Why is the digital experience such an appealing source of consumer insight for marketers? Because of the expanding ability to capture measurable data almost everywhere consumers go. Once issues involving data access and privacy are resolved, records of clicks on websites and data captured in cookies (tracking files that are maintained by a computer’s web browser) can provide marketers with the electronic equivalent of fingerprints to trace every aspect of a consumer’s online experience. These fingerprints include records of sites visited, videos watched or sent to friends, topics searched, and products recommended or, even better, purchased. When these are combined with the volunteered “opt-in” information that consumers provide about themselves, the result is a rich consumer profile that can be used to better inform every aspect of marketing. Just as important, the clickstream data are two-way and serve, for the first time, as a census of actual consumer activity—far more valuable than projections derived from samples of analog media usage.
In traditional media, an advertiser buys an audience based on an estimate of how many impressions are created among a particular demographic, such as the number of 18-to 49-year-olds who watch NBC’s Heroes. That number, in turn, is reflected in a cost-per-thousand-impressions (CPM) price tag. In online media, marketers can similarly buy inventory based on the same CPM model. But they can also satisfy their thirst for accountability by paying based on measures that are directly related to actual consumer activity. They can buy cost per click (CPC), where value is based on how many times consumers click on an ad, or cost per action (CPA), where value is based on sales or registrations or any other action that the marketer cares to specify.
Furthermore, online marketers increasingly can place and buy their advertising based on actual insights into consumer interests, rather than target demographics. When PepsiCo launched a digital campaign in 2007 in support of Aquafina Alive, a vitamin-enhanced water, it concentrated its advertising on approximately 4,000 websites that Pepsi knew delivered a heavy concentration of consumers interested in “healthy lifestyles”. This focus on interests–as opposed to demographics such as “upscale women”—led to a 300 % improvement in click-through. “We’ve never been able to get to this level of granularity,” commented John Vail, Pepsi’s director of the interactive marketing group, to the Wall Street Journal.
The availability of more and more granular data can, of course, be daunting. Marketers, media companies, and agencies will thus need to learn to analyse the brand and relationship-building value of different usage occasions. These are the touchpoints—the media platforms where consumers connect to brands.
The starting point for determining the touchpoints that matter the most is drawing maps of the target consumer’s media behaviour. These diagrams are compiled through detailed analysis of key consumer segments. The analyses highlight where and when the individuals come into contact with media or entertainment: at home, at work, or on the go. The maps reveal which platforms (television, mobile phones, iPods, PDAs), media (TV shows, blogs, video games, social networks, instant messaging), and brands are preferred. They also track the occasions (after school, weekends, morning commute) and frequency of each of these activities. Many go a step further and link these insights to non-media touchpoints, such as shopping habits or experiences with customer service. These maps are used to determine where the best opportunities exist to create a brand connection that is relevant and that can affect consumer behaviour.
The touchpoint mapping process is then replicated across different target segments and brands. For instance, people who are just getting to know a brand may have one touchpoint, perhaps through a visit to a local retailer. Brand loyalists may have another—they may be regularly checking an online forum. Heavy users of a competitor’s products may have a third, such as word of mouth from friends or, getting back to basics, a network TV campaign. The insights that come from mapping touchpoints enable marketers to think more effectively about different consumer segments, to determine whether advertising should be entertaining or informational, and to identify which media platforms can most effectively move consumers from awareness to purchase.
JP Morgan Chase used a touchpoint-based insight in 2006 when it chose Facebook, the popular social utility website, to introduce a new credit card named +1 to college students. “We felt Facebook would be a good partner for us, since they had such strong credibility in the students’ world,” explained Sangeeta Prasad, who oversees branding for Chase Card Services. Students don’t see credit-card issuers or financial institutions in general as meeting their needs.” Chase promoted the card with a sponsored Facebook group that attracted nearly 34,000 members in a year. “This puts (the Facebook group) in the upper ranks of the 190 or so ‘sponsored’ groups, in the company of American Eagle and the Dave Matthews Band Summer Tour,”reported the New York Times.
This Facebook page based on touch-point research created marketing relevance for the +1 credit card. Relevance was built by the Facebook presence and by the restriction of group membership to college students. As Chase and other companies gain experience with social networking, sites will become more content, in look and feel, and in their ability to track and analyse consumer behaviour.
The ability to use online media to know what will be relevant to consumers, rather than guesstimating, represents a significant paradigm shift in marketing. It may be the antidote to the loss of control that many people in media, advertising, and marketing currently feel. Marketers will never again dominate consumers the way they once did. But they can use this deeper, more informed data-driven analysis to become partners with consumers. They can thus create the kinds of advertising and media experiences that will strengthen their brands in the long run.
7 months ago