Sep 29, 2017


I used to play high school hoops back in the day[1]How far back I will leave as a mystery for the reader.. I was our go-to shooting guard[2]For those of you who know me, I will confess that I also had a flattop at the time. I hope this doesn’t make my story seem less plausible.. But while I’d love to wax on about my history of game-winning shots—and believe me, I would—this post is about fundamentals.

As is common in basketball, many of our plays started with our point guard bringing the ball up the floor and dishing it to me on the wing. As a shooting guard, you generally have three options[3]Someone once said that this was a good thing. after receiving a pass: shoot immediately over your defender, dribble to set up a more open shot, or pass it in to a posting center or a cutting forward.

However, for those of you less familiar with the beautiful game of roundball, what is totally against the rules is to simply start running around with the ball[4]Except if your name is LeBron. Seriously, the refs let that guy do whatever he wants. It’s embarrassing.. One of your feet must stay anchored on the ground at the location where you received the pass. Sure, you are free to lift the other foot off the ground and rotate your body to get a better angle for your shot or pass or to start your drive, but one foot must stay firmly planted on the floor. This foot is called the pivot foot, and the act of rotating your body to best set up your next move is called the pivot. And this is precisely what we need to start doing in marketing[5]Stay with me; I’ll get there..

Historically, many marketing organizations have been designed to anchor around their creative talent, content, and capabilities. Creative comes first. It’s a natural starting point, since in a hyper-competitive economy, those companies who can make the most captivating and/or entertaining first impression are probably most likely to be more successful at raising brand awareness—at filling the top of the purchase funnel—hopefully leading to the acquisition of new customers.

But what happens after that? Does the same strict focus on creative still hold as we are collecting more and more customer data, as our industry is becoming more and more customer-centric, and consumers are becoming more and more demanding of individualized attention? And what about the customer experience after the first purchase, when somebody has already become engaged to some degree with our brand?

For example, think of how marketing organizations and agencies often design advertising campaigns. They focus on creative, on design, on messaging, on copy—on convincing their prospects and customers how incredible and memorable the brand is or how special and unique the products are. If they do engage in customer analytics at all[6]And many companies don’t! Shame on you., it is at this point that customer data comes into play. Perhaps they run a fancy statistical model or machine learning algorithm that gives scores to every customer according to who is most likely to respond to this particular type of campaign or some other output metric of interest. Then they sort the customer file in descending order based on this score, and only send the campaign to, say, the first couple million customers in the list. Budgets are limited, after all!

If they’re particularly sophisticated, they might have also instituted a “test and learn” program to measure how well their campaign performed. Who responded to it according to whatever output metric we were considering? Who did we predict would respond, but didn’t? What do those results tell us about the particular creative design, copy, or messaging that we started with, and how might we improve it on the next campaign? And even better, how might we evolve the model or algorithm we used so that it does better at prediction the next time?

All of these are recommended best practices, and represent one way of leveraging customer data to help inform the campaign execution process. But I’d like to suggest we could do even better by flipping this whole process on its axis. Pivot.

In the traditional approach, we anchor on creative. Start with the what, then move to the who. But isn’t this backwards? Why don’t we start with the who?

First, decide who you want to talk to in the first place. Where are they in the customer lifecycle? Are you trying to retain your best customers in order to keep them engaged with your brand? Are you trying to develop less engaged customers in order to increase their interest and subsequently purchase volume? Are you trying to reactivate lapsing customers so that you don’t lose them to the competition?

Then, take advantage of all of this rich data you’ve (hopefully) been collecting for years to really dig in to who these customers are—what they buy, what channels they prefer to shop in, whether they are motivated by economic incentives like discounts or coupons, how active they are with the media type you plan to use to deliver the campaign. Learn about their attitudes and preferences toward your brand—why they choose to engage with you in the first place.

And finally, armed with this deep and nuanced knowledge about your customers, then—and only then—design your campaign to speak to your target group of customers in a way that is meaningful and relevant to them. Start with the who, move to the what.

Treat different people differently.


Footnotes   [ + ]