds TSB, it had 20 million customers and no clue how they got to the end of their journey. "The travel industry has been doing it successfully for years," Sherlock says. "Marketers are talking about lifetime value and they need more data. I want to know what will influence this customer over the next year from a particular channel, rather than where the first click came from."
Mills believes there are three phases in the customer journey: start, perpetuation and conversion. "At the start, you have to look at the motivator behind the click; that could be TV, for example. In the middle, you have to take into account an investment in conversion marketing, such as banner advertising, designed to improve the customer journey. Was it media exposure or the click-through that enabled the customer to continue? The conversion to purchase is the easiest to measure, but by focusing on the last click, you hamper the ability to measure the other elements."
Sinden agrees, saying marketing is as much an art as a science: "The need for data exists, but without the art, brands end up building a model that sees cash pumped in. They then expect to see a return on that investment."
The panel all advocate the need for experimentation, especially in the mobile channels occupied by Sponge and Upstream Systems. "It is crucial," says Sponge's Tamplin. "Marketers are still not looking at what is the right channel for the right media, so we are in a period that allows for experimentation."
McDonald agrees: "First Direct allows customers to bank via iPhone, but there are not significant number of iPhone users yet so it's about using different channels to build brand exposure."
The sector is still some way off agreeing on how to track customer behaviour and understand how to engage them across multiple channels. Mills believes digital marketers should learn the lessons of direct response, an industry formed on measurement and data. Equifax's Sherlock urges brands to know their own limits. He concludes: "Every metric does not have to be embraced, we need to go beyond this data-driven industry. Recognising where your business sits in its own digital evolution and what is the next stage in improving the customer's journey will see managed progress and the ability to experiment."
Ian Carrington, Industry leader financial services, Google
Alan Gilmore, marketing director, Heritable
Simon Holderness, online marketing manager, ICESAVE
Douglas McDonald, business development director, Upstream, Systems
Matthew Mills, director, search marketing, Equi=Media
Chris Sherlock, marketing director, Equifax
Gavin Sinden, digital strategy director, Equi=Media,
Susie Tamplin, key account director, Sponge.
This article was first published on revolutionmagazine.com
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