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Google Ads for Ecommerce: Prerequisites

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Google Ads for Ecommerce: Prerequisites


In my last article, we talked about whether or not Google Ads was the right move for your ecommerce business. 

Now, if Google Ads is indeed in the cards for your store (or you have successfully run Google Ads already), this article is going to walk you through the prerequisites you need before you can hit the ground running.

Ecommerce Business Planning: 

Must-Haves Before Building a Google Ads Campaign

You are hereby (lovingly) forbidden from building a Google Ads campaign until you have the following six items:

  1. Reasonable Monthly Spend
  2. 90 Days to Prove Concept
  3. An Ecommerce Enabled Website With a Product Feed
  4. Enough Margins to Support a Traffic Campaign
  5. Unique Selling Proposition
  6. No One-Off Products

Let’s explain:

  1. Reasonable Monthly Spend

Think of your monthly budget early on as an investment. 

You are buying data you need to understand what works in your campaign, what doesn’t, and where to make changes—in a reasonable amount of time. 

With that investment, Google will start to build an audience specifically for you that you will capitalize on later. And it will be worth it! You *must* have enough monthly ad spend to accumulate enough accurate data for testing and optimizing down the road.

For context, at Solutions 8, we won’t take a client whose budget is under $2000/month. 

Budget under $2000 per month? Maybe you want to hold off until it’s more feasible. 

Google is a learning algorithm. The first three months are going to be the most “painful” part of your campaigns. Which brings us to our next requirement:

  1. 90 Days to Prove Concept

It bears repeating that Google is a learning machine. And learning takes time.

In fact, we’re asking Google to do some pretty spectacular behavioral analysis.

After you set up your Smart Shopping campaign, Google learns: 

  • When customers interact with your ads
  • How many times users click on your ads
  • What channel those ads are clicked
  • How long it takes for the prospect to come back
  • What channels they come back to
  • Which other products they view

Once Google has all that data, it determines how many other customers follow through the same pattern or similar cycle.  

So, for a 15-day sales cycle (meaning it took 15 days from when a customer first clicked your ad to when they made a purchase), you might have to wait a full month for sales to start coming in. Meaning it will take a full month for Google to begin to gather data for testing and optimizing.

Again, those early days are tough. But by day 90, you should have enough data to tell whether or not the campaign will work long term. 

  1. An Ecommerce Enabled Website With a Product Feed

This one may sound obvious, but here goes:

Your ads will send prospective customers to your site. Therefore, you need an appealing, easy-to-navigate ecommerce website complete with a product feed tool. 

Remember, your “product feed” is much more than a CSV file of product titles, descriptions, GTIN codes, and prices.

For ecommerce businesses, the product feed will make or break your campaign.

When it comes to ecommerce platforms, particularly ones that integrate beautifully with Google Ads, Shopify is our fave.

  1. Enough Margins to Support a Traffic Campaign

Running ads takes money. Can your profit margins support these campaigns? 

See, you can have a 100% profit margin—but if you’re selling $2 items, your campaigns still might not be profitable. 

Unless you have a higher cart value than the original price.

In other words, your products need to be priced highly enough (with the profit margin to support it); otherwise, you’ll rely on customers adding more to their cart than the single advertised product alone (i.e. more bang for your advertising buck).

  1. Unique Selling Proposition

The more heavily saturated your market, the harder it’s going to be to turn a profit from Google Ads. So, what makes you different? 

And *ahem* being the cheapest option isn’t the answer. 

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Think about your favorite products: what makes them your favorite? Is it the company’s dependable return policy? The quality of the product? The materials used? 

Your unique selling proposition is key for the success of your campaigns—specifically longevity and return traffic. After all, it’s six times less expensive to sell to an existing customer than a new one.

  1. No One-Off Products

If you have customizable products (think products that are personalized with engravings, birthstone colors, or photos), this isn’t directed at you.

But when it comes to one-offs, Google Ads will not work.

To reiterate, one-offs are products that you can only sell once (like a unique, one-of-a-kind painting). 

And therein lies the problem: 

When you make a sale through Google Ads, it is Google’s job to try to recreate that cycle. It’s a learning machine!

But because single products can only sell once, Google has no way to recreate that process. 

So, Google uses GTINs to identify and categorize products. But when you sell a one-off product (a single GTIN), that code disappears forever (bye, bye, valuable data).

Do you produce handmade products? 

Consider creating multiples of the same product-type (ceramic bowls, for example) and simply acknowledge that they might vary slightly in design due to the nature of handmade products.

Your first sale is always your most expensive in Google Ads. You don’t want every sale to be your first.

Now, assuming you have all six must-haves in order, here are five important—but not imperative—items to consider:

  1. Multiple SKUs
  2.  Product Financing
  3. Strong Lifetime Value
  4. Lifestyle Imagery
  5. Existing Purchase Traffic

Let’s explain:

  1. Multiple SKUs

Multiple SKUs for “like” products are ideal.

Here’s what we mean:

If a customer says, I need Product A.

And you not only have Product A—but you have 10,000 versions of it (different colors or designs), your customer is much more likely to purchase more than one; thus your average cart value will increase. 

  1.  Product Financing

New product financing payment options, like Affirm and QuadPay, have made it so customers can make smaller payments over several weeks as opposed to one large payment up front. 

These options have led to a big jump in purchases and cart value, particularly among higher-priced product sellers. The best part? You get paid the full amount upfront!

Add product financing options to your site if you can.

