Only Connect

Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon.

Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted,

And human love will be seen at its height.

Live in fragments no longer.

Only connect...

--E.M. Forster, Howards End

I have a confession to make. I love marketing.

I love you, the innovative marketers of the world. I love that you realize that our profession is part art, part science and that both parts are essential to the whole. I love how you are constantly striving to come up with better ways of connecting with customers, with sales, with each other. And I love being part of the community with you.

Fifteen years ago when I first became a demand generation marketer, I did so for a very pragmatic reason: my company had just become an early Salesforce.com customer and we couldn’t get our sales people to use it. They saw it as onerous and unproductive busywork, a system that demanded they type in information about their deals, their contacts and their forecasts, but delivered little in direct value.   The sales team asked me if we could create promotions and contests – very old school marketing -- to help sales adopt the new technology.

But we came up with a better way.

We used a new class of marketing technology – marketing automation – to track buyer behavior on our web site and later, through our blog and podcast, to determine who was more likely to buy and what they were interested in. And we delivered that customer insight directly in our CRM system. I was hooked. Marketing automation was the future.

I was so hooked on the software solution we’d deployed so successfully, I joined the young marketing automation company that created it: Eloqua. From there, we had fun building marketing automation from a niche, to a category, to the essential beating heart of marketing departments all over the world.   We created customer communities. We rewarded marketers with the prestigious Markie awards. We even had clever competitors emulating our every move.

But for all of our talk about digital body language and co-dynamic lead scoring and the power of factory thinking in marketing, the essence of what we taught came down to what marketers have known and preached since the day some sharp Neanderthal ran an ad selling fur coats during the Ice Age:

Deliver the right message to the right person at the right time.

We did it. Through email and landing pages, personalized hypersites and open integration with other technologies in the marketing ecosystem, we helped advance the science of marketing. We empowered a new generation of creative marketers to connect with customers in new and interesting ways.

On the sales side, we deepened the relationship with our business colleagues. No longer throwing leads over the wall to murky ends, we were able to measure our own effectiveness, showing us for the first time which of our campaigns sparked, enhanced or created a revenue stream, and by how much. At last, marketers could confidently (and with no small amount of relief) point to an ROI for all their efforts!

But now, there’s a second wave of marketing automation solutions coming available. These are technologies that reach customers where they are – in their homes and along their way. We reach them while they are waiting in line at Starbucks, between the kids’ soccer games, even – let’s be honest – in restrooms.

Customers are constantly on the move. They’re not sitting around, waiting patiently for our message. So, in order to be relevant, in order to stay relevant, we must travel with them. 

We must be aware of their communications preferences. We need to adapt to their sophisticated needs for the right information in the right place at the right time. Never before have so many been inundated with so much information from so many primitive marketers, who spray their messages over the greatest volume of customers with dubious outcomes. Marketing automation has never been about sending multiple messages to a user. It’s about sending the best possible message to a particular person at exactly the right time. We should expect nothing less of ourselves.

We can do better. We can get smarter about customers. By incorporating testing and automatic optimization to all of our messages, we can take advantage of the predictive elements of our technologies to engage with our customers at levels never before possible. But it’s not just about customer engagement. I engage with the Department of Motor Vehicles every time I have to register my car. I engage with the telephone company every time my service goes out. That’s engagement. But it doesn’t inspire delight and appreciation. I think we’re setting our sights too low.

My favorite app these days is Waze, the location-based GPS app. It started out as socially-powered driving directions, but has grown to become a contextually aware, always useful tool for interacting with the environment around us. It’s engaging, sure. But it’s also delightful. I appreciate and enjoy it. It allows me to connect with others around me in a contextually relevant way. With new technologies coming on line like Apple Payments and iBeacons, our devices will be increasingly useful—even obligatory—tools for an enhanced life.

If we do our jobs right.

Only Connect. That’s my mission at Swrve – to help connect you, the marketers of the world, with the information and tools you need to be relevant, useful and delightful to your customers, wherever they are, on any device they may be using.

I think we’re about to change marketing again. And for the better. I look forward to the conversation.

You can reach me at steve.gershik@swrve.com