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Restoring the glory days of marketing

Legislation, funding and over-hyped technology made marketing the forgotten stepchild of many organizations. One analyst offers some advice on how to bring it back.

SAN FRANCISCO -- It's not easy being a marketer these days.

Consider these recent developments -- restrictive legislation, shrinking budgets, demands to work more closely with sales, and customers taking a greater command of their relationship with your business.

It all adds up to changing times, said Chris Selland, vice president of sell-side research at the Aberdeen Group in Boston.

"Our targets, our customers, are getting completely overwhelmed," Selland said at the Smart CRM West conference. "Many organizations' response to 'it's getting noisier out there' is to make more noise. That's why our inboxes are overflowing these days."

As a result, legislators answered citizens' call for help with regulations like the "do not call" list, Can Spam Act and other international and regional measures.

Yet, you can't fight City Hall. While some marketing organizations have challenged the legislation in court, they're missing the point, Selland said. The answer is to let the customer take control.

Push vs. pull marketing

Selland's argument: Marketing organizations need to move from pushing out their message to pulling in buyers. Customers who discover a product themselves wind up deeper in the sales channel. For instance, customers want to be able to purchase products directly from Web sites or by calling toll-free numbers. Younger buyers expect proactive, direct service, Selland said. That is going to require a tighter relationship between marketing and customer service.

Attitudes may have to change (see sidebar).

In the meantime, most companies have devalued marketing, particularly during the economic downturn, Selland said. Some measure marketing based on sales attainment, he noted. Instead, they should consider marketing neither a profit center nor a cost center, but an investment. Marketing investments tend to pay off a couple years down the road, as customers become attached to the product.

Some of the problem may lie in the difficulty in measuring ROI on marketing initiatives and the lack of success some companies have had with existing marketing technology.

"Personalization, banner ads, all that was over hyped," Selland said. "Now we're paying for it and we have to show ROI. If there's one thing we need to be effective marketers, it's all the data in one place."

For conference attendee Daryl Gest, IT director for the Church Development Fund Inc. in Irvine, Calif., data integration holds the most hope for solving his company's problems. The company acts as both a commercial bank providing funding and a nonprofit organization.

"Our data architecture needs to move outside applications," Gest said. "We need a data mart or a generalized CRM [system]. Right now we're running multiple CRM systems."

Selland suggests two options when it comes to integrating data. Building a data warehouse is effective, but can require a lot of investment and take a lot of time, he said. Even then, the data warehouse is not always effective for marketers.

Setting up a customer data integration system can achieve similar results at a smaller cost. A meta-data hub that lies between the end user and the applications can serve as the clearing-house for customer information. With that meta-data hub, organizations can begin to get the "360-degree view of the customer," Selland said.


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