  1. Strong Lifetime Value

Knowing what your real-time value is per customer and how many purchases they make within a year on average allows you to set lower targets for your ROAS goal and higher targets for your CPAs. This means you can scale quickly and grow your business faster. 

For example, if you have an average cart value of $100 but customers generally purchase three times over 12 months, your average cart value becomes $300.

  1. Lifestyle Imagery

We’ll touch on this more soon, but lifestyle imagery (i.e. images of your product “in action” and being used by real-life people) allows your customers to really visualize themselves using your product.

  1. Existing Purchase Traffic

If you have existing traffic (from social media or email lists, for example), Google uses this information to identify what those people look like and find matches in their own ecosystem/user base. 

In other words, instead of starting from scratch, existing traffic gives Google some notes to get going.

Ecommerce Business Planning: Offer Design

Who’s your customer? 

Can you describe your product to a stranger?

…Did I lose you for a minute there? 

Look, this is the part where we make you backtrack a little bit (in order to launch full speed ahead). 

And it’s easy for most businesses to skip this “offer design” section because they assume this box has been done and dusted for a long time.

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But before spending precious dollars on advertising online, let’s make sure you can define: 

  1. Your target audience
  2. How your product makes customers feel 
  3. And what makes your unique brand stand out amongst the competition

Here’s how:

✔️ Define Your Customer Avatar 

Use this worksheet to identify your customer avatar (and who is NOT your customer avatar). The questions in the worksheet help you get in the mind of the customer. 

✔️  DigitalMarketer’s “Before and After Grid”
Once you’ve defined your customer avatar(s), it’s time to consider the transformation they make when purchasing your product. After all, customers don’t buy products—they buy feelings, results, and solutions.  

DigitalMarketer has a phenomenal “before and after” worksheet that you can download here

Make a copy and fill it out with your customers in mind, including: 

  • What your customer has (or doesn’t have) before buying your product—and what they gain once they do.
  • How they feel before your product—and how they feel after
  • What an average day looks like before your product—and an average day after  

✔️ Brand Development

How does your company make people feel? 

If marketing is what makes people buy, brand is what makes people stay–even if there are other products available.

And if you do all the things above, you’ll have the perfect foundation for a strong brand. 

Next, Optimize Your Existing Products

Let’s make sure your products and offers are as value-driven as possible. There are three ways to achieve this:

  1. Increase Actual Value

We’re not talking about raising the price of your products here.

Instead, we’re talking about how you can get customers to buy more from you. There are several ways to achieve this:

Bundles! If you have two products that usually go together, offer a bundle for a discounted price. You increase the value the customer receives but you also increase your profitability.

Sure, the price is “discounted,” but you’re saving money on shipping and fulfillment while increasing your cart value. 

Subscriptions! For consumable products (or any other products that can be purchased consistently) consider offering a subscription-based model, which ensures recurring purchases. 

We have seen first-hand that some subscription models have the same cost-per-acquisition as a one-off purchase.

One-click upsell!

When a customer is checking out, offer products that can be easily added to their cart with one click.

  1. Increase Perceived Value

Don’t underestimate the power of descriptions and images. 

Here’s the thing: online shoppers are at a disadvantage because they can’t tangibly see and feel products like they would in a physical store. However, this can be a big opportunity for you to stand out.

Give your viewer a full virtual experience of your product: describe the benefits of your products, not just the features. Show your product in action with lifestyle imagery, so users can visualize themselves using it. Explanation of the product in a clear, easy to understand way.

Perceived value is more valuable than the actual value. 

The perceived value is the reason they buy.

  1.  Fringe Benefits

Similarly, consider any additional creative ways you can add value (and perceived value) to your products. This can be in the form of additional content (think product demos, how-to videos, and tutorials), building a community around your product via social media and forum, or early access.

Ascension Models and Value Optimization

Once you start pulling in more customers and sales, here are a few ways to optimize your growth:

✔️ Never stop selling
It has been proven (with science!) that humans are in a different state of mind when they make a purchase than when they evaluate whether they want to purchase.

Customers are likely to buy another product immediately after purchasing something else because they are in a “buying” state. 

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Take advantage of that buying window!

Give customers multiple opportunities to ascend and add products based off of their initial purchase.

✔️ Order bumps

This is along the same vein, but it bears repeating:

Order bumps are options to add additional products to your cart and they work.

A great way to do this is through the Frequently Bought Together app on Shopify

✔️ Build your email list / email marketing
When it comes to eCommerce, email has the potential to bring in more money than any other marketing channel. 

Truthfully, you don’t want to spend a lot on paid traffic forever (a la Google Ads)! And email marketing is one of the most affordable marketing channels available.

Need to pull in more email addresses from your audience?

Capture contact details using value-driven content that is applicable to your offer (e.g. how-tos, guides, checklists).

Check out Digital Marketer’s Guide to Email Marketing (for ecommerce)

✔️  Repeat and/or recurring customers
It is more expensive to acquire new customers than to sell to current customers. Capitalize on this.

✔️ Build social proof
Customers buy from brands they trust. Social proof has the power to bring in new customers—so be sure to continue building social proof and showcase it on your site.
Don’t be afraid to ask your customers for testimonials and reviews.

Finally: Choosing a Product / Niche

As a precursor, we want to make this clear: be true to your brand. Protect your brand. Don’t change lanes simply because of a flimsy trend. 

That said, you can make some pretty savvy and informed decisions by doing some research on the recent market trends—and when possible, use this information to optimize the products you offer to meet these trending needs.  

