Financial Marketers: Here’s What Consumers Want From the Lending Experience.

Marketing Cloud

Financial-services companies — such as banks, mortgage brokers, and credit unions — are working hard to provide consumers with better digital and mobile banking experiences. Bank of America alone spent half a billion dollars on mobile banking between 2011 and 2014 and says it will continue to invest in mobile at this rate for years to come.

While a mobile-centric approach makes sense for day-to-day banking needs (like checking your balance, transferring money, or paying bills), the more valuable and complex transactions (such as taking out a loan) typically involve at least one conversation with a real human. And it’s critical that banks get this experience right, since lending is one of the principal ways in which they make money.

Four Key Insights Into Consumer-Lending Behaviors
Consequently, one of the major challenges that financial marketers face is connecting what happens online with what happens offline to ensure a seamless and consistent customer experience. To help financial marketers better understand consumer-lending behaviors, and subsequently make better-informed marketing decisions, Invoca surveyed 1,285 US consumers who had recently taken out loans of $15k or more. Let’s take a look at the key findings.

1. Offline Actions Dominate Loan Research.
Banks need to think beyond digital, as offline interactions have major impacts on consumer decisions and trust — especially when it comes to taking out loans for big-ticket items like cars, homes, or higher education. In fact, 84 percent of survey respondents made at least one phone call during the loan-research phase, while the majority of respondents listed ‘visiting a branch’ or ‘making a phone call’ as primary drivers when evaluating financial institutions for a loan.

2. Big Spenders Want to Talk.
Think about buying a pair of socks on Amazon. Now, think about putting your life savings into buying your first home. These are opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to monetary spend, and the level of emotional investment involved in each purchase is vastly different. It should come as no surprise that 93 percent of people who took out loans of $100k or more made at least one call to the financial institution they ultimately chose for their loan. Further, a majority of these conversations typically lasted for at least five minutes, indicating a quality discussion or purchase.

3. The Customer Experience Matters.
Nowadays, consumers expect personalized experiences across channels. For example, if you click on a paid search ad for a loan product and place a call, the agent on the line should know which marketing channel prompted you to call and what type of financial product you are researching. Eighty-four percent of respondents said that immediately being routed to the right representative had a positive impact on their decision to take out a loan from that financial institution.

This not only creates better customer experiences overall, but also — with a call-intelligence solution like Invoca — enables banks to follow up with emails or display ads that are personalized based on what was discussed during the calls.

4. Voice Conversations > Chatbots.
It’s difficult to go very long without reading an article about chatbots and how they’re revolutionizing the customer experience. For certain transactional use cases, it’s certainly a gamechanger; but, when it comes to issues that are more complicated (such as clarifying a bank statement or evaluating a loan), people want to have a conversation. Just look at the numbers: 81 percent of respondents are comfortable talking over the phone about loan options, while just 43 percent would be comfortable talking to a chatbot about loan options.

So, What Should Marketers Be Doing?
1. Get a Clear Picture of Your Customer.
Make sure you have the marketing technology in place to gather data about your customer. For online interactions, this might include website behavior, shopping cart status, engagement on social media, and email preferences. Offline behaviors (such as phone calls) can reveal things like buying stage, product interest, competitor awareness, and probability of purchasing. All of this — combined with demographic data — paints a clear picture of the customer, and marketers should use this information to refine their strategies and tailor their messages.

2. Prioritize Personalization.
Consumers today demand that brands — especially financial institutions — treat them as individuals. If you’ve done your online research and even provided your personal information to request a quote, it’s incredibly frustrating to receive a marketing email that’s not personalized or to repeat information over the phone that you’ve already provided online. If personalizing the entire customer journey feels overwhelming, don’t be afraid to start small — begin segmenting your email lists or using a tool like Adobe Target to create a more personalized website experience.

