Why digital marketing is like my local

Okay, I’ve got a confession to make. A few years back I used to be the captain of a darts team, playing every Tuesday in a league. I wasn’t very good, but as I was capable of organising things I got the job by default.

Putting that to one side, being captain of the team and a regular at the pub had its advantages. I was well-known – in fact I still am, even though I haven’t been a regular for years – and that brought its privileges. They knew what I drank, I’d get my name up on the board for a game as soon as I walked in, and I was never short of someone to chat to.

So being a regular at a pub is like digital marketing.

Sign for The Slaughtered Lamb pub in 'American Werewolf in London'

Not my local pub... there's no werewolves there as far as I know...

Are you still with me? I know that last statement seems a little bit of a stretch. I promise I’ll make up for it.

Every visit I made, the people there learned a little bit more about me. They collected data, building up a picture of my likes and dislikes, my past and my present. It’s that data that they used to create a welcoming, but not too intrusive experience every time I went there (whether they knew it or not).

A few weeks back at SXSW, Reid Hoffman, the founder of business social networking site LinkedIn, said that Web 3.0 was all about the data.  But the thing is, the web – and digital marketing – has always been about the data. From its humble beginnings at CERN to the present day the web has been about the exchange of information; only the type of data has changed, from documents to social and personal. As users, we’re now involved in a quid pro quo arrangement that says ‘you give me some of your data and I’ll share my personal data with you’.

It’s true to say that offline marketing is about the data as well; the very existence of CRM systems pays testimony to that fact. But it’s the ease by which we can collect data online that is so compelling. There’s no manual collection and processing of returned direct mail, no manual data entry every time a phone call is completed. It’s so easy to collect data in a digital environment that we’re really getting spoilt. Despite concerns over privacy – which Facebook is never far away from – Internet users are more and more ready to share information with the established social networks. Using tools such as Facebook’s Graph API we can start to use this data too, in our own little quid pro quo with the social networks. Facebook understands a little more about the interests of its user base and we get a little bit of demographic information back in return.

The important question now is ‘How do we collect and use data in the right way?’

Let’s go back to my local pub and the experience that was created. It was welcoming, reassuring, but not obtrusive. It was a relationship based on familiarity, not stalking. Digital marketing can create the same relationship if it’s approached correctly.

Digital Marketing Data Do’s

  1. Make collecting data easy – your user knows that you’re going to want to get information from them at some point, they’re not daft. When you do, make sure it is as easy as possible. Give them the opportunity to use existing logins and then supplement that if you have to. Open the door and welcome your users in.
  2. Give something back – Digital marketing is about give and take. If you want users to return to your site, and by doing so give you the opportunity to learn more about them, you need to give them a reason to do so. Invest in good quality content for your core web presence. Great design is the icing on the cake, but users don’t come back simply to look at how you’ve styled your navigation elements, content is the key. If you can’t create truly original content then at least curate and comment to add value to existing content.
  3. Personalise – don’t collect data if you’re not going to do anything with it. Use the information you collect to personalise the web experience. We’re not talking targeted ads here, just the ability to present relevant and engaging information to your audience. For example, use location to filter or alter content so that it is meaningful: if you present a list of shop addresses, place them in order of distance from the user’s location or alternatively just move the nearest shop to a featured position at the top of the list.
  4. Respect privacy – not everyone will want to get to know you. Ensure that you make it easy for people to disengage. They want to remove their details from your database? Do it straight away and let them know, preferably whilst they’re online and with you. Transparency creates trust, and you never know, they may come back.

Digital Marketing Data Don’ts

  1. Don’t be obtrusive – “Good Internet companies do not ambush their users,” said Reid Hoffman in the interview at SXSW. He’s absolutely right. Personalisation is a great tool for engaging and keeping users, but played too hard it becomes just a little creepy. Be subtle about collecting information.
  2. Don’t lose the data! – the last two weeks have been full of stories about lost data, the most prominent of which has been Sony’s PSN debacle. The incident is likely to cost the company around $24 billion in compensation and lost revenue, but it will also have a massive impact on their userbase’s relationship with the brand. How much additional revenue will be lost due to people’s reticence to spend money online and trust Sony with credit card data? Only PSN’s position as the only way to play multi-player games on the PS3 will hold it steady. If it had been more dispensible the impact may have ended up being much more severe; losing or exposing your user’s data is unforgiveable.
Digital marketing presents us with an amazing opportunity to build lasting relationships with consumers online, and the potential rewards are huge, but the onus is on marketers and their clients to set the benchmarks. We have to show respect for our users and engage on their terms. Only then can we realise the benefits of true relationship marketing and keep our consumers coming back again and again.

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