Here’s how:

✔️ Rising Retail Categories
Think with Google’s Rising Retail Categories is one of the industry’s best kept secrets. You can use this interactive tool to “understand fast-rising retail categories in Google Search, the locations where they’re growing, and the queries associated with them.”

✔️  Google Trends
Make use of Google Trends; this is a great way to identify trends from a volume/search perspective.

Got Your Prerequisites Locked In? 

Impressive.

Next time I pop in, we’ll talk about setting up your foundation (i.e. your website!) to ensure the highest likelihood of success with your campaigns.

This will include website CRO best practices, product preparation, media, and live chat features. 

But if you’re feeling eager, you can check out this Google Ads Mastery Workshop that has you covered.

Or, you can check out my entire step-by-step guide to Google Ads for eCommerce here.


Kasim Aslam

Kasim Aslam is the founder and CEO of Solutions 8, one of the world’s top ranked Google Ads agencies.

Recipient of the Arizona Interactive Marketing Association’s 2017 TIM Award for Person of the Year, Kasim was also named one of the Top 50 Digital Marketing Thought Leaders in the United States by The University of Missouri in 2020.

Kasim was hand-selected as the Traffic Coach for DigitalMarketer.com’s ELITE coaching program by their executive team. He is also the co-host of the long-running podcast, Perpetual Traffic.

His book, The 7 Critical Principles of Effective Digital Marketing, was featured as one of the Top 100 Digital Marketing Books of All Time by Book Authority.

Kasim helped launch the National Association of Child Helplines (NAACH) and worked with the United States Army, Intel, as well as a Gates Foundation-funded nonprofit, a 54,000 member PPO, the largest privately owned bank in the United States, and an Academy Award-contending documentary.

He lives in Scottsdale, Arizona with his wife and two sons.



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What is marketing automation?

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What is marketing automation?


Marketing automation software can improve marketing productivity and increase lead quality. Here’s what you need to know before adopting a marketing automation platform.

Marketing automation is the use of software and web-based services to execute, manage and automate repetitive marketing tasks and processes to more effectively market through multiple channels (i.e., email, mobile, social media, and websites). Marketing automation focuses on the definition, scheduling, segmentation and tracking of marketing campaigns, allowing the marketing and sales organizations to nurture leads with highly personalized content aimed at attracting and retaining customers.

Today, marketing automation is one of the core activities of a marketing department — whether for a small local business or a large consumer or B2B enterprise. But the platforms that power these activities continue to evolve.

Estimated reading time: 13 minutes



What is marketing automation?

Investments in marketing technology continue to be a priority for businesses across the board, as they strive to meet increased demands for personalization and a need to collect, authenticate and analyze rapidly increasing amounts of consumer data to improve the customer experience (CX). For B2B players, this often means using a marketing automation platform.

Most marketing automation solutions provide tools for email campaign development and execution (including landing pages), as well as lead capture, scoring and nurturing. The platforms also typically provide centralized marketing databases and a basic level of reporting on web traffic, visitor behavior and campaign results.

Combined, the core features offered by most marketing automation platforms profiled in this report include:

  • Email marketing and landing page development;
  • Lead management (i.e., capture, scoring and nurturing);
  • Native CRM integration; and
  • APIs or app marketplaces for faster martech system access.

The more basic functions of marketing automation have become somewhat commoditized, so platform vendors mostly look to differentiate their offerings based on the ability to scale (especially to new marketing channels), usability, ease of implementation and customer experience features. One area growing especially quickly involves the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning to suggest audiences or messaging.

Platform vendors are also looking to differentiate themselves by offering more support for increasingly sophisticated customers who have adopted the software and who are looking to justify the investment by proving ROI.

All of this means market is quickly evolving, as marketers demand integrated marketing functionality that rapidly translates into bottom-line return. Vendors continue to add more advanced features to provide marketing end-users with the ability to build, track and manage campaigns across channels and/or devices, and monitor the flow of leads as they move from marketing to sales.

These features include, but are not limited to:

  • Dynamic content generation (email, landing pages and/or website);
  • Email deliverability tools;
  • Account-based marketing (ABM);
  • Mobile marketing;
  • AI-based predictive analytics; and
  • Social/lead profile integration.

Dynamic content generation

Virtually all marketing automation platforms provide the ability to create, send and measure personalized email campaigns. Where they differ is in how email, landing page and website content created and personalized. Some vendors offer wizard-based campaign design or content templates, while others provide a more customized approach.

There are also differences in static vs. dynamically generated content, which adjusts on the fly as prospects interact with a website or form. Progressive profiling is often offered to pre-populate forms with known data and uses a drip approach to capture additional prospect information each time they interact with campaigns.

Message deliverability is also an important factor to consider. Some B2B marketing automation vendors offer dedicated IP addresses to improve deliverability, and/or monitor deliverability by including their own email deliverability services or those from partners. Email previewing is an advanced function but may be critical to marketers that want to reach their audience through mobile devices and see what their message will look like on smaller screens.

The market is quickly evolving, as modern marketers demand integrated marketing functionality that rapidly translates into bottom-line return.


New features are making marketing automation platforms more powerful than ever. Learn about trends and capabilities of marketing automation software in the latest edition of this MarTech Intelligence Report.

Click here to download!


Lead management

Lead management comprises three functions: lead capture, lead scoring and lead nurturing. Leads are captured from a variety of sources that feed the marketing automation database, including (but not limited to) website visitors, social media, paid digital campaigns, email marketing respondents, trade show attendees and purchased third-party lists. Tools will vary based on the ease with which additional lead sources can be captured, such as through an open API, or whether the software offers landing page optimization.