3. Create a Seamless Customer Journey.
Once you are comfortable with doing some personalization, begin tying the customer experience together across channels and devices. For example, if someone begins the loan-purchase process online but finishes it over the phone, he shouldn’t receive display ads reminding him to purchase the loan. Marketers should be suppressing those ads with their ad-serving platforms. Showing that you really know your customer can have a significant impact on sales, which is why customer experience isn’t just a marketing priority — it’s a business priority. In fact, Accenture found that “improving customer experience” tops the list of business priorities that companies have over the next 12 months.

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Brands Count on Their Agencies for Data and Digital-Experience Services

Marketing Cloud

The last decade marked a cross-disciplinary revolution in the agency business. Agencies across digital, media, creative, and public relations (PR) disciplines continue to help brands tell persuasive stories to their customers and prospects — as they always have and probably always will. But, over the past few years, digital technologies have transformed one-sided, broad-reach narratives into vivid, audience segment-based interactive experiences. A new assortment of consumer data lets brands target and deliver those experiences across channels as precisely as rifle shots compared to old-media shotgun blasts.

Across paid, owned, and earned channels, digital technology has accelerated the digital transformation of the entire industry. Creative agencies — household names since the Mad Men era — are acquiring digital talent to understand how to personalize digital channels, and iconic brands are moving resources from broadcast and print to the online and mobile platforms where their customers spend their time nowadays.

Listening to Agencies — and Their Clients
Adobe works hard to understand digital transformation through the eyes of our agency partners and customers — after all, their experiences help us learn what technologies and services they need as well as understand how best to provide value to our partners.

However, our agency partners’ clients — custodians of their brands’ customer data and experiences — have their own perspectives on this digital-transformation era. So, we asked Forrester Consulting to help us look at agencies from the client perspective across these two key areas. This will help us understand how to partner with agencies for mutual success in delivering value to our joint clients.

In a pair of global surveys, Forrester asked more than 500 marketing and advertising leaders from major brands how their agencies help them with the two essential components of digital marketing: first, using data to drive marketing decisions, and second, building and delivering personalized customer experiences. The research also took a close look at how clients view the role of technology-company partnerships in delivering those agency services.

The results are a quick read and well worth your time — here, I want to pull out a few issues that illustrate how Adobe can help its agency partners in a transformed industry.

Data-Driven Marketing
Traditionally, brands bought agency services in slices. Predigital, those slices aligned with communications channels — print, broadcast, and direct-response marketing services, for example. Today, channels have been subordinated to the role of delivery systems, so the slices are more likely to be different types or contexts of customer interaction that need to be aligned across a brand’s customer journey: search, display, and social, for example, or anonymous, known, and loyal users across all stages of the purchase cycle.

All those interactions require a common, consistent body of data to support and connect them. Forrester’s survey showed that brands expect their agencies to help them collect and manage this data-unification layer, discover insights from it, build strategies around those insights, and execute the strategies across digital channels. That’s where Adobe Marketing Cloud comes in, providing solutions to acquire, protect, manage, and distribute a brand’s customer data to optimize all stages of the user experience.

This model — a common pool of data supporting multiple interactions — is implemented in a variety of ways. One global electronics company uses a single agency and Adobe’s data platform to manage web, mobile, and first-party data across every one of their major markets. An automotive multinational uses different agencies for creative, media, and digital, but they all share data through the Adobe platform. And, a top US bank maintains its own customer relationship management (CRM) database in-house but uses the Adobe platform to share it securely and within regulatory limits with its data-management, media-agency, and system-integration partners.

A shared data-management platform — integrated with tools to collect, analyze, and deploy information effectively — allows a brand to organize its agency network to meet business goals without sacrificing any of the power and flexibility offered by modern digital marketing.

Brand Customer Experience
Of course, brands aren’t assembling all this customer information just to deliver the same static, one-way communications. They’re trying to build engaging, motivating experiences for their customers. The research found that only 18 percent of them are highly satisfied with the help they’re getting from their agencies. That leaves a lot of room for improvement in our partnerships.

