Marketing’s ever-increasing role in customer experience and brief stories about my grandfather

If there’s one thing that’s consistently gotten me pumped in recent years, it’s the increasingly central and critical role that 1:1 marketing plays in defining customer experience, and ultimately delivering ROI.  

What do I mean by that? Quick story. 

I lead a strategic effort to increase retention for a major auto insurer. This, like many other modern marketing experiences, resulted in a straightforward strategy comprised of a simple ideacomplex data, and requiring agile marketing.  


The Simple Idea 

After months of research, deep dives, interviews, and data exploration, I concluded that the reason people stick with an insurer is because they get good service when they need it and how they need it. The best thing we could hope for is that a customer gets in a (safe and minor) accident and gets to experience the product. But when that doesn’t happen, you are stuck selling the intangible. The “what if.” 

That is a hard job, but my grandfather was great at it. He sold a piece of the rock—Prudential insurance products—and he did it by understanding his customers and their needs. He could grow business. If someone had a kid, he sold them more insurance to provide safety and peace of mind. He could solve problems. If someone was late on a premium, he’d just pay it for them (altruistically, because he cared and for financial reasons too. But also, because he’d rather help them get by than lose a longer-term commission).  

But nowadays our interactions with people happen differently—digitally most often and from a distance. It’s not as easy as it was for my grandfather and that brings me to my next point. 

 
Complex Data 

People and their behaviors live in data. It’s all there and we have so much of it—very arguably even more. Understanding that data is people’s behavior and the best work you can do is: 1) seeing people in data and 2) interpreting its signals to effectively know what each individual wants or needs, when they want it, and how they want it. That is how we replicate my grandfather’s work in today’s digital landscape.  

That is also a hard job. Big data, small data, data in multiple systems—you gotta deal with all of these “datas”, and the bigger an organization you are, the harder it is to move it around and bring it all together in the fast, actionable way marketing requires. Think about it for a second. If someone told my Grampy they had financial concerns and were going to miss a payment and/or may need to drop coverage and he got back to them in a week or never responded to them at all, would he have kept his job? No. But that’s the risk we run when we don’t harness the signals in our data. We miss them, and/or we take forever to act on them. This brings me to my next point. 

 
Agile Marketing 

We hear about “your stack,” machine learning, and AI every day and it’s like that scene in one of the newer Star Wars where Han Solo says, “I’ve seen it and it’s ALL REAL.” Of course, it is. We live in a time of miracles, but it’s not magic unless there is a full-on commitment and team in place to prioritize 00.00. Everything that happens around data doesn’t happen on its own. People are still at the switches, and by people, I mean teams. Teams that exist across disciplines, companies and agencies, and often time zones. The modern-day version of my grandfather is an agile marketing team. A team that can quickly and nimbly determine the path to the goal, course correct, build things and break them. And then do it all over again.  

 
What does it all mean? 

Great marketing is helping people by understanding who they are, what they need, and when they need it. The resulting marketing has become a core component of their experience with a product and it happens when we translate data behaviors into a mindset and make the most compelling argument for action against that mindset. Done well, it separates companies from their competition and the marketers that put this work into action from their fellow marketers and antiquated team structures from modern, agile team structures. Our major insurer isolated the data and touchpoints that signaled a negative behavior, which once understood resulted in us being able to act against that behavior in a successful way. That’s not rocket science, but it is marketing science. It leads to relationships over transactions and measurable results. And that gets me pumped.