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Lead scoring assigns a value to each lead based on a predetermined set of rules or criteria. Traditional lead scoring models are generally based on two sets of data values: behavior (i.e., site purchases, browsing, social posts) and demographics/firmographics. Many digital marketing automation tools now offer predictive scoring driven by machine learning, which can incorporate hundreds of data points by sourcing websites, social networks and internal systems such as the CRM and marketing database itself to calculate scores.

Lead nurturing is the process of keeping prospects engaged with the brand through periodic, personalized communications or campaigns until they are ready to buy. Marketing automation software may offer a number of pre-built nurturing steps or actions, as well as allow users to customize their content and process. These efforts are meant to build a relationship between the brand and its prospects, and drive interaction with sales if and when the prospect is ready.

Predictive analytics

Virtually all of the marketing automation platforms profiled in this report provide a standard set of analytics that track quantifiable data such as website visitor activity, pages viewed, time spent on site, emails opened, content downloaded and campaign responses. More vendors are offering predictive analytics and models based on machine learning, which uses algorithms to process data and surface trends or insights that enable marketers to customize visitor experiences and marketing campaigns.

Several platforms have invested in artificial intelligence (AI) to go a step beyond machine learning and use technology to “mimic” human intelligence and recommend marketing actions or outcomes. These may include highly personalized website content or product recommendations based on analysis of consumption trends, on-site behavior, firmographics and CRM data. Other vendors rely on plug-and-play integration with predictive analytics tools to offer greater analytics and personalization capabilities.

Mobile marketing automation

Creating an engaging experience for mobile prospects and customers is a must-have capability. As a result, many B2B marketing automation software include responsive templates for email, landing pages and web forms. Several vendors integrate with email testing tools such as Litmus, to allow users to preview email marketing messages across email clients and devices.

More advanced mobile marketing features include SMS/texting, in-app marketing and remote platform management from mobile devices. In-app marketing features can include “push” notifications or ads based on geography (i.e., geo-fencing or beaconing) or during events. Marketing automation vendors have also expanded platform access to mobile users, moving beyond automated alerts and remote data collection to full platform management.

Most marketing automation software profiled in this report provide a standard set of analytics that track quantifiable data such as website visitor activity, pages viewed, time spent on site, emails opened, content downloaded and campaign responses.

Lead nurturing is the process of keeping prospects engaged with the brand through periodic, personalized communications or campaigns until they are ready to buy.

Account-based marketing (ABM)

Aligning marketing initiatives with sales teams has become a leading account-based marketing (ABM) priority for marketers. The goal is to target marketing programs to prospect or customer buying teams, rather than individuals (who may have moved into new positions or firms.) Most of the time, a B2B buyer is not a single person but a buying group. The larger the purchase, the more people and departments are involved. Marketing automation vendors continue to add new ABM features to their platforms to enable marketers to address the buying group as well as individual members, including enhanced account nurturing and predictive scoring capabilities.

Social/lead profile integration

Most of the B2B digital marketing automation vendors profiled in this report provide some level of social media publishing, sharing and tracking within the platform for networks such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn. Some platforms provide more advanced social media tools to monitor social posts and add social behavior to lead profiles, often using social engagement as a scoring factor. Other platforms enable the use of social media sign-on to capture social profile data and build lead profiles.

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Native CRM integration

With more businesses seeking to align marketing with sales, native or out-of-the-box integration with CRM systems has become a critical feature for marketing automation systems. Salesforce, Microsoft Dynamics 365, Oracle NetSuite and SugarCRM are some of the most commonly available connectors.

Data is synchronized between the two systems and shared in both directions at frequent intervals. For example, data that is added by a sales rep to an account record in the CRM will be automatically added to the record in the marketing automation tool for marketing end-users to view and act upon, as well.

Third-party software connectivity

B2B marketing automation vendors continue to open their platform architectures through APIs and app marketplaces to offer customers access to an expansive array of third-party software systems. The app marketplaces provide faster “plug-and-play” access between the systems, although there may be additional fees to purchase the marketplace apps.

If a preferred app is not available on a digital marketing automation vendor’s marketplace it doesn’t mean that the two systems won’t connect – it means that some customization will be required. API use does incur additional charges, generally on a per-call basis for each data download

Proactive recommendations based on AI

Martech vendors in many categories, including B2B marketing automation, are working to incorporate functionality that smooths the workflow for marketers using their software. One significant focus is providing users with proactive recommendations or suggestions for best next steps based on aggregated data and historical usage patterns.

Why do you need a marketing automation platform?

Marketers at companies of all sizes can gain these benefits from a marketing automation platform:

  • Increased marketing efficiency. Automating time-consuming, manual tasks around content creation, management and personalization; campaign scheduling and execution; data hygiene (i.e. duplicate or inconsistent data residing in various silos); communication with sales; and lead nurturing saves time and improves productivity.
  • Enhanced ability to generate more and better qualified leads. Marketing automation can combine multiple criteria, including demographic, firmographic and behavioral data (pages visited, downloads, filled out forms) with a lead scoring system to generate and identify sales-qualified leads.
  • A multichannel view of prospect behavior. Today’s digital marketing automation platforms are integrating multiple channels and devices – including social media and mobile — to create more comprehensive prospect profiles and holistic views of prospect behavior.
  • Better alignment of sales and marketing goals. Marketing automation software can help align sales and marketing efforts to ensure that sales reps are working with sales-ready leads. By working cooperatively to set scoring parameters and define qualified leads, sales and marketing become one team. Marketing works on building relationships with early stage leads to enable sales to focus their efforts on the most highly qualified prospects.
  • Improved lead conversion and ROI. Numerous studies have found that using a marketing automation system can increase conversions. Forrester found that B2B marketers implementing marketing automation experience a 10% increase in their sales-pipeline contribution. Marketing automation can result in a 15% increase in sales productivity as well as a 12% decrease in marketing overhead, according to tech research firm Nucleus Research.