I think most agencies do a good job within their discipline to help brands create experiences and deliver them across a specific channel. Digital agencies are skilled at stitching experiences together across multiple owned channels — and there’s been tremendous progress in extending them to mobile platforms, in particular, over a very short time. But, most agencies could do a better job of stretching their limits to build experiences across disciplines or different stages of the customer journey.

As a brand’s customer changes from an anonymous member of a target audience to a known individual and then makes a purchase, joins a loyalty program, or otherwise commits to a brand, they expect more from the brand. Confusing or isolating the stages of the customer experience can damage a relationship — overfamiliar treatment of an anonymous browser and casual treatment of a loyal customer are two ends of the spectrum.

Most brands have the data resources to connect experiences across the customer journey, and Adobe has made the technologies available to engage and follow both anonymous and known audiences throughout the acquisition, consideration, and conversion cycle. What’s needed most urgently is organizational commitment on the part of brands and agency data specialists with access to, and an understanding of, the brand’s data sets.

Balancing Breadth and Depth
The digital transformation hasn’t changed everything. Brands and agencies still struggle to balance a broad vision of marketing strategy with the deep, specialized skills needed to carry it out. But, everybody needs to understand the strategic context of their actions to avoid fragmentation and alienation of customers from a brand. It requires a kind of “T” structure — a sharing of the overarching strategic vision, coupled with in-depth training in a digital-marketing specialty. The research shows that brands agree: they plan to double the services they will request from cross-disciplinary agencies compared with specialist silos.

Adobe makes a real contribution here. Our technology, training, and implementation relationships with partners — across agency business models — help us exchange information and perspectives that keep us both on track and delivering value throughout a brand’s digital-transformation journey.

Adobe has commissioned two new Forrester Consulting Thought Leadership Spotlights on The Future of Agencies:

  • A Spotlight on Data-Driven Marketing, and
  • A Spotlight on Customer Experience.

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New Thought-Leadership Sessions Added at Adobe Summit

Marketing Cloud

The Marketing Innovations track is all about inspiration. We want you to be inspired with new ways to solve problems. We want you to be inspired with innovative ways to use technology. We want you to be inspired with big ideas that will drive the future.

And, all this inspiration will be waiting for you at Adobe Summit this March 21 – 23rd in Vegas.

Explore These Featured Sessions for the Marketing Innovations Track.
This year, Adobe Summit is focused on designing and delivering better experiences for your customers. However, you deserve to have a few great experiences for yourself too. Here are a few sessions you don’t want to miss.

Shareology: How Sharing Powers the Human Economy.
Sharing is a competitive advantage. This fundamental human behavior that allows us to connect with others and to advance as a species has been central to our survival. And today, it’s central to your business. Join best-selling author and global keynote speaker Bryan Kramer as he shares insights on the art and science of sharing, including its value to your personal and corporate brands. In this thoughtful presentation, Kramer suggests a new way to deliver value in this experience-based world and prompts us to rethink how, what, why, and where we share ideas to influence our global tribe. (Wednesday March 22nd 8:30am – 9:30am — Reserve your spot.)

Redefining the Way the World Learns.(new)
The rules of education are changing. Businesses and individuals can now improve their skills and knowledge base in a matter of hours rather than years at a university. Join Aaron Skonnard, the CEO of Pluralsight, to learn about the democratization of learning through innovative technology. You’ll learn how to build a career that you’re passionate about as well as how the new wave of learning technology is no longer confined to a classroom, an institutional schedule, or a select minority. (Tuesday March 21st 5:30pm – 6:30pm — Reserve your spot.)

How Prudential Built an Agency.
How can an in-house agency create a competitive edge for a company? Just look at Prudential. Prudential’s in-house agency was created more than 20 years ago, long before “insourcing” became a trend. Launched as an efficiency drive, the in-house team is now a full-service, integrated agency that can stand toe to toe with the best external agencies. In this fireside chat, Niharika Shah, VP and head of brand marketing and advertising at Prudential Financial, gives you an inside look at the evolution of the company’s in-house agency, the processes and types of people in place, and the resulting benefits. (Tuesday March 21st 4:00pm – 5:00pm — Reserve your spot.)

