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Seven Essential Marketing Tools for 2015

Here are the customer engagement tools that are shaking up the marketing industry.

Adapted with permission from 1to1 Media.

The explosion of marketing technology tools and software gives marketers innumerable opportunities to engage consumers and provide excellent customer experiences. In fact, 89 percent of marketers expect to compete primarily on the basis of customer experience by 2016, according to Gartner. But, not all technology is equally useful and marketers must weigh the value of a point solution versus integrated versions.

As marketers assess the tech landscape, here are some of the key technology areas that can help drive deeper customer relationships.

1. Smart Analytics

Data-driven marketing is critical in today’s highly competitive economy and brands are increasingly deploying campaigns that combine art with science. While applying analytics to campaign strategies is not new, a convergence of data and technology is changing the game. Marketers now have access to myriad customer data points. They are turning to analytic solutions to crunch the data which will allow them to target and personalize messages with great accuracy.

Mobile analytics is one such area that is gaining traction, notes Sean Muzzy, North America chief executive officer at digital agency Neo@Ogilvy. Solutions that provide insights into mobile commerce “are in high demand as the majority of revenue in mobile comes from in-app purchases and payments,” Muzzy says.

2. Targeted Automation

Data analytics also play a role in another growing area: marketing automation. “Marketers are embracing the idea that they can let the data and the analytical models do more of the [manual] work so that they can focus on higher-level strategic messaging,” observes Rebecca Wettemann, vice president and founding partner at Nucleus Research.

Automation provides a scalable approach for a brand to personalize its digital interactions with consumers, maintains Austin Paley, ‎corporate marketing communications manager at marketing firm Blue Fountain Media. “Automation allows you to tailor your website [as well as email and newsletter] based on specific user needs or wants that have been demonstrated by their onsite actions,” Paley says. “This creates an emotional connection for users in relation to the brand.”

However, the promise of marketing automation has been often hindered by organizational and integration issues. Marketing automation solutions are most effective when they include the collaboration of marketing, sales, and IT departments—a feat that many companies struggle with. And, marketing automation solutions were rarely integrated with CRM databases and other systems making it difficult to leverage the solution’s full benefits.

“Marketing automation continues to mature though it's faced more headwinds on actual implementation than originally expected, but we see this also with programmatic ad buying and media placement,” comments management consultant Brian Vellmure. “As data and algorithms continue to mature, automation will be leveraged in more advanced scenarios, building on the back of advancing machine learning and artificial intelligence capabilities.”

3. Social Tools

Social media has evolved into a vast series of forums where users share photos, articles, videos, and express opinions about a wide range of topics. Marketers have had to up their game to engage today’s social media user and are using more management and listening tools to make their jobs easier. “As brand content becomes omnichannel and as social media management matures, the use of content scheduling and management solutions are more important than ever for marketers,” Muzzy notes.

Vendors also see an opportunity to help brands do more than listen to their audiences. Facebook and Twitter have rolled out a slew of ad targeting products, particularly for mobile users. Facebook already makes 69 percent of its money from mobile ads, up from nearly zero percent when it issued an IPO three years ago.

4. Engaging Video

Online display ad spending is expected to reach $37.6 billion by 2019, a 90 percent increase from $19.8 billion in 2014, according to Forrester Research. And video platforms are expected to drive the majority of the growth. Forrester predicts that video ads will capture about 55 percent of the total desktop display spending by 2019.

Videos provide unique opportunities for brands to engage consumers more dynamically than other mediums. Whether it’s a professional video or recorded on a smartphone, videos are capturing growing audiences. “Video is becoming an indispensable part of customer engagement and marketing today,” observes Brent Leary, co-founder and partner of consulting firm CRM Essentials. “You don't have much time to get and keep people's attention today [and] video, if done correctly and used properly, can provide an engagement opportunity other formats just can't replicate. Especially in a mobile-first world with devices built for displaying great looking video.”

The low barriers for shooting and posting videos in particular are contributing to the rising consumption of the medium, Vellmure adds. Startups Periscope (acquired by Twitter) and Meerkat gave “similar capabilities of an entire CNN field crew to everyone; YouTube and Vimeo made self-production available for next to nothing to the masses [and] Google+ Hangouts made it easier to do live broadcasts,” Vellmure notes. “So does video matter? Absolutely.”

