The Trouble With Campaigns

The campaign is a fundamental component of modern marketing that brands rarely question. It informs the way we think, act, analyze, budget, and plan. But perhaps most importantly, it affects the way we treat our customers. 

By definition, campaigns have three critical components: An opponent, a battlefield objective, and a deadline. Stemming from the 17th-century French term “campagne,” or “open field,” the word originally described armies’s advancement from the fortress to the fields in spring as they attempted to gain territory. The word campaign is, of course, also associated with politics, where opponents, battlefield objectives, and seasonal deadlines are equally applicable.

However, what is it about war and politics that made us say, "That's how we want to approach marketing!"? Long after warfare and electioneering moved to more sophisticated models, marketers are still stuck in the 17th century. Let’s examine some of the specific ways campaigns cause trouble for today’s brands.



Trouble with Campaigns #1: The Opponent

In a campaign, there is a winner and a loser. You try to force your opponent into an unfavorable terrain, with few palatable options. In marketing, we do this with popup ads, misleading emails, and FOMO. Why do we treat customers like the enemy? Why do we force them into such narrow victory conditions like “Everything Must Go!” or “This Saturday Only!”? It comes down to a combination of things. We don’t have the capability for defining wins differently for each customer. We don’t have the capability to measure wins that occur outside of the objectives or time windows of campaigns. And so, we skirmish with our customer.

Trouble with Campaigns #2: The Battlefield Objective

Campaigns are measured with short-term, tactical metrics. In marketing, this is often a combination of impressions, clicks, form fills, and direct responses to a call-to-action. It’s rare for these objectives to be correlated with long-term objectives like churn reduction or brand loyalty. Out of fear that our campaigns will show to have a negative effect or no effect at all, we only measure the things our tools are capable of measuring. Marketing clouds typically don’t understand our customers or our long-term objectives, so they are not capable of optimizing for them.

Trouble with Campaigns #3: The Deadline

The spring thaw dictated the beginning of war season in the 17th century, but modern marketers are no less a slave to the calendar. Presidents Day is about mattresses, Memorial Day is about appliances, and Thanksgiving Friday is dominated by box-store finds. What of the customer who needs a mattress in April or October? Even companies without obvious seasons have a campaign calendar. Why do we force our customers to conform to our arbitrary cadence? In part, we do this because we need campaigns to end so that we can measure them. We start with static budgets, create static audiences, and static workflow rules. In order to learn and adapt, we have to end a campaign and plan another.

Getting out of the trenches

Marketers have been talking about relationship marketing for 15 years, but until now, we were limited by our technology. Luckily for 21st century marketers (and our customers), we no longer need to be subject to the 17th century model of warfare. Emerging artificial intelligence technologies allow marketers to move beyond the limitations of campaigns, providing opportunities to create human interactions at a scale that’s not humanly possible. No opponents, no vanity metrics, no enforced seasonal cadence.

Instead, marketers can optimize for long-term goals like customer lifetime value, which benefits both you and your customer. There is no arbitrary deadline, no static audience segments, no workflow rules. The marketer is freed to analyze and gain insights at will, creating and launching new experiences as part of the ever-evolving mix of interactions.

Of course, some offers and incentives will still align with seasons and deadlines, making the campaign framework useful. But, for most of our interactions, it’s time to stop waging war on our customers and move to a better model based on mutually beneficial outcomes.

1 comment about "The Trouble With Campaigns".
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  1. Charles Jamison from Footsteps, January 31, 2018 at 2:10 p.m.

    To paraphrase: Methinks Mr. Dunston doth protest too much when he poses the query: "what is it about war and politics that made us say, "That's how we want to approach marketing!"?"  From the point of view of warfare, a quick review of Reis and Trout's "Marketing Warfare" would seem to be an easy answer to that question. 

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