Out With the Old, in With the VR: USA Today on Immersive Storytelling
As VR (virtual reality) becomes more mainstream, USA TODAY NETWORK is exploring how to best use the medium as an immersive storytelling tool and a branded platform to bring new experiences to consumers of varied interests. Hear from CMO, Andy Yost; director of emerging technology, Niko Chauls; and SVP/head of GET Creative, Kelly Andresen as they discuss their key learnings from introducing a new medium to their audience and advertisers and how they’re moving forward on setting VR standards for the media industry. (Tuesday March 21st 2:30pm – 3:30pm — Reserve your spot.)

A Better Experience Starts With Adobe Experience Management.(new)
In this presentation with Ryan Green, CEO and founder of Qualtrics, you’ll learn how to gain better control over your customer experience programs. Ryan will share how to get deeper insights from customers and employees through relevant research and data; and then, he’ll explain how to use that feedback to build greater brand loyalty — and all in real time. (Tuesday March 21st 4:00pm – 5:00pm — Reserve your spot.)

We’ve Made Exciting Updates to the Marketing Innovations Track.
We’re also excited to announce more updates to the Marketing Innovations track at Adobe Summit. We’ve expanded the track to include three times the number of sessions we had last year, and we’ve elevated the type of content and insights to better help companies understand and thrive in the new digital landscape.

The new Marketing Innovations track will focus on two types of inspiration — innovation of thought and innovation of action. For innovation of thought, we’re hosting a variety of speakers, best-selling authors, and thought leaders who will inspire you with big ideas, trends, and guidance on digital transformation. For innovation of action, we’re inviting a variety of brands, CMOs, and entrepreneurs who will share insights and examples of how they’re using technology to push the limits of digital marketing with their companies.

Be Inspired!
In addition to many outside experts, we also have several experts from Adobe who will provide deep insights on topics such as future digital trends, the value of design in business ROI, and the role of technology in digitally transforming your company.

The idea is to take the inspiration you find on the mainstage and make it available through a variety of topics and at times that will fit your conference schedule. The sessions in the Marketing Innovations track are available to everyone at Adobe Summit — from CEOs to practitioners. Simply visit to view our session catalog and read more details about all the sessions in our Marketing Innovations track.

Your inspiration starts now.

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Five Steps to Personalize Your Mobile Experience for Better Customer Engagement

Marketing Cloud

Mobile devices are everywhere, and brands are trying to crack the code for how to increase customer engagement on mobile apps — they are getting downloads but want better in-app conversion rates. What many brands fail to realize is that personalizing their customer experiences is the key they have been searching for to create the engaging mobile experiences their customers crave.

Five Steps to Personalize Your Mobile Experience
When you’re thinking through your mobile strategy, it can be difficult sometimes to know where to start. These five steps will help you navigate through the personalization process for your mobile strategy.

1. Determine How You Can Pique People’s Interests.
This is a key question to ask yourself when launching any mobile strategy. You must think through not just what you want to gain from your mobile campaign, but also what will make the campaign interesting or relevant to customers. If they don’t find your mobile experience worthwhile, they are unlikely to engage regularly with you on mobile — or possibly interact with your brand at all.

2. Use Analytics to Drive Personalization.
If you are gathering the right customer intelligence from your users’ mobile experiences, are you properly using those insights to optimize your personalization strategy? Multichannel analytics — mobile app analytics being an integral part — should drive targeting, segmentation, personalization, and ad placement. If you want your mobile strategy to be as successful as possible, you collect the most business-relevant insights and use actionable, context-appropriate marketing actions for the user segment(s) in question.

