Gartner’s Polk: Online Or Not, Today’s Marketing Is ‘All Digital’

All marketers are digital-commerce marketers—even if they don’t sell anything online—and they must learn to communicate in a way that matters to the C-suite, said Gartner research director Jennifer Polk.

Gartner’s Polk: Online Or Not, Today’s Marketing Is ‘All Digital’

All marketers are digital commerce marketers—even if they don’t sell anything online, according to Jennifer Polk, research director at Gartner.

Polk will be exploring the idea in-depth at the Gartner Digital Marketing Conference, May 17-19, in San Diego. We spoke to her for a preview. If I’m not selling anything via digital channels, why is it that I’m still a digital-commerce marketer?

Polk: Great question. And it’s a question we get a lot because there are still a lot of industries, despite the growth in digital commerce, that aren’t selling online and aren’t necessarily going to sell online. However, what we find is that digital channels, whether or not people buy online, are still a part of the purchase process. It’s part of how they research. It’s part of how they make a buying decision. It’s part of how they schedule appointments or test-drives, and how they configure their orders to get a quote. It’s part of the buying process even if it’s not where they actually complete their transactions.

For example, I talked to a client in the health-care industry earlier this week. They probably wouldn’t consider themselves in the digital-commerce business because people are still going into a doctor’s office in order to complete their transactions. However, they are launching a new website. Part of that new website gives people the ability to click a button in order to schedule an appointment.

This makes them digital-commerce marketers because people, their patients, are using digital channels. They, as marketers, are investing in those digital channels in order to drive people to that point of purchase, to that transaction. So they have an opportunity and a responsibility to use those channels in order to drive those goals, not just traffic, not just repeat business, but actually aligning what they are doing around that website launch and the marketing to support that launch to specific business goals.

If the business goal is to drive an increase in appointments, then the marketing goal can’t stop with Web traffic because it’s not enough to just get people to the site. You want to make sure that the people you are driving to the site are actually the ones who are going to make those appointments and that you are giving them the features, functionality, content, and tools to do so in supporting that goal in all of your marketing efforts.

Every marketer, whether you are in health care, automotive, retail, or consumer goods, needs to think and act like a digital-commerce marketer. How do you think like a digital-commerce marketer? What’s the mindset?

Polk: The mindset is understanding business objectives and aligning what you are doing as a marketer to those objectives as opposed to channel metrics. Marketers have grown up with the focus on my channel, my campaign—not necessarily the full visibility influence or insight into how that campaign or that channel was connected or should have been connected to the higher arching business goals. Sometimes you don’t know what the business goals are. They just know I’m executing this campaign, and all I really care about is hitting these campaign metrics: traffic, impressions, click throughs. These things are valuable as vanity metrics and can certainly be useful to help you diagnose whether your campaign, your channel, or your tactic is on track, but they can oftentimes be totally disconnected from what the business is trying to achieve. What’s the value of that campaign and all the impressions that it generated if it doesn’t have anything to do with growth? And growth is [what] CEOs tell us matters to them most.

One of the differences between digital-commerce marketers and those who don’t have that mindset is digital-commerce marketers discipline themselves to focus on aligning their activities and investments with what the business wants to achieve, and measuring their impact on the business, not just the success of the campaign or the success of the channel. Those who are not thinking like digital-commerce marketers instead stay focused on comparing campaign metrics from this quarter to campaign metrics from last quarter. We got more impressions, we got more hits, we got more clicks. It has nothing to do with business growth. So, in essence, it doesn’t matter—not to the C-suite. That’s really interesting. You’ll also be talking at the Gartner event about how marketers are using data for mapping the customer journey. On a scale of 1 to 10, how mature are we as an industry in doing so?

Polk: We asked this question during a webinar on digital commerce in December. One of the things we covered in that webinar is how marketers could and should be using customer-journey analytics to connect their marketing strategies and tactics to digital-commerce goals and the buying journey. So we asked our attendees at the webinar, “How effectively is your marketing team using customer-journey analytics?”

The first option was, “Little to no visibility to customer journeys.” The second option was, “We have a partial view of the customer, and we are struggling to unify data analytics organizational silos.” That essentially means we’ve got a lot of data, but it’s stuck, right? It’s not put together. The third option was, “We have an idea of who our customer is and where they are in the journey, but we are struggling to apply this insight.” So these folks have maybe done a better job and have aligned data across channels, devices, systems, and organizational silos. But they haven’t yet gotten to a point of getting insight. They haven’t figured out how to act on it.

And then the fourth option was, “We know exactly who and where our customer is, and we tailor marketing accordingly.” Now I’m going to attempt to find the results from the session. Bear with me one second.

Only 4% of respondents said they know exactly who and where the customer is and that they tailor marketing accordingly. That’s really small. Also, 23% said they had an idea of who and where the customer is, but they are struggling to apply this insight. Fifty-five percent, the biggest allocation, said they’ve got a partial view of the customer, but they are really struggling with unifying data analytics across organizational silos. And then 19% said they had absolutely no visibility into the customer journey, and they are working off of single-channel data or sales data. So it’s a little bit of a bell curve, although I would say that, overall, they are not evenly distributed across the different levels of maturity. It’s more heavily skewed toward the less mature end. The 19% of marketers who have no clue at all is kind of scary!

Polk: Yes, it’s terrifying, right? But it shows that there’s a lot of upside and a lot of potential. There are a lot of marketers out there that are still working off of channel data, much like the client I talked about earlier. We were having this conversation about what KPIs they should be using to measure the success of the new website they were launching. They were strictly focused on traffic. They were strictly focused on click through. They were not even looking at how many people are clicking through and actually clicking the buttons to book an appointment. How many people who click that button actually end up in a call center where they make an appointment?

Part of the problem, too, is that getting a full picture doesn’t just involve marketing. It involves reaching across the marketing organization, but it also involves reaching outside marketing. So for that health-care client to truly understand how their new website and that book-an-appointment button were working, they also needed to be able to pull in data and insight from their call center, reception, and the system those appointments are going into to see how many people that book an appointment are coming from that website. Are they driving an increase in those numbers, or did they just launch a pretty site? What needs to change in order for the poll numbers to point to maturation?

Polk: The first step is admitting we have a problem, [that] the ways we’ve been doing things isn’t working. A lot of marketers think if the goal I’m trying to hit is traffic, and I can show that I drove traffic, then I’m successful, right? And then they wonder why their budgets get cut and why they are not getting the attention they need from their CMOs or from the C-suite, why they are not getting the funding they need for that new system or to add new headcounts to the organization or to hire an agency. And part of it is they are telling their story in the wrong way.

They are not communicating in a way that matters to the C-suite. It’s nice to be able to add a bullet to say you’ve got 10 million Facebook fans. But at the end of the day, shareholders don’t care about that. And that’s who the CMO and the CEO are accountable to. They care about growth. And so unless you can tell me you’ve got 10 million new customers, I don’t care how many Facebook fans you have. So marketers have got to break out of that role of thinking that the same metrics that they use to diagnose issues and plan and execute their campaigns are the same metrics that the C-suite cares about. It’s not true. There’s a vast chasm in between.

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