Explore marketing automation solutions from vendors like Marketo, HubSpot, Salesforce and more in the full MarTech Intelligence Report on marketing automation platforms.

Click here to download!


The role of marketing automation platforms

In May of 2019, Forrester’s Laura Cross, VP and principal analyst for demand- and account-based marketing, speculated that MAPs have “not evolved to keep up with the needs of the modern demand marketer.” Indeed, marketing automation platforms are so well-established as to be rarely discussed. For example, it’s difficult to find independent projections on marketing automation spend, with the latest numbers from Forrester projecting global spend to reach $25.1 billion by 2023, up from $11.4 billion in 2017. However, that was published in April of 2018 as its Marketing Automation Technology Forecast, 2017-2023.

As of yet, though, there’s no sign of marketing automation platforms going extinct. However, companies in the MAP category expanding into areas like “multimedia marketing hubs” or “CRM lead management” or “account-based marketing.” Notably, marketing automation platforms had no spot at all on Gartner’s Hype Cycle for Digital Marketing, 2021. Could this be because it has already transitioned to what Gartner calls the “plateau of productivity”?

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Where marketing automation providers seem to be giving up a little bit of territory is from customer data plaforms, which are sometimes taking over the data management and audience segmentation tasks previously handled by MAPs.

At the same time, these CDPs also still feature integrations with marketing automation platforms because they still perform functions that other systems lack.

Will CDP’s replace marketing automation platforms?

The must-have, much-hyped customer data platform (CDP) appears to have its eyes on B2B marketers, promising to handle vast amounts of data to deliver highly-personalized customer experiences. 

Adobe’s Real-time CDP announced new features aimed at B2B brands in November 2020, which include a pre-built connector to its B2B Marketing Automation Platform, Marketo Engage. Dun & Bradstreet, with its D&B Lattice CDP, also understandably has a primarily B2B focus.

Though CDP platforms are still relatively new, adoption has been rapid and these tools could eventually pose a threat to marketing automation platforms as they provide some of the same tools and functionalities.

Who’s who in B2B Marketing Automation: The vendor landscape

The enterprise B2B marketing automation market is concentrated among a few cloud vendors, including Salesforce, Oracle and Adobe. Acquisitions by these players aimed at consolidating their positions at the top of the market have now been largely integrated.

Oracle made its acquisition of Eloqua in December 2012, becoming the first to add this capability to its offerings. Salesforce followed by adding Pardot in 2013 when it acquired ExactTarget, which had purchased Pardot the year before. The foundation of Adobe’s capabilities in the space is its 2018 purchase of rival marketing automation platform Marketo for $4.72 billion. It had previously bought Magento Commerce for $1.68 billion.

2019 saw a great deal of action in the space. The year saw Acoustic formed as a standalone company after IBM spun off its Watson Marketing operation. IBM’s Unica marketing automation platform went to HCL Technologies that year.

Among independent martech providers that year, we saw the acquisition of Mautic by open-source cloud platform Acquia for an undisclosed sum in May of 2019, only to have the parent purchased by Vista Partners in September for $1B. Also in May, SugarCRM picked up Salesfusion and re-branded it Sugar Market, in a deal in which terms were not publicly disclosed.

The pandemic year of 2020 saw acquisitions of smaller players, for the most part. CRM company Pipedrive purchased Mailigen for an undisclosed sum in March of 2020. Facebook picked up Kustomer, largely described as a CRM firm but also boasting messaging automation functionality, in November 2020 for a reported $1 billion.

December 2020 saw marketing automation/attribution player Springbot acquire Matcha, giving it content management capabilities. Meanwhile, Thryv Holdings acquired Melbourne, Australia-based Sensis in March 2020, rebranding it as Thryv in September 2021.

Date Transactions
2021 – Maropost acquires e-commerce platform Neto in March 2021 for $60M plus additional consideration,
subsequently rebranding the platform Maropost Commerce Cloud.

– Constant Contact purchases SharpSpring for $240M, adding to its stable of offerings for SMBs.

– ActiveCampaign raises $240M in Series C funding that values it at more than $3B, following a 2020 round of $100M. The company says it plans to invest in product development, expansion and building its partner ecosystem.

2020 – Springbot buys Matcha. Deal terms weren’t disclosed.

– Facebook acquires Kustomer for a reported $1B.

– Pipedrive buys Mailigen for an undisclosed sum. Thryv Holdings buys Sensis for $200M,
later rebranding it as Thryv.

2019 – Acquia acquires Mautic (terms not disclosed). Vista Equity Partners later (Sept 2019) buys Acquia for $1B

– SugarCRM buys Salesfusion (undisclosed amount); rebrands it to Sugar Market. The acquisition followed the company’s buy of Collabspot and preceded its purchase of Corvana. These units are now called Sugar Connect and Sugar Discover, respectively.

– Mailchimp acquires Sawa (undisclosed sum)

– Infusionsoft rebrands as Keap; launches CRM

– j2Global acquires iContact for $49M

2018 – Salesforce acquires Rebel (undisclosed sum)

– Infusionsoft (now known as Keap) secures $20M in Series E funding led by ORIX USA Corp.

