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Marketing automation’s role in personalization and contextualization

This article appears in the issue February 2016 [Volume 25, Issue 2]
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Marketing automation is part of a chain reaction. To know what content should be provided, companies need to understand each customer, ideally incorporating all available online and offline profile data for analysis within analytics and optimization solutions. Marketers also must understand what the customer is trying to do at that particular moment—investigate products, purchase a specific product and so on. Therefore, personalization and contextual marketing are linked. Once the marketing content is sent, companies must measure its effectiveness. Marketing automation sits right in the middle of research to personalize and research to measure outcomes and should be well integrated with both.

Equally important is having an understanding of the delivery side. “Companies need to understand the main purpose of their website, as well as the micro-success events that contribute to that ultimate goal, versus other channels such as mobile, display advertising or e-mail,” says Drew Burns, principal product marketing manager for Adobe Target, which delivers personalized marketing experiences in the Adobe Cloud. “They need to know what they are trying to drive and what conversion goals to influence.” Either way, testing and measurement should be a part of the process, both before and after the delivery of content.

Financial services have used marketing automation extensively, according to Burns. “The goal is to create a close customer relationship, leading to a better customer experience,” he explains. “For example, it’s important not to provide a customer with a promotional credit card they are not eligible for.” To ensure that, the company must have extensive knowledge and ideally a progressive profile of the customer, and all that backend information has to feed into content automation as well.

Geolocation is an important part of content automation, particularly for some industries. “In the insurance industry, it is huge,” Burns says, “because certain types of insurance may not be available in certain locations or may be specific to a certain region, such as earthquake insurance.” That information can be augmented with behavioral data and customer data, such as eligibility requirements, from either online or brick and mortar purchase settings. Geolocation is one component of contextualization.

Another component is the type of device being used. “Knowing whether the user is on a desktop computer or a mobile device or within a mobile application often provides clues about what he or she is trying to do,” Burns says. Additional context is provided by knowing whether the user is a new customer or a repeat customer, a rewards customer or not, as well as temporal variables such as recency and frequency of visits. Finally, knowing how the user got to the site provides more context. “It’s helpful to know whether the visitor clicked through an offer on Facebook to get there or arrived through a search,” Burns adds.

Adobe Target provides a breadth of manual and automated optimization capabilities including A/B and multivariate testing, a technique in which a test audience is provided with an alternate or several different pieces of content or elements within content to see which marketing approach or combination of approaches is more effective in achieving, for example, a good conversion rate. “It’s essential to constantly benchmark the use of automation,” emphasizes Burns. “The test variations can be put into a machine learning algorithm, which can then become a predictor of what will be most successful for someone based on their profile. The algorithms do this in real time so marketers know how to target and can uncover audiences they should be targeting.”

Adobe Target is the optimization and personalization solution within a family of eight Adobe Marketing Cloud products, which include software for analytics, building audience profiles, campaign management, content management, ad purchasing, monetizing TV and film experiences, and social media management. The products share many core services, so users of one product can benefit from the existing infrastructure, embedded features and server-to-server communication when they add another one.

Personalizing sports fans’ experiences

U.S. Soccer is the national governing body for the sport and provides information about teams, players, tournaments and many other related topics. The soccer teams compete throughout the world, and for many fans the website provides the majority of their information about the organization and the activities of the teams. To provide a more personalized experience for its fans, U.S. Soccer engaged a global marketing company called VML to develop a new website that would be immersive in its effect and adapt to the type of visitor. Sitecore was selected as the platform to manage and deliver content.

The Sitecore Experience Platform provides content management, contextual marketing and omni-channel automation to create a positive user experience. “Contextual marketing allows a company to communicate uniquely to each individual,” says Mark Floisand, VP of product marketing for Sitecore. “Having comprehensive information in a central location is essential to personalizing content.”

The fact that different channels have grown up over time poses a problem in providing a full picture. “The rapid adoption of myriad technologies has produced an arms race for marketing technology to add new capabilities,” Floisand adds. “Customers are using every channel from e-mail to phone and social media. It has been difficult for companies to keep up with their consumers.”

In the case of U.S. Soccer, one objective was to distinguish between casual and highly dedicated fans, so that the content delivered to each group would be appropriate. Using Sitecore as its storage and delivery solution, the organization was able to establish the website as a repeat destination for its visitors and intensify its branding. As a result, page views doubled, the average number of page views per session increased and mobile use rose from about a third to more than half of the users during the World Cup.

“We believe that all this information needs to be pulled together to really know the customers,” says Floisand. “If you leave data pools in silos, you will never understand the context of customers. Organizations need to take a strategic view of content and of the marketing technology investment.” On a practical level that entails having a robust ability to handle complex content.

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