And there are opportunities for brands and tech vendors to develop more ways to find, leverage, distribute, and amplify videos, such as peer-created content, Vellmure adds. “It will be fun,” he adds “to watch what marketers do with these emerging audiences and communities.”

5. Mobile Beacons

Bringing the personalized online experience to brick-and-mortar stores is another opportunity to better engage consumers. And while mobile beacons are still an emerging technology in the retail space, it’s poised to elevate the shopper experience, predict analysts. “I see a lot of activity right now around in-store tracking, and beacons,” says Nikki Baird, managing partner at Retail Systems Research. “But these are still mostly experiments.”

Indeed, mobile beacons like Apple’s iBeacon are “fun to read about and they create great PR opportunities for stores but there’s still a lot to do” before retailers can leverage this technology, explains Bebe Executive Vice President and Chief Digital Officer Erik Lautier. “A lot of brands aren’t ready to take advantage of something like iBeacons…but someday they’ll probably be useful.”

Baird agrees, noting that most retailers still need a baseline understanding of in-store shopper behaviors, such as that gained through store tracking and analytics. And once retailers have enough insights “I anticipate a lot more activity around trying to directly influence customer behavior in stores, and that’s where beacons are of great interest,” Baird says. [But] that requires a lot of sophisticated capabilities – mobile investments, personalization, and customer profiles that can feed that personalization and targeting, etc. So it’ll take a while before retailers really get sophisticated at using them to influence behavior.”

6. The Multichannel Customer

The growth in channels that consumers use to interact with a brand makes it difficult for companies to provide a seamless and consistent experience. According to a survey by Hypatia Research Group of more than 500 executives, 70 percent of global organizations offer customers the option of interacting through multiple channels due to “customer demand, preference, and expectation of anywhere, anytime, and any-channel support.”

“The Achilles heel in offering a multichannel customer experience is when companies continue to offer this via a siloed approach rather than as a ‘blended’ experience," says Leslie Ament, senior vice president of research and principal analyst at Hypatia Research Group.

And a major pain point for companies is “not knowing which way a customer will choose to interact with them,” notes Martin Longo, chief technology officer at marketing solutions provider Revana Digital. “And when you don’t know much about that customer, it’s very hard to provide a great experience.”

The push to connect data that companies have about their customers across departments and systems has led to a growing number of solutions. As an example, Longo points to Revana Digital’s AQ360 platform, which is designed to connect marketing data with sales data using information like a phone number or email address as an identifier, creating a fuller picture of the customer’s interactions with a brand.

7. Integration as a Differentiator

Regardless of the features and capabilities that vendors add to their solutions, the key component is how well these features are integrated within the platform and the marketers’ existing technologies. “Integration is key,” notes Hank Summy president of digital agency MRM/McCann. “The solutions that are able to unify data, analytics, workflows, and content to provide contextual consumer experiences are the ones that stand out.”

Companies are racing to provide marketers with end-to-end solutions that tie together the technologies previously described and more, but “all of the platforms are still works in progress,” Vellmure notes. “Various levels of integration and interoperability make all of these marketing platforms not quite there yet...though some may cover the entire requirements for a specific set of customer requirements.”

The stakes are rising for marketers, and even though no company wants to rip out its existing technologies, the debate on whether it is better to adopt a point solution or an integrated one depends on each case. Companies reviewing solutions should start with the following questions, Ament advises: What solutions are currently in use and will best of breed or point solutions integrate easily with newer solutions? What is the initial cost and future total cost of ownership? What is the expected return on investment? Is the organization seeking a technology solution to specific problem(s) or determined to attain certain milestone goals?

The bottom line, Ament says, is that companies should not take a “one-size-fits-all approach, but rather a serious evaluation of what an organization needs to accomplish with investment in any software."

The stakes are rising for companies to provide exceptional customer experiences and innovative marketing technology promises to help companies do so. But, as the marketing landscape rapidly evolves, business leaders must think critically about the solutions that are best suited for their company’s needs. Additionally, the marketing technology space is innovating so quickly that it’s better for companies not to tie themselves to one technology, Longo maintains. “Try to be technology agnostic,” he says. “You want to be able to plug in something, learn what works and what doesn’t, and move on.”