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These are the ABCs of marketing in the digital age

Audience understanding, behavior analysis, marketing convergence and accessible design are the ABCs of marketing in the digital age, according to Microsoft's Purna Virji.

As digital technology becomes an everyday part of life for people all over the world, companies are redesigning their sales strategies to address the challenges and benefits of marketing in the digital age.

Advertisements from Nike, Microsoft and Fenty Beauty resonated with attendees at a session on marketing in the digital age at HubSpot's Inbound 2019 conference. After the session, attendees discussed how their personal struggles enabled them to relate to the ads. One had a disabled child who would love Microsoft's accessibility programs. Another likened the new generation of Nike-sponsored athletes to his own sports heroes.

These ads were effective because the teams behind them used new technology to dissect the behavior and segmentation of their audiences in an effort to create personalized advertising, which should be at the core of any strategy for marketing in the digital age, said Purna Virji, senior manager of global engagement at Microsoft.

"We are no longer in the age of digital marketing, but marketing in the digital age," Virji said.

So, how can marketers succeed in the era of digital technology? Virji suggests learning the ABCs.

A is for audience

The most important thing marketers can do is personalize content.

How did Rihanna's Fenty Beauty brand rake in nearly $500 million in its first year of business? The company knew its audience, Virji said. The brand's marketing strategy focused on the variety of skin tone cosmetics available to the customer, which connected with people of color, who Fenty Beauty identified as an underserved demographic. The company then created online communities around the brand and aggregated content generated by satisfied customers.

"Rihanna could have marketed her products with just her face," Virji said. "But, instead, she made the customer the hero."

Personalization technology can help marketers identify who is likely to purchase a product and tailor marketing to these niche audiences. By shifting marketing strategy to retaining existing customers and identifying new markets, rather than general marketing, companies are more likely to see success, Virji said. Search engines, social media technology and AI can help collate massive amounts of data about consumers and use that data to sell customers what they need at just the right time.

"Don't go after the average consumer," Virji said. "Go after individual segments."

B is for behavior

Before personalizing ads, marketers need to measure what customers want and how they behave.

Customers react to change all the time, Virji said. Before Netflix was on the cloud, it mailed DVD rentals to people's homes. This offered better CX for people who normally traveled to a video store for movies. Later, the company offered online streaming and added personalization to improve engagement. Now, the company makes its own exclusive content.

Purna VirjiPurna Virji

Netflix made all of these decisions because it constantly collected and analyzed customer feedback to better improve CX. Not paying attention to shifts in technology or consumer demands can doom a company.

"Kodak went bankrupt in 2012 because they couldn't keep up with advances in digital tech," Virji said. "They were a leader in the market for 100 years, but they didn't change fast enough, and their competitors did."

Companies can measure consumer behavior through surveys, comment cards, mystery shopping audits and data collection tools, such as customer data platforms and data management platforms. These tools help companies analyze customer segmentation, purchase intent signals, customer opinion of a brand and ever-shifting market trends. If a tourism company knows someone is searching for bridalwear, it will likely be able to sell that person a beach vacation. That's because data suggests customers find beaches romantic, Virji said.

"Sometimes, you can get surprising results," Virji said. "Apparently, liking to cook and owning a cat tend to converge in studies."

C is for convergence

Marketers need to use technology that channels these behaviors.

Marketing in the digital age means understanding that customers expect an omnichannel, highly technological shopping experience. Strategizing around technology that removes barriers between customers and what they want should be a priority, Virji said.

We are no longer in the age of digital marketing, but marketing in the digital age.
Purna VirjiSenior manager of global engagement, Microsoft

Virtual assistants are one such technology. If a person wanted to buy something 30 years ago, he or she visited a store. Today, a person can simply ask a virtual assistant such as Alexa, Cortana, Siri or Google Assistant to make a purchase online. Because these devices all have different capabilities and purposes, marketers need to optimize advertising content for search engines.

"We need to assist the assistants," Virji said.

Companies can optimize content by doing the following:

  • Answer specific search questions. If someone asks, "What's the best camera for a child?" then a disposable camera company should have a section responding to that question.
  • Submit content to all big directory listings, including Google, Apple and Bing.
  • Analyze transactional queries and tailor information to match common keywords.
  • Add accurate location data for where products are sold or distributed.
  • Write pages in a language that natural language processing software can understand, without forgetting to make it easy for humans to read.
  • Collect and promote positive product reviews.
  • Include customer support options, such as chatbots and FAQs.
  • Add product schema markup to all pages where items are sold.

Companies should not forget to be creative. John Deere ran ads last year that displayed a specific keyword customers could then use to find product information from the company itself, rather than from competitors or third parties. This is an effective use of keyword optimization.

D is for design

Marketers shouldn't forget to make products that are attractive and easy to use.

Bad reviews and negative public relations affect search results, so improving product design is just as important as marketing in the digital age, Virji said. One way companies can improve CX through product design is to make their products more accessible to people with disabilities. Accessibility scales, too -- people with temporary disabilities are just as much in need of accommodation as people with permanent disabilities. There are tools available online to help companies test website accessibility.

"If you solve for one, you solve for all," Virji said. "Good CX can bring lasting joy and value to people's lives."

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