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The lessons of Thien Thi

On a beach in Vietnam, there is a marketing expert called Thien Thi. She is selling fruit and water to tourists at lunchtime as the sun hits its peak in the Indochinese sky. She has product, price and promotion nailed and she knows her audience perfectly. Here, Nick Evans, Technical Director of ExtraMile Communications, explains why international web content and e-mail marketing should follow Thien Thi’s example.

Our beach vendor understands her market perfectly and has no need for technology. She has intuitive and entirely accurate knowledge about what people want and when – something that was highly valued in the world of marketing until data revolutionised our approach.

To follow Thien Thi’s example we should set about understanding our own markets, not by foregoing technology, but by embracing it. We can each blaze a new digital trail by adopting best in class techniques to understand our customers and thereby better serve their needs. Our friends at Tesco, with their decades-before-its-time Clubcard have done exactly this using clever data.

For instance, facial recognition can help shops anticipate customer preferences by associating images of their guests with their purchasing data, enabling the owners to then recognise the return of a customer and push online offers or vouchers to their mobile phone.

All businesses should be maximising their understanding of their clients’ needs and a good medium for gathering together disparate data is through a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system. There are amazing online applications that help you manage this crucial element of your marketing, allowing businesses to record their interactions with clients and schedule their marketing to them appropriately.

QR codes, virtual and augmented reality, social media and wearable technology are all media which can drive new customers to businesses and help those businesses engage more fully with clients. This is not to say that content is no longer important, but the medium can have as much impact as the message in these contexts, driving people’s attention in a way that old techniques never can.  

Moore’s law
Moore's law is the observation that, over the history of computing, the number of transistors on integrated circuits doubles approximately every two years. The capability of most digital hardware, from cameras to storage and sensors to processing speed, is roughly linked to this law. As marketers we can be certain that this law indicates that technology will become even more important, more integrated, more connected in coming years. Indeed, the Internet of Things and Big Data are already connecting us with levels of information that we would have thought impossible only a few years ago. Devices are becoming ever more connected – fridges that add missing food items to your online shopping list, apps that push vouchers to you as you enter a store or coffee shop, smart payment technologies that are blurring the boundaries between online and High Street retail – all of these advances make the competitiveness of the technology-aware companies that much stronger. We as marketers now must use complex systems to help us address global audiences, yet still match the level of understanding Thien Thi achieves with intuition.

Technology means our marketing can be connected – each discipline no longer has to sit in a separate silo, unable to link in to and complement related techniques. E-mail, social media, web content, data mining, AdWords, research and every other marketing discipline you can think of can now compete equally at the marketing table to become more democratic, interoperable and effective.

As marketers, we can be smarter and more personal, which ultimately means we will be more effective. The combination of clever data and great software allows us to achieve things with web and e-mail content that seem startlingly personal to the recipient. We are a million miles from inserting a field from a database and using ‘valued customer’ as the fallback when you don’t have the prospect’s first name! Now, the products, the stories, the whole content experience is potentially capable of being personalised for the user of the website or the recipient of the email.

Are we doing it? No. Few are yet achieving this level of integration. The barriers are data integrity and scope, system capability and simply the necessary resource within smaller companies to address high technology challenges. The big boys such as Amazon and Tesco have been doing it for years – slowly, as we become more aware and tools become more accessible, the smaller companies will ride on the back of those technology advances.

Smart and personal
In international e-mail marketing, social media and web content, we can achieve our objectives by addressing B2B audiences in the most personalised way possible. Challenges of language aside, the key is to get messages working well in a source language first, then adapt that content to the context of each subsequent country or language version.

Naturally, e-mail marketing essentials also include accommodating the variations in character set and word length in multiple languages. However, the bigger challenge is to tailor the message to the country, the individual, their interests and their purchasing preferences. Big data helps here but the complexities of multilingual, multinational data are still too daunting for many smaller companies. The more we know about the recipient, the more we can personalise content to suit their interests – but our backend systems have to be structured to enable that data output to work in the context of the message being transmitted.

Does it all have to depend upon Big Data? Absolutely not. The ‘smarter and more personal’ ethos can also be reflected in both social and web content campaigns, where what you say should be tailored as closely as possible to what you know about your audience. A recent Father’s Day campaign from Diageo was a great example of personalised content. It invited users to create unique videos for their father or grandfather using a common platform and share them via the web or e-mail.

In addition, tools such as Moz’s Followerwonk allow precise analysis of your connections, based on gender, geographical location, time zone, language, frequently used words and Twitter behaviour.   Or, on a more sophisticated level, Social Net Promoter Score (NPS) allows businesses to get an even more in depth and reliable view of their audience than a traditional NPS survey.

All of these examples are ways that, as brands, we can use content, connectivity and technology to build engagement with our customers and prospects. We need to understand that our customer data – whether “big” or not - is our most valuable asset and that we should use it constructively to make our marketing communications more relevant and personal. Remember Thien Thi and her fruit and water business? If we can achieve all this, we can’t fail to make our offerings as suited to the market as she has done.