Predict Tomorrow. Deliver Today.

Predict tomorrow. Deliver today. That's what digital marketing is all about, right? It's a tall order. As digital marketers, we look at analytics, trends, and KPIs, perform experiments, and lean on other talismans of the future to help clue us in to what works and what does not. But there is a second part to this success: delivering on those insights now. Delivering content and landing pages; websites and social posts. Delivering CRM integration and marketing automation. Get both the "predict" and the "deliver" parts right, and it's a killer combination.  

Truth is, both the predicting part and the delivering part are going to get a lot more exciting and complex in the coming years. This creates an opportunity for you and your organization to leapfrog your competition. More on this in a moment.  

Why do I say it's going to get more complex and more exciting? There are major developments afoot that will change the game—much sooner than you think. Digital marketing platforms are moving to the cloud, allowing them to be plugged in to massive computing power and make use of the quickly evolving AI landscape to help offload the burden of digital marketing upkeep. Even more importantly, more accurate insights into successes and failures will be more rapidly available. This union of AI and cloud-based marketing platforms is a powerful catalyst, reshaping the orthodoxy of digital engagement. What was good yesterday will barely be given a thought tomorrow. Add to this the seemingly endless creation of digital channels, and you get the upcoming explosion of both predicting and delivering.

To move from doing just the basics (what I call the "table stakes phase" of digital marketing), pull away from the crowd ("differentiation phase"), and even blow them away ("innovation phase"), you need to start thinking now about your tactics for predicting tomorrow and delivering today. This is how you leapfrog your competition—using the changing landscape to drive differentiation and innovation.  

Let's break this down a bit more:

  1. The "Table Stakes" Phase: If you are not already doing this, start NOW. At this point, a good content management capability paired with marketing automation, social marketing, web analytics, and mobile and site search components (for content heavy sites) are a must-have. You need both the platform and the ongoing content and processes to create and manage your digital presence. It’s also crucial that you target your content to the applicable audience. You need to be doing this, and doing it well, before focusing on the other two phases, in which you pull away from your peers.
  2. The Differentiation Phase: Once you have the "table stakes" above in place, you can begin to focus on what differentiates you from your competitors. Those items include SEO/SEM tools, content tagging systems, customer experience mapping (sometimes called customer journey mapping or CX) and data visualization, and customer identification. Typically, in this phase, integration with other tools becomes increasingly important. Such integrations include CRM (or AMS) integration (for customer identification and tracking), ERP or Ecommerce integrations, and integrations with other digital marketing tools for analytics, retargeting, etc. The key to success in this phase is to embrace a 360-degree view of your customers. To do this, you must have a unified view of your customer interactions and identity. You will also need to focus on a smooth customer experience, no matter what channel they are using or what activity they are undertaking. Careful steps will need to be taken to ensure data quality and integrity. At this point, you can start to make use of AI and Machine Learning (ML) to analyze data and information about your customers as segments, cohorts, and individuals.
  3. The Innovation Phase: Building on the data and platforms that make Differentiation Phase successful, you can now pull ahead of the pack. In this phase, the focus is on full use of AI and ML and omnichannel success. Key items of focus are deeper integrations with all aspects of your business, using a "digital first" concept that prioritizes digital across any and all customer interactions. Key tools include content repositories and digital asset management that allow content reuse and customization no matter the channel, as well as robust data management and visualization coupled with AI. Success at this phase may start to include a strategy and delivery execution of more cutting-edge channels, such as Voice-Activated Technology (VAT), Internet of Things (IoT), chatbots, Augmented Reality (AR), Virtual Reality (VR), and wearables. This phase involves extensive use of AI and ML to help manage and create engagement no matter the channel, including AI-driven tagging, multi-variant testing, dynamic creative optimization, and deep personalization.

A practical note: As you think about how to embrace both predicting and delivering on the future, make sure you are selecting platforms and not just a tool. A tool is something that helps you get the work at hand done: Either it works, or it does not. A platform is both a tool and a strategic asset. It helps you today, but also sets you up to grow and handle the challenges of the future. A platform is not necessarily one piece of software (though it can be), but is an ecosystem of software and microservices working together to deliver a unified digital experience to your customers. In some cases, a unified platform (i.e., all the functions delivered by one piece of software) makes the most sense, as it cuts down on complexity and points of failure. In other cases, there is a strong argument to use “best-of-breed” solutions and integrate them together. The path that is right for you depends on many factors.

A common mistake that I see with clients is a focus on the tool and not the platform.  That is to say, too much focus on what the tool does for you today, but not the roadmap into the future. By far, the most expensive part of any project is the labor and time to get everything working. This is not only the direct time and labor it takes, but also other, less easy to quantify costs, such as focus, energy, and opportunity costs. If you select the right platform, it will create a smooth progression into the future. If you don't, not only will your progress be hampered (and maybe even thwarted), but any progression will come at more cost of time, energy, and labor. If you need a quick starter set of questions to consider when looking at a platform, take a look at our CMS selection guide.

This is what I mean by "Predict Tomorrow. Deliver Today." It is what we do, but also a call to look deeper into a vision of our collective future and the "chops" (and in some cases, scars) needed to deliver on that vision today. It is both strategy and action in equal parts. To think well and to do well. It is a formula for moving beyond the collective herd and into action that delivers results tomorrow as well as today.