3. Simplify Your Mobile Experience.
Based on what paths your users are taking through your app, you can suggest relevant marketing actions for them and present them with messaging and offers that they’re most likely to be interested in. It’s important to realize that time — or, as some analysts call it, ‘mobile moments’ — is a valuable commodity for your high-value customers. As a result, personalizing your mobile experience in ways that make their lives easier is likely to yield the best outcome. For instance, if you know a customer bought a particular gadget, you could give him or her tips on how to use it more effectively or use messaging tools for real-time support.

4. Treat Mobile Conversions Differently Than Desktop.
By definition, mobile app users are on the go, moving from one contextual environment to another. Mobile conversions are vastly different from desktop conversions because — by virtue of being ‘mobile’ — you often have far more information about mobile customers than desktop customers. This gives you the ability to personalize your marketing actions with a higher degree of granularity. Whether that means tailoring in-app messaging to optimize their experiences or helping them avoid filling out yet another inconvenient form on mobile because you already have that information, you should treat mobile conversions in an entirely different manner from how you treat those on desktops.

5. Continuously Work to Improve Your App and Its Features.
This step applies to your mobile app as well as the features within it. If you want to know how successful your app or any of its features are, let the insights tell you the story. If a particular feature is not being used, is causing users to ‘fall out’ of your desired journey (to conversion), or is not being used by a particular segment of customers, it’s important to find out why. Continually iterating on your app based on what you think are the causes behind the observed (and undesirable) behaviors can be critical to your overall success. This allows you to make sure that your app is tailored and provides the desired experiences to the customers who are most important to you.

Bottom Line
If you want your mobile strategy to be successful, it’s important to motivate your customers to actually use your app. To do this, your mobile experience must engage your customers in a highly personalized, contextual fashion. If you don’t give them a compelling reason to use your app, it will likely be deleted, thereby depriving your customers and your brand of its value.

My recommendations are based on customer conversations and benefits I have seen world-class, industry-leading brands derive across a multitude of industry verticals.

For more on mobile strategy, tips, and advice, check out my last blog post.

The post Five Steps to Personalize Your Mobile Experience for Better Customer Engagement appeared first on Digital Marketing Blog by Adobe.

Advertising Fraud: What We’re Doing

Marketing Cloud

Seemingly every few months, a new report on digital advertising fraud hits the newswires. What often follows is sadly predictable: journalists publish scathing articles quantifying billions of wasted ad dollars. Fatigued marketers scramble to ensure they are not exposed, with frantic calls and emails to hold partners accountable. Advertising technology companies respond by putting out press releases and email blasts arguing that their proprietary technology or third-party integrations make them immune – “it’s not us; it’s the other guy.” Finally, everyone goes back to business and it’s not a priority – until the next botnet is uncovered.

Wouldn’t it be nice to put this to bed once and for all for advertisers? Adobe’s TubeMogul thought so. That’s why TubeMogul launched the Non Human Traffic Credit Program last year. Under the initiative, TubeMogul platform customers automatically receive monthly refunds for any traffic identified as fraudulent by White Ops across desktop video and display.

Here is a report card on the initiative on its one-year anniversary:

  • Refunds issued to over 100 customers, totaling over $700,000 to date.
  • 16,000 websites identified, blacklisted and blocked.
  • Additional integrations made beyond White Ops FraudSensor™, such as DoubleVerify to provide an additional layer to isolate sophisticated invalid traffic.
  • Partnerships with eight inventory partners to refund TubeMogul clients for invalid traffic.

“We have always said that one fraudulent impression is one too many, which is why we are proud that our industry-leading adoption of brand safety tools effectively protects our clients from suspicious traffic,” noted Brett Wilson, vice president and general manager of advertising at Adobe.

Ultimately, recurring headlines with the words “advertising fraud” undermine trust in the industry, particularly the perception of programmatic buying. It’s up to marketers to demand greater transparency with all partners – not just on ad fraud, but also in fees and measurement.

Adobe TubeMogul, a leader in video advertising that enables brands and agencies to plan and buy video advertising across desktops, mobile, streaming devices and TVs, was acquired by Adobe in December of 2016. Learn more about the acquisition here.

Brett Wilson is Vice President and General Manager of Advertising at Adobe.

