Blurred Lines -- How Digital Ends Days Of Above And Below The Line

Have we reached a tipping point in marketing where focus is shifting toward individual customers as opposed to yelling on billboards and television to all and sundry? That's certainly the message from the latest research carried in Marketing Week today from IBM and the CMO Club. For the first time, the figures suggest, CMOs are aiming to spend more on one-to-one communication than above-the-line campaigns. My only question is -- isn't this already happening?

Isn't it perfectly reasonable to put it out there that nearly all digital marketing is, by definition, personal nearly all of the time? Search accounts for half of spend and is geared around Google typically knowing who a person is and what they're searching for. The name might be anonymised, but the ID attributed to a searcher is unique to them and is backed up by a huge reservoir of data. For legal reasons it can't be considered identifiable, but in its own way what might first appear to be an above-the-line activity is pretty much creeping under the line, isn't it? Social is clearly the most personal channel for prospecting, relying on people signing in to their profiles.

For all its talk of data management platforms, digital display is unabashedly an above-the-line channel blasting messages around the Internet to appear to a receptive audience against appropriate, safe content. Compared to traditional above-the-line activity on television and outdoor, however, it's certainly a lot closer to the proverbial line, isn't it? Outdoor and television will make smart research-based assumptions on where a brand's audience are and what they're watching but display goes further. It can not only match content to demographic data, but go deeper into far smaller customer segments based on data rather than assumption. It's clearly above the line -- but in my opinion, only just.

Where the research is suggesting marketers are now more actively headed is not public Internet channels, but instead one-to-one communication with prospects and customers that evolves into individual offers and messages brought to customers on apps and email through loyalty schemes. John Lewis is quoted as having been very pleased when it compared foot traffic for a store opening publicised above the line compared to one where loyal shoppers were targeted.

In a funny way, it's kind of taking us full circle to the power of email marketing -- which has always been there in the background -- and branded apps. I've always felt a certain amount of sympathy for email, which isn't as shiny and new as social or as talking about as display and search -- but for me, offers the perfect channel to reach consumers over for a one-to-one conversation. It runs the risk of turning into digital direct mail, but when it's done well and is based on data and makes a customer journey smoother, it simply can't be beat. Other than, of course, it would be a customer actively deciding to engage with a brand by opening up its loyalty app.

So when researchers talk about CRM being the new marketing and marketers shifting to new channels to get one-to-one conversations going, I think it's useful to reflect that to varying extents that's what digital is already offering -- it's that allure that is shifting ad dollars away from traditional routes to market.

The big difference -- and this needs to be acknowledged -- lies within the often confusing discussion about one-to-one conversations being with customers and thus accounting for "C" in CRM. If digital has taught us anything, it's that although it may not constitute a conversation, one-to-one marketing can be conducted with people you don't actually know already. It means that renewed interest in email and loyalty apps is not a new avenue, but rather a predictable destination that increasing closeness to the customer which comes with prospecting on digital channels.

Next story loading loading..