– Adobe acquires Marketo for $4.75B

Salesforce acquires Datorama for $800M

– Adobe acquires Magneto Commerce for $1.68B

– Salesforce acquires Mulesoft $6.5B and CloudCraze (undisclosed sum)

Source: Third Door Media, Crunchbase

There will likely be more acquisitions and positioning shifts to come, as marketing automation capabilities are combined with categories like CRM, lead management and campaign automation.

The consolidation kept coming in 2021, with Maropost acquiring e-commerce platform Neto in March 2021 for $60M plus additional consideration, subsequently rebranding the platform Maropost Commerce Cloud. In September, Constant Contact purchased SharpSpring, adding to its stable of offerings for SMBs.

Get the in-depth scoop on B2B Marketing Automation in our buyer’s guide. Download it now!

 


About The Author

Pamela Parker is Research Director at Third Door Media’s Content Studio, where she produces MarTech Intelligence Reports and other in-depth content for digital marketers in conjunction with Search Engine Land and MarTech. Prior to taking on this role at TDM, she served as Content Manager, Senior Editor and Executive Features Editor. Parker is a well-respected authority on digital marketing, having reported and written on the subject since its beginning. She’s a former managing editor of ClickZ and has also worked on the business side helping independent publishers monetize their sites at Federated Media Publishing. Parker earned a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University.



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What is a customer data platform (CDP) and why do marketers need one?

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What is a customer data platform (CDP) and why do marketers need one?


A customer data platform, usually called a CDP, is a marketer-managed system designed to collect customer data from all sources, normalize it and build unique, unified profiles of each individual customer. The result is a persistent, unified customer database that shares data with other marketing technology systems.

The idea of a single view of the customer has been on marketers’ wish lists for years. But disruption caused by the global COVID-19 pandemic has raised interest in precisely the types of solutions that CDPs deliver, which includes that single-view of the customer. With pandemic concerns spurring the movement of customer interactions – both B2B and B2C – to digital channels, marketers are increasingly interested in technologies that collect data from those interactions, unify them, deliver insights and enable campaign orchestration.

CDPs enable marketers to create a single view of the customer by gathering data from software deployed
throughout the organization. High expectations, along with the proliferation of possible customer touchpoints, make cross-device IDs and identity resolution — the ability to consolidate and normalize disparate sets of data collected across multiple touchpoints into an individual profile that represents the customer or prospect — critical for helping marketers, sales and service professionals deliver the ideal total customer experience. CDPs offer this consolidation and normalization and also make the data profiles freely available to other systems that deliver campaigns, webpages and other interactions.



What is a customer data platform (CDPs)?

As the marketer appetite for CDPs has grown, existing companies with various backgrounds — from tag management to analytics to data management — have seen the opportunity and refashioned themselves in the CDP mold. Meanwhile, others have started up with the CDP category in mind from the start, and some well-established players have responded to market pressure and developed a CDP capability.

A CDP is not a CRM, DMP or marketing automation platform. A CDP provides a unified, persistent customer database that provides data transparency and granularity at the known, individual level. A CDP can identify customers from many different data sources by stitching together information under a unique, individual identifier. The CDP then stores its own copy of the data.

CDPs also give marketers control over customer data collection, segmentation and orchestration through native (out-of-the-box) integration that minimizes the need for IT or developer involvement. And lastly, CDPs offers data integration of both known and anonymous customer data with any external source or platform, including CRM, point of sale (POS), mobile, transactional, website, email and marketing automation.

We support the CDP Institute’s definition of a “RealCDP,” which requires it be able to do the following five things:

  • Ingest data from any source.
  • Capture full detail of ingested data.
  • Store ingested data indefinitely (subject to privacy constraints).
  • Create unified profiles of identified individuals.
  • Share data with any system that needs it.

Virtually all of the CDP vendors that meet that criteria provide the following core capabilities:

  • Data management (collect, normalize and unify customer data in a persistent database),
    often after IDs have been matched by other systems.
  • Features designed for use by the marketing organization and other departments, without the
    aid of IT or data science resources. (Though some functions, like building connections to other
    platforms and performing sophisticated data modeling, still require additional resources.)
  • Connections to and from all external systems on a vendor-neutral basis.
  • Structured and unstructured data management.
  • Online and offline data management.
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CDP vendors differentiate by offering more advanced capabilities that include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Native identity resolution to stitch customer data snippets from disparate sources.
  • The number and breadth of robust pre-built connectors to other martech systems. The near-universal availability of APIs means connections are always possible (with more or less developer involvement), but offering pre-built, tested integrations adds value.
  • User interface (UI). The vendors differ in the user-friendliness of their interfaces and the methods people use to do things like create segments, view profiles, etc.
  • Analytics, including those powered by machine learning and artificial intelligence, that surface insights, enable journey mapping, audience segmentation and predictive modeling.
  • Orchestration for personalized messaging, dynamic interactions and product/content recommendations.
  • Compliance with vertical industry and international data regulations.

Now, let’s look at the key considerations involved in choosing a CDP.