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Answering the Call for an Audience-Acquisition Framework

Marketing Cloud

Consider the age-old thought experiment, “If a tree falls in the forest, and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?” The same can be asked of even the best content in the world. “Content is king” only rings true if there is an audience there to “see and hear” it. While even modestly successful media companies will have some manner of audience to work with, today’s fierce competition for audiences, as well as their subscriptions and ad views, forces every media and entertainment (M&E) marketer to feed a constant cycle of acquiring, engaging, monetizing, and measuring audiences because these actions impact nearly every business’s key performance indicators (KPIs) for success.

A marketer’s ability to affect metrics — such as subscriber count, engagement frequency, time spent, or ad revenue — can make the difference in whether he or she gets that next promotion or bonus. Yet, moving these metrics in a significant way requires not only a formal approach to data-driven acquisition and retention, but also a technical capacity to execute.

Adobe’s latest whitepaper, Audience Acquisition Evolved: Acquiring and Engaging Audience Across Channels, shows you four things you can start on right now to prepare your team to execute a successful acquisition and retention program. In addition, it outlines a framework to encourage continual growth.

Following is a snapshot of the framework.

Onboard and Analyze
Data traits and behaviors are collected via analytics as new people engage with your ads, sites, and apps. In addition, analytics and personalization technology tell you what activities contribute the most to your KPIs.

Data from analytics, customer-relationship management (CRM), first-party data, and other data sources (including offline sources) is aggregated by a data-management platform (DMP) to form audience segments that can be used for targeting and personalization. These audience segments can be expanded using lookalike modeling, which identifies prospects with similar behaviors and traits that you can’t identify from existing first-party traits.

Reach and Engage
Once the segments are defined, leverage them in campaign-management tools that deliver optimal ad experiences to your most profitable advertising channels. Use technologies — including retargeting, dynamic creative, audience extensions, and programmatic buying — to take action with your audience data.

Use audience data to personalize all the digital experiences that you manage across devices. Technologies — including A/B testing, multivariate testing, and video recommendations — can help you deliver the perfect experience for each person. These personalized experiences will increase people’s satisfaction levels and time spent as well as drive repeat usage.

In Sum
Audience Acquisition Evolved explores what the latest research tells us about how acquisition and engagement are changing in the M&E industry, what the obstacles are, and how technology can help you address those obstacles. You will also receive actionable tips to accelerate your data-driven marketing.

Get a free copy today of Audience Acquisition Evolved: Acquiring and Engaging Audience Across Channels.

The post Answering the Call for an Audience-Acquisition Framework appeared first on Digital Marketing Blog by Adobe.

Google AMP: One Year Later

Marketing Cloud

The numbers are in, and consumers have given Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) initiative a thumbs-up. At Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Adobe Digital Insights will be releasing a new report that analyzes over 1.7 trillion visits to over 16,000 mobile websites (between Jan. 2014 and Jan. 2017). This data — aggregated and anonymous — comes through Adobe Analytics within Adobe Marketing Cloud.

In this report, we reveal new data showing that, as of December 2016, top publishers within the United States now see seven percent of all their traffic — across devices — coming through Google AMP.

AMP has also grown 405 percent from when usage first began picking up in April 2016 through December 2016. Further, in November 2016 — during the busy election season when coverage ramped up considerably across the board — AMP traffic spiked at 896 percent.

What we’re seeing is that, on the one-year anniversary of Google’s efforts to speed up the mobile web, many consumers have welcomed this technology as a fast and efficient way to access content on their mobile devices.

To AMP or Not to AMP?
In a world where consumers are increasingly fragmented across devices and platforms, media companies have lots to consider when deciding how best to get their content in front of audiences. There’s no one-size-fits-all, and every channel has its drawbacks as well as its opportunities.

Google has a vested interest in the web, given their core business, and their investment in AMP makes a lot of sense. But, at an industry level, this technology truly does enhance how consumers access content on mobile devices. Facebook has a similar deployment with Instant Articles. Anybody who has tried Google AMP can attest to how smooth the experience is. And, for a media company, this is what audiences are craving.

