Automate or rethink?

Today, the digitization of customer relationships represents an indispensable basis for all marketing and sales activities. New tools and strategies would be a response to the technological change in the consumer landscape. Marketing automation systems, for example. For this, however, communication must be adapted and channels carefully selected.


The days of successful cold calling are becoming increasingly difficult. Today, customers inform themselves and use all options for independent research. This creates changed requirements for content marketing, which is becoming the mainstay of successful marketing. Marketing automation systems take customer communication to a whole new level with digital fingerprinting. However, this does not mean that customer care and the acquisition of new customers may be completely delegated to digital systems.

Market boundaries blur

For digital marketing, lead management and marketing automation are exceptionally important tools that SMEs must also rely on. Unexpectedly, competitors find themselves in markets that no one paid attention to before. This is because they were previously successful in a completely different field. What does a search engine like Google have to do at first glance with smartphones, a self-driving car or even digital home technology? Why does book seller Amazon produce its own tablets? The digital transformation offers many new opportunities, business and market areas, and the boundaries are blurring and becoming unclear. How can Facebook, the world's largest media company, not produce its own content or the world's largest cab company not own its own vehicles (Uber)? This is where new ways of thinking create the challenges of the future and thus tougher competition.

Digitization is inevitable, and its effects have consequences for people and the way they communicate. Consumption and production are subject to these new structures. Whether it is an SME or a global corporation, it is important to digitize in time because lead generation is one of the most important goals of any company in order to grow. Against this backdrop, the complex web of today's fully digitized marketing and sales landscape is emerging. Elements such as customer relationship management tools (CRM) and, of course, marketing automation systems are becoming highly valued, and those who can use them to benefit their company are gaining advantages over their competitors.

Big Data: Far from Smart Data

Only those who understand the data can create added value. In industry such as plant engineering, in the healthcare industry, in traffic management or in the national and social economy, this is already part of everyday life. Here, we are talking about a lot of similar quantitative data that can be quickly linked and analyzed in a meaningful way. This way will also be the future in commercial communication. Future well understood. Today, a lot of information is collected from different sources. But it is not always possible to link these into useful data and gain additional insights into developments in information or purchasing behavior. This would require quantitative and qualitative data in the analysis. Smart data identifies trends in real time and enables companies to react immediately to trends. Advertisers are more competitive when they maximize differentiation and apply personalized buying processes for customers. In this process, information of the already existing campaigns (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube, comparison portals, etc.) could be read and thus meaningful data could be generated or extracted. The information about the customer thus depends significantly on the technology of the tools. Tools are usually the responsibility of the IT department, and so the collection and analysis of data could also be "imposed" on this department. However, it is also possible to collect too much data and ultimately extract too little useful information.

That is why a strategy is needed that is dovetailed with the actual business model. The task is to close the gap between IT and the actual core business of the company. This is a major challenge and management task.

Digitization: No substitute for analog

The key to success in designing advertising and sales campaigns is cross-media integration. The statement "print goes digital" is bandied about in articles, in discussions and at events. It is undisputed that in the next three years there will be an increased shift towards digital production and distribution of brochures and flyers. Although the digitization trend in customer dialog is irreversible and the decision-makers surveyed expect major investments in this area, the present shows that digital will not substitute analog, but will enhance and complement it. It will be crucial for companies to create appropriate infrastructures and processes at an early stage and to invest in building up expertise in order to benefit optimally from the efficiency potential of digital conversion.

Do not overdo the marketing automation

As the name suggests, marketing automation automates a company's marketing activities. The guided, automated process for mapping the customer journey is based on the digital behavior of potential customers. These are targeted and activated individually with different content. Potential customers are continuously and automatically classified, e.g. into visitor, lead, customer. This process is software-supported and automatic. This allows marketing campaigns to be planned and implemented more efficiently. In direct marketing in particular, however, it is not just about digital personalization, which is still not intelligent enough in many areas, but also about direct customer contact for sales. In the implementation of the marketing and sales concept, the transition from digital lead generation to analog sales must take place at the right time.

SMEs need to digitize their business

SMEs in particular must be careful not to be left behind in the digital revolution. Many SMEs are still trying to understand this new digital world with the laws of the real world, without taking the fundamentally different infrastructure into account. This is because they see the Internet merely as another sales market. The more advanced a company's digitization is and the more it conforms to the laws of the Internet, the more mature and thus successful it can be in the online world. Many spectacular examples show that this digital maturity is a real success factor and that there is still a lot of untapped potential here. Digitizing your company doesn't just mean buying more software tools, but rethinking yourself and your business. What are my challenges? How is the behavior of my customers changing? Is our vision still relevant? Do we have a mission that really gets to the heart of what drives us?

The concept of the customer journey is inextricably linked to digital marketing. It helps companies to understand their potential and existing customers even better and to be able to specifically individualize marketing measures in advance. This marketing concept helps to determine how and why a simple site visitor becomes a lead and later a buyer. We can find out how the visitor came to the product or service in social media, search engine optimization and content marketing. They play the most prominent role in the customer journey of the digitalized marketing and consumer world.

The data protection?

The revision process of the Swiss data protection law from pre-digital times is necessary. It is questionable whether it will be possible to convince legislators that they must also deal with the digital transformation of the economy. For smaller and innovative companies in particular, it is difficult to ascertain what the ongoing revisions and tightening of data protection law mean for them and their business processes. Companies must prepare for numerous new information, transparency and due diligence obligations. In the transformation of traditional business models toward greater customer proximity and an individualized approach, Switzerland must not impose too many self-imposed restrictions. Innovations would then take place abroad. Modern data protection should strike a balance between the self-determination of the citizens concerned and digital progress, not make digital progress in Switzerland impossible. "Without information there is no data and without data there are no activities. We could fly, but we have to stay on the ground."

Are chatbots the DM future?

Yes and no. It is tempting when automated solutions for online dialog marketing can relieve those responsible of tedious manual processes. A recent survey of 1500 companies in 80 countries confirms that virtual assistants, such as chatbots, are seeing the strongest growth among digital contact channels this year. More than two-thirds of respondents forecast an increase in fully automated customer contacts. Especially in online dialog marketing, such automated assistance systems would definitely make sense, as they can reduce the effort of marketing departments and at the same time greatly increase the effectiveness of campaigns.

But this has to be looked at from two sides. According to current forecasts, the number of global e-mail users is expected to rise to more than 4.1 billion by the end of 2021, and the number of messages sent privately or for business purposes to around 320 billion - per day. The volume of messages to target groups that need to be served in different ways is almost impossible to manage manually. Smart help systems in the field of marketing intelligence control e-mail campaigns automatically by learning from the individual behavior of each recipient and sending the appropriate content to the respective recipient groups at the right time. Script-based is already very much possible today and will become quite natural in the future.

However, the possibilities of artificial intelligence (AI) are far from exhausted. The data generated in the search engine or in eCommerce offer increasingly detailed insights into customer and purchasing behavior. Combining marketing intelligence with predictive analytics methods should enable predictions about future customer needs. This requires learning systems, especially in direct customer contact. I maintain that we are simply not yet far enough along to substitute decisive, direct and personal sales. The industry is looking to the future with great anticipation.

This article first appeared in the industry report "Media Trends I" on July 14, 2017

Heinz Schopfer 2016

The author: Heinz Schopfer has been association manager of the SDV Swiss Dialog Marketing Association since 2013. He has held various positions in the retail, IT consulting, public administration, advertising and media industries, continuing education and management consulting.

Photo: zVg

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