Customer data management

Data collection and maintenance is a core CDP customer data management platform function. All CDPs provide a central database that collects and integrates personally identifiable customer data across the enterprise.cFrom there, however, CDPs vary in their abilities to manage the following:

  • Data ingestion capabilities: CDPs use various mechanisms to ingest the data that goes into the unified customer profile — mobile SDKs, APIs, Webhooks or built-in connectors to other platforms. Identity resolution: The platform “stitches” together customer data points, such as email addresses, phone numbers, first-party cookies and purchase data, from various channels matching them to create a single customer profile.
  • Identity resolution: The platform “stitches” together customer data points, such as email addresses, phone numbers, first-party cookies and purchase data, from various channels matching them to create a single customer profile. Some players partner with other providers for this capability, while others have their own systems.
  • Online/offline data: The platform leverages identity resolution or an identity graph to stitch together behaviors in order to create a unified profile.
  • Data hygiene: The platform enables users to clean and standardize customer records.
  • Structured/unstructured data: CDPs differ in their capabilities to manage unstructured data (i.e., social media feeds, product photos, barcodes), which may comprise up to 80% of all data by 2025, according to IDG.

The importance of each of these data management capabilities will depend on a particular organization’s business goals, and whether it has a significant mobile presence, direct mail budget or brick-and-mortar stores and/or agents.

Analytics

CDP vendors offer data analytics capabilities that can do some or all of the following: allow marketing end-users to define and create customer segments, track customers across channels and glean insights into customer interest and intent from customer behavior and trends.

The functionality provided can include predictive models, revenue attribution and journey mapping. To one extent or another, many of these capabilities may utilize machine learning or artificial intelligence to surface insights about audiences and proactively offer suggestions about the best next step to move a prospect through their purchase journey.

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Orchestration

A select group of CDPs provide campaign management and customer journey orchestration features that enable personalized messaging, dynamic web and email content recommendations, as well as campaigns that trigger targeted ads across multiple channels.

The customer data platform often automates the distribution of marketer-created customer segments on a user-defined schedule to external martech systems such as marketing automation platforms, email service providers (ESPs), or web content management systems for campaign execution.

For example, the CDP could deliver targeted content to a web visitor during a live interaction. To do this, the CDP must accept input about visitor behavior from the customer-facing system, find the customer profile within its database, select the appropriate content and send the results back to the customer-facing system. A customer data platform may also facilitate digital advertising through an audience API that sends customer lists from the CDP to systems (i.e., DMP, DSP, ad exchange) that will use them as advertising audiences.

Data regulation compliance

CDP vendors vary in the support they provide for compliance with the wide range of vertical market and international regulations that safeguard customer data privacy. Some build compliance features into their platforms, while others rely on outside systems. The European Union’s GDPR was implemented in May 2018 and impacts all U.S. marketers and data firms handling European data or serving customers in the EU. Brands marketing to Canadian consumers through email must also comply with the country’s CASL (Canada Anti-Spam
Legislation). Meanwhile, the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) went into effect in January of 2020.

Marketers in the highly regulated healthcare market must follow HIPAA and HITECH regulations. In addition, all organizations that accept, process, store or transmit credit card information must maintain a secure environment that meets Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards (PCI DSS), as well.

Third-party systems integration

CDPs streamline integration of customer data by providing out-of-the-box (or native) connectors for many martech systems, including CRMs, DMPs, marketing automation platforms, DSPs, and campaign analytics and testing tools. Most marketing organizations have assembled a marketing stack that contains many of these types of platforms. But integrating the data that resides in the martech ecosystem is a huge challenge — one that costs U.S. brands millions of dollars annually. The majority of CDPs profiled in this report also provide at least a basic API to enable custom integrations.


Explore platform capabilities from vendors like Blueconic, Tealium, Treasure Data and more in the full MarTech Intelligence Report on customer data platforms.

Click here to download!


What are the benefits of using a CDP?

Marketing executives today are in charge of dozens of martech applications to manage, analyze and act on a growing volume of first-party customer data. But despite increasing efficiency, the emerging martech ecosystem has created problems with data redundancy, accuracy and integration.

Automating customer data accuracy and integration through a CDP can provide numerous benefits to marketers and to other functions across the enterprise.

These include the following:

Expanded enterprise collaboration. A CDP fosters cooperation among siloed groups because it gathers data from throughout the enterprise and supports customer interactions across many touchpoints. The unification of data allows enterprises to see how strategies for audience, customer experience and execution all fit together – and enables audience portability to ensure a more consistent, informed customer experience.

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Improved data accessibility. A CDP is a centralized hub that collects and houses customer data from every corner of the enterprise. Pieces of data are normalized and stitched together to build unique, unified profiles of each individual customer. The result is a persistent customer database whose main purpose is to gather and share data more easily and efficiently across the organization

Streamlined systems integration. A CDP unifies data systems across the enterprise, from marketing and customer service, to call centers and payment systems. By creating a single “system of record” for first-party customer data, data redundancies and errors can be minimized, and data can flow more quickly into — and out of — marketing automation platforms, email service providers (ESPs), CRMs and other martech systems.

Increased marketing efficiency. A CDP unifies individual data with unique IDs that create more robust customer records. Many manual tasks are also automated by the CDP, allowing marketers to focus on the creative and analytical tasks they are trained for. The result is more accurate modeling, targeting and personalization in marketing campaigns, and more relevant customer experiences with the brand across channels.

Faster marketing velocity. In many cases, CDPs are “owned” by marketing, minimizing the need for IT or developer intervention to collect, analyze and act upon data. With control in marketers’ hands, the time to segment and build audiences, execute campaigns and analyze results significantly decreases. That said, engineers may still be needed to perform deep data analysis and facilitate integrations. This is especially true as CDPs extend beyond marketing and into sales and service functions.