Within Adobe Marketing Cloud, we have the pleasure of working with some of the largest media companies in the US. When AMP was first made available, we announced our support and have worked with customers to successfully implement the technology.

What we’ve found is that, beyond the technical hurdles — such as implementing the proper tracking before deployment — there’s a small cultural shift that must happen as well. Developers must sit down at the table with designers to determine the best approach that satisfies both parties. At the same time, AMP is also forcing function for brands to think not just mobile first — but mobile only.

In Sum
As stated previously, AMP now represents seven percent of traffic for top publishers in the US, and this will likely increase, especially as smartphones become the dominant way for consumers to interact with the world around them. Digital transformation is upending the media industry in so many ways, and brands will have to keep a close eye on developments like AMP to make sure the experiences they deliver are stellar.

AMP is a technology to watch in the coming years, and it is setting itself up to disrupt not only the mobile web for the media industry, but also the mobile web as a whole. If your company is ready to make the jump to AMP, make sure that measurement is front and center — because success that can’t be measured is no success at all.

For details on how to both set up and track AMP pages, check out our AMP resources. Happy AMPing!

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Take Your Data Science to the Next Level — Set It Free

Marketing Cloud

Data science is a hot-button topic right now — and for good reason. Brands know they’re sitting on mostly untapped data goldmines, and there’s a good chance that means they’re not making the most of key insights about their business. Even if they don’t yet know exactly how to put data science to work to leverage this wealth of information, today’s businesses are becoming increasingly aware of data science, are intrigued by it, and want to know what it can do for them.

It’s a topic that my colleague — analytics guru, Jeff Allen — and I recently explored. First, we wanted to establish early in the conversation that one doesn’t need to be a scientist to act like a scientist — to apply scientific method and rigor to everything we do in marketing.

Where the Average Organization Falls
To start, we wanted to establish a benchmark, so at a recent gathering with fellow marketers, we asked them, “On a scale from 1 (I run the other direction when I hear the words ‘data science’) to 10 (I’m a data-science wizard!), how would you rate yourself or your organization on the data-science front?” More often than not, people tend to rate themselves somewhere in the middle. They’re comfortable and completely on board with data — they know, conceptually, that they need to be data-driven to truly optimize and personalize their brand experiences. But, there’s just something about the word ‘science’ that throws people for a loop.

Realistically, data science and its applications — automation, machine learning, and artificial intelligence, for instance — are meant to free humans from basic clerical tasks. Once freed from these more mundane duties, they have more time to spend on high-value must-dos that machines, well, can’t handle — at least not as well as humans can (for now, anyway) — including critical thinking, creative problem solving, and strategizing for optimal results and happy customers. A perfect example is the ATM.

When ATMs first hit the scene, tellers thought they were finished. After all, who would wait in line to withdraw cash or deposit checks when a machine could tackle it all — and tackle it all quickly, 24/7, and with zero wait or lag time?

However, in reality, ATMs not only drove more business for banks — meaning more branches and more tellers — but also turned the human money-givers into meaningful marketing extensions. Sure, tellers weren’t mechanical customer-care people anymore. Instead, they became something bigger and better, as they stepped into more strategic roles, driving higher long-term returns and increased customer satisfaction.

The best part is that, now, it has come full circle. Some banks have begun integrating the ATM/teller experience, allowing customers to use the machine while interacting with a live person. Think about that from a data-science perspective. The technology was meant to free humans from doing the very basic, very clerical tasks; and that’s exactly what ATMs did — and are still doing. But, after seeing how people actually interacted with them, banks pushed their companies — as well as the industry as a whole — to assess and act on what customers wanted in that moment. In this case, customers want the human touch paired with the convenience and accessibility of ATMs. It’s human meets machine — and it’s pretty powerful.

