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Digital marketing strategies demand deeper understanding of customer behaviors

Companies can cash in on customers’ increasing use of social and mobile channels, as long as they target their messages and don’t overstay their welcome.

Social media and mobile devices are redefining digital marketing strategies by giving companies more access to customers than they’ve ever had before.

However, using social and mobile technologies requires a fine balancing act. Companies need to recognize that traditional marketing tactics do not always play well on newer channels and they need to grasp that just because they have more customer access, it doesn’t mean they should use every bit of it.

“From the moment they scan or enter a URL, if they are sharing that time, you better make sure you deliver a message that is relevant to them,” said Tim Hayden, chief marketing officer at 44Doors, a marketing consulting firm in Austin, Texas.

Hayden’s firm works with companies to set up marketing campaigns using social and mobile channels. For instance, he worked with Kendall Jackson Winery of Fulton, Calif., to develop a plan using QR codes on its bottles of wine. Customers can scan the matrix bar codes with their smartphones and get information about the product. QR codes are getting plenty of buzz in the market, although some industry observers stress they will fizzle unless they provide consumers with useful information.

What Hayden and other experts note is that unlike consumers in general, customers on social channels or using mobile devices can be more open to marketing messages because they are already engaging in an application.

“A mobile click is so much more valuable than a desktop click because that says they are giving up their free time,” Hayden added.

That something extra in social media marketing
Companies could blow the opportunity mobile and social media marketing present unless they give the customer something more, such as directions to a store location, a coupon or market information related to a specific product.  

“It’s all about understanding the customer,” said Melissa Parrish, a senior analyst of interactive marketing at Forrester Research Inc. in Cambridge, Mass. “Any campaign can be effective if the marketer crafts it by starting with an understanding of mobile behaviors of the audience and then choosing a marketing objective that can be achieved based on that usage.”

In addition, mobile marketing needs to be quick and to the point, “not a full website on a small screen,” added Julie Ask, a vice president and analyst at Forrester Research Inc.

“It has to be a clickthrough to get something rather than, ‘Here, fill out these two pages of forms,’ ” Ask added.

Alix Heart, senior director of digital marketing at Best Buy Co. Inc. said the retailer approaches social customers with the understanding that they have already “opted in.” These customers don’t need a basic primer on what Best Buy is all about, Heart noted.

“They are following us or they’ve friended us, so they are more actively engaged,” Heart said. “So we are focused on unique content, like sneak peeks. It is just more of a relationship that we are building.”

Analysts said companies need to resist the impulse to simply port traditional marketing strategies to newer channels.  

“If you are a truly mobile customer and you get a banner ad, it is extremely disruptive and it doesn’t produce the results [the marketer] wants,” said Adam Sarner, an analyst and research director at Gartner Inc. in Stamford, Conn.

As an alternative, marketers should grasp the significance of “contextual marketing,” when it comes to social or mobile channels, Sarner said. With users on smartphones or on social channels, marketers can tailor messages to what the customer is currently engaging in. With smartphones in particular, companies can reach users based on their geographic locations and target messages to them.

“What I think is really cool is, say [a company] booking a table at a restaurant with good reviews for a customer,” Sarner added. “That is wonderful marketing, especially compared to a pop-up ad you didn’t ask for.”

Best Buy’s ‘deal of the day’ social network marketing
Best Buy’s Heart said it is important to give mobile customers a call to action, such as a coupon, so they feel they haven’t wasted their time by reading your advertisement.

“What’s working really well now is flash sales, when you have a very limited time to purchase,” Heart said.

An example of such a type of sale is the “deal of the day” program that the retailer launched in August. The program offers an online sale on a different item each day. The sale is posted each morning and is available for 24 hours or until the item sells out, whichever comes first. Customers can opt to receive email notifications of these sales.

“This is a great way to get customers back every day. It’s working particularly well on mobile apps,” Heart added.

He said the retailer plans to continue testing different mobile and social campaigns to make sure they are targeting customer appropriately.

“It is not negatively disruptive when we can provide more real information in ways that are useful to the customer,” Heart said.

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It is true that traditional marketing tactics don't automatically translate to social and mobile, but learnings from social and mobile could also be used to improve other customer communication channels. If a novel approach works on these channels, how could it be adapted for other customer experiences? 
Marketers gain a lot when they learn more (and more) about their customers needs and desires. But many people still view it as an intrusion into private lives. This is delicate and not a place for a ham handed approach. Get it wrong and the customers will run.

Few people objected to online advertising until it became creepily targeted and overly intrusive. Now there are programs to prevent it. Marketers need to take that lesson to heart and move very carefully.