Stronger regulatory compliance. A CDP creates greater internal control over customer data, streamlining data governance to comply with the many regulations now impacting brands worldwide. Marketers in the healthcare industry must comply with both HIPAA and HITECH regulations. Businesses that handle European data or serve customers in the EU must also comply with GDPR and those dealing with Californians must deal with CCPA
(California Consumer Privacy Act). The majority of CDP vendors are both ISO and SOC certified for best practices in handling personally identifiable information (PII).


About The Author

Pamela Parker is Research Director at Third Door Media’s Content Studio, where she produces MarTech Intelligence Reports and other in-depth content for digital marketers in conjunction with Search Engine Land and MarTech. Prior to taking on this role at TDM, she served as Content Manager, Senior Editor and Executive Features Editor. Parker is a well-respected authority on digital marketing, having reported and written on the subject since its beginning. She’s a former managing editor of ClickZ and has also worked on the business side helping independent publishers monetize their sites at Federated Media Publishing. Parker earned a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University.



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Real Story on MarTech: Beware of vendor bullying

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Real Story on MarTech: Beware of vendor bullying


Let’s say you work in martech for a large, well-known enterprise. It’s a global firm, a recognized brand. Ideally, you’d want to follow a structured, test-based approach for how you bring new technology into the enterprise, and you’d expect participating vendors to follow your lead in the vetting process — out of respect, if nothing else.

Well, reality can prove itself quite different. In Real Story Group’s role as a buyer’s advocate for martech stack leaders, we’ve noticed a recurring trend where larger software companies often disrupt well-reasoned martech selection strategies through aggressive and frequently questionable tactics.

Of course, none of this is new, and perhaps vendor bullying today is more subtle than in years past — but it remains just as persistent.

A typical scenario

Imagine this scenario: You and your team go through a proper technology selection process. You do everything right. Your team comes to an educated consensus decision. Based on empirical testing, you are on the verge of selecting a platform not sold by one of the big vendors.  However, these big vendors are aggressive, publicly-traded companies, not used to getting turned down.

So they approach a board member or senior exec at your firm, trying for an end-around your process. Unfortunately, there’s a long history in software sales of “selling up the chain.”  Back in the day, this meant deals on the golf course; more recently, it’s cajoling over lunch, at executive councils, and boardroom get-togethers.

Now it might seem anachronistic to talk about a supplier bullying a customer. As the buyer, don’t you have power in this situation? But that’s just the point. Large martech vendors employ specific methods to disempower enterprise selection teams.

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How it works

Here’s what I often see:

  1. High-ranking executives from the major software vendor demand a meeting with your boss’s boss or a C-level executive. Given that this vendor may work with other parts of your enterprise and everyone wants to maintain this relationship, they typically get the meeting. Or they have already networked with your leadership at industry events.
  2. The vendor touts traditional, one-size-fits-all analyst rankings to prove they are “a leader.” If you select anyone other than a leader, it means a risk to the customer’s business (and, by implication, valuations and careers).
  3. They belittle the enterprise selection team: “They’re not strategically thinking like you need to do…”
  4. They belittle the selection process: “They got lost in the weeds and focused too much on functionality.” (This is a particularly ugly allegation because the most bully-prone vendors tend to carry the most technical debt, so they often want to avoid test-based selection processes.)

If all else fails, the vendor may dramatically slash their pricing at the last minute as a defensive move or even give something away cheaply or for free. This isn’t exactly bullying, but it warps the process for sure. Just remember, technology is never truly free.

A tale of two enterprises

Recently, I’ve witnessed two dramatically different outcomes to these tactics taken by one of the most notorious of these vendors. (If you’re an RSG subscriber, contact me to hear the gory details.)

The vendor bullied Enterprise #1 into selecting an ill-fitting solution against the wishes of an interdepartmental selection team, persuading a senior executive sponsor that only that vendor’s array of platform offerings would prove robust enough. The implementation was so difficult and expensive that it did not launch after two years. They’re now engaged in a multi-million dollar lawsuit.

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Enterprise #2 said no to the same bully. The alternative system they selected has recently launched, and while no technology is perfect, the reception has been positive so far. The losing vendor’s calls and threats haven’t stopped completely. But when questions come from upper management, because the process was grounded in user-centered design thinking, the activation team can prove that their choice will lead to the best adoption and drive better business value.

Ultimately the fate of your enterprise is often going to depend on the strength of your leadership and, by extension, your ability to connect your decision to strategic business objectives. If you can cast your decision in terms of key metrics you’re trying to move, it becomes less susceptible to outside manipulation.

What you should do

First, recognize that often the biggest martech vendors carry the biggest risks.  That doesn’t mean you should avoid the über-players in these markets, but it does mean you have to prepare for them to try to bulldoze over you should you not tip things their way.

Since the bullying is real – and so are the long-term consequences of making bad technology decisions – you need to give your team and leadership the ammunition to push back. Let me know if I can help. In the meantime, feel free to share your experience with this phenomenon via the hashtag #VendorBullied on LinkedIn or Twitter.

Real Story on MarTech is presented through a partnership between MarTech and Real Story Group, a vendor-agnostic research and advisory organization that helps enterprises make better marketing technology stack and platform selection decisions.


Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily MarTech. Staff authors are listed here.


About The Author

Jarrod Gingras is Managing Director and Analyst at Real Story Group, a customer-focused technology analyst firm. Jarrod specializes in DAM and Content Technologies, as well as helping large enterprises make good decisions around martech of all kinds. Twitter: @jarrodgingras LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jarrodgingras/

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