What are the Barriers to Human-to-Human Marketing at Scale?

Our upcoming Insight50 session will be exploring how marketers can humanize the digital marketing experience. Sign up for the session to get your questions answered, with expert speakers including Leanne Chescoe of Demandbase, Joel Harrison of B2B Marketing, and Matt Heinz of Heinz Marketing.

We’ve all received those emails and LinkedIn messages that request “10 minutes of our time”. Even though they use our first name and appear to come from someone’s personal email address, they are clearly automated – and annoying.

But against tough targets – and equipped with technology that makes it easier than ever before to reach buyers at scale – it can be easy to fall into a trap where attempts at building a human connection simply fall flat.

So why is the case and what can be done about it? Ahead of the webinar, we have put together a few thoughts.

Poor quality data leads to poor quality connections

If the data is wrong, chances are that any attempt to market to individuals will also be wrong.

When creating campaigns, it’s all too easy to quickly build or use a list that hasn’t had enough thought or checking behind it. Obvious examples would be:

  • Failing to exclude existing customers or competitors from new business lists.
  • Bought data that is old and hasn’t been cleansed, appended or processed.
  • Leads that are missing information on other communications received – for example, where sales activity hasn’t fed through to a marketing automation system, meaning active prospects get new outreach.

Beyond the above, there is also the chance that engagement data – or perhaps disengagement data – hasn’t been applied effectively.

If a prospect hasn’t engaged with any marketing for several months, is your offer compelling enough for them to do so now? And likewise, if someone has been actively researching solutions, what if that engagement hasn’t been connected to a lead score and targeted outreach?

All of the above can lead to both poorly-targeted marketing and missed opportunities to build connections.

Linear buying stages don’t reflect the complexity of the customer journey

Even though the funnel is used as the foundation for much of B2B marketing, in reality, it doesn’t reflect the way that people buy.

Countless scenarios mean that it is very challenging to build automated campaigns to fit every eventuality. As such, the law of diminishing returns will come into play, meaning that there will be a point at which adding further granularity to a marketing program will not make commercial sense.

At this point, growth can only come from approaching people as individuals – which places a greater emphasis on identifying who those individuals are.

Automated marketing is yet to pass the Turing Test

The reality is that despite advances in artificial intelligence, instances where machines genuinely convince people that they are human are very rare.

And while there are some simple examples where computers have helped (such as Google Assistant being able to book appointments by phone), applying this to complex sales is still a long way off.

In the meantime, marketers might be better off if instead of using technology that pretends to be human, they use technology to prove they are human.

Obviously, webinars are one way of doing that, but there are many others. Email can be used to send messages that carefully address known (rather than assumed) needs. Dynamic creative can be used to drive prospects to account-specific landing pages that have been crafted individually. Social engagement through personal accounts can open up individual conversations.

When you compare this to marketing in the pre-digital era, it’s clear that marketing at scale can be human – as long as there is actually a human behind it.

To find out more and ask your questions, make sure to sign up to our Insight50 webinar on Humanising the Digital Experience.

Three Ways of Securing Marketing Interest and Consent in the GDPR World

This article was originally published on martechadvisor.com. 

Even though it’s been months since the GDPR legislation went into effect, there are still no shortage of things about the regulation that are confusing. But perhaps the most perplexing aspect of the European Union’s data regulation bill is the cloud that surrounds the “legitimate interests” and the gaining consent piece of GDPR.

The exact wording goes like this:

“[Data] [p]rocessing will be lawful if it is necessary for the purposes of the legitimate interests pursued by the controller or a third party, except where such interests are overridden by the interests or fundamental rights and freedoms of the data subject which require protection of Personal Data, in particular where the data subject is a child.”

This passage raises more questions than it answers: After all, what does legitimate interest constitute, how can companies acquire or measure this interest, and how should they engage if they have gotten this consent?

It’s quite the minefield for marketers to navigate, and the stakes are higher than ever. A wrong turn in the past meant you irritated customers. A wrong turn in the GDPR world spells potential legal action and fines.

Like any marketing company, we at ON24 were initially concerned that GDPR could potentially cut into market-qualified leads and reduce pipeline. But once we dug deeper, we gained a better perspective: we now think of GDPR as an opportunity to better organize our data and shorten our marketing funnel, by engaging with folks who are genuinely interested in our offerings.

More than anything, we see GDPR as a shift. Previously, the burden was on consumers: Consumers who wanted to protect their data had to go to great lengths to stay off irresponsible sites, create and maintain settings that ensured privacy, and generally stay vigilant about where their data was floating around on the web. Now, the burden has shifted to companies. Businesses are required to be vigilant in correctly interpreting and adhering to GDPR, and properly gaining consent or legitimate interests before processing consumer data.

So how does a marketer do it?

Engaging Through Interactive Content

We think the answer is simpler than most realize: if you act like a human, you can gain and keep consent. If you make your content interactive, thoughtfully engage your prospects and customers throughout the funnel, you’ll not only gain consent — you’ll earn their trust and business.

For example, you might take advantage of a feature such as a chatbot. The advantages of chatbots are that they provide tailored, personalized communication with customers. The goal of many chatbots are to engage customers, learn information about them, and help move them further along the sales funnel. They’re an effective marketing tool when consumers visit a website, as they provide an immediate call to action, can help uncover why a prospect is interested in a certain offering, and help direct them to other web pages that might be useful.

