The importance of top-of-funnel marketing is growing as shoppers become better informed and more likely to do their own research. After all, the brand that gets in front of the right buyer first has established a huge advantage. As a result, 80% of marketers say the shift toward the self-reliant buyer has created a massive increase in the importance of marketing within the organization, according to the Rising Above the Fray report by CMO Council.
“Marketers should think beyond marketing,” said Tom Kaneshige, Chief Content Officer at CMO Council in an interview with Retail TouchPoints. “They’re in the revenue game now. They’re in the sales game now. They have a more valuable position.”
Of course, the need to cater to hyper-informed, search-savvy shoppers also has made marketers’ roles more challenging. Self-reliant buyers don’t have time for misplaced, uninformative or irrelevant ads, and uninspiring content simply won’t drive the necessary revenue. Marketing teams need to rethink their processes for a new world, and seek to grab potential customers from the moment their content is delivered.
Three of the most important pieces of advice Kaneshige had for retail marketers looking to improve their digital content were:
- Pinpoint where content is failing: Many marketers feel their content is falling short of its potential — the right content needs to be delivered to the right person at the right time, and retailers must make sure they are meeting expectations in all three areas;
- Modernize tools and digital literacy: A lack of data literacy and data-driven performance marketing are common weak points across industries, but today’s marketers can’t afford to fall behind on either front; and
- Experiment aggressively: It’s easy for marketers to fall into the routine of utilizing tried-and-true efforts to generate interest among existing customers, but they need to get creative to unlock the true potential of reaching entirely fresh audiences.
Marketers Can’t Afford to Miss on Content, Customers or Timing
Content accounts for nearly 40% of the average marketing spend, according to data from the Content Marketing Institute. However, marketers are having trouble turning even the best content into consistent results. CMO Council found that 43% said their content is only “hit or miss” when it comes to driving value.
In retail specifically, this may be because content is a multi-pronged challenge. Obviously, the content itself needs to be good, but regardless of objective quality it needs to be seen. A great email is no good if it gets caught in spam filters or is ignored. Additionally, the content has to reach the right person (one who is interested in what’s being offered in the first place), at the right time (when they are ready to engage with the brand).
“The problem could be in the distribution model for that content; the problem could be that the content isn’t personalized enough,” said Kaneshige. “When marketers think about content, they put it in the buckets, like the awareness bucket. And that’s good but they need to go even deeper. The content has to be more personalized.”
Achieving this level of personalization goes well beyond the basics necessary to, for example, personalize recommendations on a webpage. Marketers need to run tests on their content; constantly measure engagement; and experiment with new forms to see what resonates with the audience.“
Kaneshige added that marketers should make the effort to create content when it’s going to really engage a customer, not to simply stay top-of-mind.
Marketers Must Embrace Digital Literacy, with an Embrace of AI
Most marketers have another challenge to tackle before they can perfect their content delivery: only 13% say that their team has the data literacy skills needed to meet the needs of the self-reliant buyer, making upskilling a pressing issue. It’s not enough to rely on data scientists from other parts of the enterprise; with timing a key concern, marketers need to be able to interpret and act on data on their own schedules.
“They get insights, but they don’t know how to interpret those insights into an action,” said Kaneshige. “Either they don’t trust the data or their human intuition overcomes what they’re seeing. They need to trust the data and they need to understand how to interpret the data. But how do they do that? It’s a challenge. The good news is that a lot of marketers coming out of the marketing schools today have these skills from required classes.”
New hires have a head start, but senior leaders still need to get a handle on how best to utilize data — AI especially, according to Kaneshige. He noted that AI is “going to be an absolutely transformative technology,” and that CMOs in particular need to stay ahead of the curve regarding adoption in order to excel expectations for personalization, real-time analytics and overall agility.
Executives may not be able to return to college, but Harvard, MIT and UC Berkeley all offer online courses that can provide “a foundation on what AI is, what is isn’t, how it’s going to impact marketing and how to how to embrace it,” according to Kaneshige.
Experiment Aggressively or Risk Falling Behind Expectations
The rapidly changing world of retail makes it tempting for marketers to fall back on appealing to loyal shoppers who they know will return again and again. Many marketers take a “defensive posture,” where they put an emphasis on repeat buyers and loyalty programs.
“[Marketers] can be pretty much assured that they’re going to get some of these,” said Kaneshige. “But they’re not going to hit their revenue number, and they’re going to get fired, or laid off or replaced. They’re in the sales game now. The pressure is high.”
In other words, true growth means attracting new customers. At a time when 63% of marketers say they’re under very high to extreme pressure to deliver revenue growth, finding and maintaining a fresh shopper base is more important than ever. And in order to do this, marketers can’t be afraid to get experimental.
“One of a marketer’s chief attributes is creativity,” said Kaneshige. “They need to come up with new ideas and then test those ideas, and if it’s not working to ‘fail fast’ and come up with another idea in order to woo new buyers.”
Marketers need to constantly think outside the box to look for new customers and new sources of revenue. They can enhance this constant experimentation with the refinement tools provided by AI and data science, to deliver content that consistently reaches the right people at the right time — catching valuable customers right in the perfect moment.