How to Achieve Data-Science Success
So, how do brands become living, breathing, activating, data-driven organizations — with data science at the center?

1. Change Customer Culture.
When the right people ask the right questions, really understand qualitative and quantitative measures, follow scientific methods, and perform the marketing alchemy that comes with them, magic — well, okay, data science — happens. Those changes, as with virtually any optimization initiatives you implement, require universal buy-in from the top down. And that means you must garner some small wins and evangelize like a madman to have yourself and your initiatives heard.

To achieve success in the data-science universe, you need it to become a meaningful part of your corporate culture. You can’t simply relegate data science to the data scientists and hope for the best. You must democratize it across different types of marketers and brand advocates and allow their diverse business goals and initiatives to steer the next steps. To do this, many tech companies are turning to business intelligence programs that allow anyone in the organization — with or without degrees in data analysis, statistics, or computer science — to access and analyze their data and create reports reflecting the trends that are impacting their audiences and markets. It’s much like the ATM example — a transitional way of thinking that can move the needle in a big way.

2. Data Is Your Friend — if You Know How to Interpret It Correctly.
There are also the notions of causation, correlation, and confounding variables. A variable in our data may be shared by two elements, which would make some marketers quick to say this or that caused it and point to data that they believe tells the story. But, remember — and this is science 101 here — correlation is NOT causation (nor vice versa). Be sure you’re aware of your variable’s hidden effects on X and Y as well as any sample biases, systematic errors, and not-so-great statistical practices being kicked around. Explore, hypothesize, test, rinse, repeat.

One of the biggest issues I see from organizations with relatively new data-science focuses is that they tend to head into experiments or campaigns with the belief that something is a certain way — that something is right or that X drives Y, for instance. If you already believe it, chances are that you can prove it if you dig through the data long enough — but that’s not good. To be effective and leverage data science properly, you need to A/B test and use the scientific method to make the right decisions and avoid the wrong ones. Again, explore, hypothesize, and test — and take NO shortcuts in between.

3. Leverage the Power of Machine Learning.
Data science accelerates data exploration, allowing us to rapidly derive insight and meaning. So, what’s the next step? How do you exploit these insights, make decisions, and take action? Machine learning plays a big role in exploiting these insights — enabling you to tap into the power of data to optimize and personalize individual visitor interactions. By exploring data for trends, similarities, and probabilities and, at the same time, delivering experiences that take advantage of this exploration, you’ll have personalization power that far exceeds anything you could do manually. Your customers want it — and once you see the potential, your organization will want it too. Machine learning should enable constant and continuous exploration AND exploitation. While I encourage marketers to understand some statistical basics, they shouldn’t have to worry about the statistical rigor of the tools they use.

4. Trust the Auto Pilot.
To really take your data science — and even optimization — efforts to the next level, you need to embrace automated personalization. To do that, you’ll have to trust the machine. Cultural best practices, then, need to align — and that can be a tricky request for some companies. We have the tools, so don’t worry about that. But, you need to come to the table ready to tap into and — more importantly — trust your machine marketing partner. That can be a tall order for some marketers.

Democratizing data science helps, though. Even if you don’t have a data-science team, the work can still happen if you share the love and the actual load that comes with these processes. Tellers trusted ATMs to do the job, and look at everything they achieved — more success, more opportunities, and more elevated roles within their organizations as well as the entire banking industry.

For organizations to take this to the next level and embrace the automation of data science, they need to conjure up a certain level of trust. They need to put a lot of important intel and processes into the hands of their machine autopilots. Both culturally and from a best-practices perspective, these organizations will all have to figure that out. We have the tools and technology, but there’s a certain amount of cultural and organizational shift that many companies will need to think about both before and during their data-science integrations.

Continuing From Here
This is just the beginning of the data-science conversation. For now, think about the ways your company can embrace and integrate data science, whether you bring in an expert or democratize the process across existing resources. There are many opportunities and there’s tremendous potential if you can make the cultural and procedural shifts that data science requires. But, done right, it’s well worth the effort.

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