But in the sense of GDPR, chatbots will be extremely useful in gauging interest or acquiring consent from consumers. Chatbots can be easily programmed to direct customers to a privacy policy, ask them if they’d like to opt-in, and empower customers to have their data forgotten or retrieved in a few quick keystrokes.

Webinars are another potential avenue. Online events can bring not only tailored and personalized to specific audiences, like bots, but they bring a more human aspect to the engagement. Individual participants, for example, can ask questions to the presenter in real-time, and responses to surveys and questions can help guide the discussion or presentation, providing a nearly limitless audience with multiple touchpoints to gain consent. They can provide an even more human touch to them – as the presenter can ask attendees for consent at the right juncture, and explain why it would be helpful for the attendees to provide this.

Develop a “Freemium” Marketing Model

There are so many businesses that have set their business model up as “freemium” – which is where a customer gets access to certain features free of charge, with the goal being that the product will be so useful that they will pay for a premium version of the product later on. It’s a model that’s helped drive the success of tech titans like Box, Spotify, Hootsuite, SurveyMonkey, Evernote, and more.

Marketers should use a similar model in their marketing approach, with the goal being not to upsell a prospect, but rather to gain their consent. For example, a marketer could offer a webinar or whitepaper that’s open to everyone. But they could also install a real-time Q&A widget — where a customer would need to provide consent in order to ask a question or to sign up for a newsletter.

The main goal should not be to gain consent right away, but just to gain it at some point. Marketers should trust that if they’re doing their job well, prospects will find their content useful and be happy to provide their consent at some point of the customer journey. But it’s all about finding the right time and natural touchpoint to make this ask.

Create Natural Places for Customer Consent

If you’re in a conversation with a friend or colleague, and you have an important question to ask – you don’t just ask them at the outset of the conversation. No, you wait for a natural place in the conversation, and once the conversation has gotten close to that topic, or there’s a segway into the question, you ask the question. It makes the conversation more comfortable as you’ve have built up to the point where the question feels organic.

GDPR has underscored the fact that a consumer’s data is personal. Think of asking for someone’s email address, data, or consent in marketing as a personal question in marketing. There is a time and place for these asks. If you have a customer who has initially downloaded a piece of gated content or signed up for a newsletter, for example, that follow up email could be a natural place to ask for consent. Or it could be after a customer has used a certain keyword with a chatbot, a keyword that indicates they’re interested in your offerings.

No matter your industry, you should work to ensure that you’re asking for consent in a way that doesn’t feel intrusive or out of left field. If you’re seeing a lot of individuals in your funnel, but not providing their consent – that could indicate you’re doing it at an odd time in the buying process.

As a marketer, you know your buying cycle better than anyone else and what touchpoints would be a natural fit to ask for consent.

Clearly, GDPR has made all of us re-evaluate how we market to customers. But rather than seeing it as a burden, marketers should embrace the opportunity to rethink how they can effectively engage. In many ways, GDPR is a forcing function for making marketers do something we should have been doing on our own a long time ago: effectively marketing and securing legitimate interest.

Engagement in the Age of Automation, an HBR Insight

Marketers spend a lot of money on a lot of digital tools. In fact, according to a recent Gartner survey, CMOs report they’ll spend nearly 12 percent of revenue on new marketing technologies, a crowded landscape spanning more than 6,800 solutions, in 2018.

Such a trend suggests two things. First, that current solutions aren’t addressing underlying needs for marketers. Second, that marketers are hungry for something that finally works.

This is short-term, stop-gap thinking and it’s damaging both customer experiences and brands by turning interactions into interruptions and prioritizing tactics above strategy. This isn’t just idle chatter. A new report from Harvard Business Review Analytic Services, sponsored by ON24, surveyed the state of engagement and technology in marketing today and found the industry largely agrees. The problem, according to the survey, is that digital technology often gets in the way.

According to the report, four out of five marketers say they value human and personalized interactions over automated, but the digital tools they use make it difficult to realize genuine human interactions. And those interactions count. According to 80 percent of respondents, the human element in a customer experience gives their organization a distinct competitive edge and nearly 50 percent of organizations with high levels of customer loyalty say they are trying to maintain the same level of customer experience across live and automated channels.

The digital tools marketers use today to make human interactions a reality just aren’t built for human engagement. For example, email and social media are critical marketing channels for any organization, but 70 percent of survey respondents say they’re not using those tools effectively.

“Our marketing technologies target people,” says Laura Ramos, Vice President and Senior Analyst, Forrester Research. “But people often play a small role in designing what the systems deliver. Many executives believe they can just plug in the technology and it will magically improve business performance and customer engagement.”

It’s time for marketers to reverse the digital tool equation. They need to prioritize tools that boost genuine human interaction. It’s not that automation doesn’t play a part in marketing today, it’s that it represents a small role in the larger goal of connecting and enabling genuine human interactions online.

So how can marketers make better connections? By taking the time to think about the digital tools they use now and how those tools impact customer interactions and experiences over the long-term. By prioritizing tools that enable engagement, marketing teams can build better experiences that treat customers as humans, not figures in a database.

One opportunity for marketers to scale the impact of human-to-human interactions is through webinars. According to the marketing technology analyst firm SiriusDecisions, webinars continue to be the highest-rated human touchpoint throughout the buyer’s journey. We know a thing or two about webinars, and we know they can build engagement, build scale and build better experiences.

Over the coming weeks, we’ll share more insights from the HBR report, examining how marketers can build better interactions in today’s digital environments. If you’d like to see how you can scale human interactions online, click here. If you’d like to review the report yourself, click here.