What is “intelligent marketing?”

Most marketers, me included, want to believe they are intelligent. But for the purposes of this article, “intelligence” will have more to do with approach and process than intellectual capacity.

Let me state my biases right upfront: I’m a data geek.

As the founder and president of ASTECH InterMedia and, more recently, the managing partner of Leap Media Solutions, I have long espoused the conviction that the industry’s future will be chiefly determined not by how much we can charge for our paid content initiatives, but by the knowledge we have of our customers — and our customers’ customers. And as part of the ownership group of a Colorado publishing company, that conviction has only grown stronger.

That is not to say that consumer monetisation efforts and new product development are unimportant; indeed they are essential. But those initiatives — and most others — will only succeed if they deliver value to our intended audiences.

And the dominant variable in the value equation is relevance.

Our ability to be relevant is driven by customer knowledge — knowledge that is garnered, enhanced, and applied through intelligent marketing. Such knowledge facilitates the creation, promotion, and delivery of content and offers that are valued by audiences because they are relevant.

So, back to the original question: What is “intelligent marketing?”

The answer is not a simple one. Intelligent marketing is both a journey and a destination. It is a process and an outcome. It is a strategy and an objective.

Let’s start with defining the endgame: the destination, the outcome, the objective.

In the simplest, most idealistic of terms, intelligent marketing is the state in which all communications are customised and targeted based on customer knowledge — and delivered via the channel of customer preference at a time likely to provoke the desired response. That is the euphoric state of absolute relevance.

Obviously, attainment of that state — or anything close to it — requires a level of customer intimacy that can only be achieved through a thoughtful, comprehensive strategy or process that is intended build the company’s knowledge of its customers and those of its advertisers.

This is the process of intelligent marketing.

The process is driven by an ecosystem that includes data, technology, automation, content, expertise, and more. This process integrates and optimises activities designed to, among other things, build and engage audiences, prioritise content development initiatives, nurture new revenue streams through targeted delivery of advertiser communications.

This article is primarily about putting that process in place.

At the recently concluded INMA Audience Summit in Las Vegas, I had the opportunity to share one company’s journey of — and to — intelligent marketing. The company, the Erie Times-News, has made significant inroads in transforming its business over the past 12 months.

But metrics can’t really tell the story of 12 months. Let’s revisit Erie a year from now.

For this article, I’m going to talk about a newspaper whose journey began almost three years ago.

Let me tease you with some results. 

In the first two years of its intelligent marketing initiative, this company grew consumer revenues by nearly 12%. Revenue per “member” has grown from US$219 in 2010 to US$253 today. In these past three years, the number of registered users has grown 290%. And 52-week retention has increased from 30% to 50%.

The Day Publishing Company (New London, CT) has been the subject of several articles focusing on industry best practices — and the recipient of numerous industry awards — since it began its intelligent marketing journey in January 2011.

It may seem as though this story has been told many times. But those stories have largely documented the destination rather than the journey. Here, let’s center on six key components of the intelligent marketing process that have driven these enviable results — and made The Day a model for industry transformation.

Step 1: Discovery and plan development.

We all need a plan.

A plan simply provides the turn-by-turn directions for the journey to our destination. As such, it affords us with benchmarks and signposts along the way. The plan compels us to be disciplined in our execution — and to continuously monitor our progress. Most importantly, a plan ensures accountability.

For The Day, the intelligent marketing plan is built annually and adjusted on a quarterly basis to allow flexibility in product development, creative executions, and other variable factors. It is based on updated inventories of data and technology resources, product profiles, rate cards, creative assets, skill sets, etc. — and includes comprehensive analytics, such as sales-channel performance over the past three years.     

First and foremost, that plan incorporates explicit investments by period, by channel, and by objective — and documents the expected return on each of those investments. Thus, The Day maintains specific benchmarks (explained in this chart) that enable the optimal management of plan execution.

Step 2: Implementation of customer intelligence platform. 

The Day’s customer intelligence platform is a critical strategic asset.

Unlike some of its peers that view such a platform as the goal — and thus fail in their execution — The Day sees the marketing database system as a means to an end. It is an asset that is leveraged to support every element of the company’s strategic transformation: from audience growth and monetisation, to new revenue through merchant-based target marketing services, to product development and promotion, and more.

Step 3: Targeted growth model segmentation.

The Day’s audience development curriculum incorporates three integrated but distinct components: 

  • Acquisition.

  • Customer lifecycle management.

  • Engagement.

The acquisition component of this curriculum is based on a rigorous analytical process characterised as the “Targeted Growth Model” (TGM). This approach is driven by the simple premise that high-opportunity growth segments can be identified and targeted based on a variety of meaningful criteria, including geography, demography, lifestyle attributes, transactional behaviour, and channel preferences.

Resource investments are subsequently allocated to those segments demonstrating maximum potential for growth and profitability.

Step 4: Campaign curricula design and automation.

The Day has been an attentive observer of industry best practices in audience and revenue development. Its attentiveness has enabled it to embrace those best practices — and to tailor them to its own specific transformational requirements.

These best practices have been manifested in the design of The Day’s campaign curricula for audience acquisition, customer lifecycle management, and engagement. 

All campaigns have been automated within the company’s marketing system, ensuring timeliness and accuracy by eliminating manual intervention.

In addition to the acquisition and retention campaigns outlined in this table, The Day has implemented a comprehensive e-mail marketing agenda designed to (1) stimulate engagement with the company’s content, and (2) promote participation in The Day’s “Passport Rewards” membership programme.

Step 5: Multi-channel campaign executions.

For The Day, output from the campaign management process — including targeted lists segmented by channel, timing, offer, creative, etc. — delivers improved marketing performance by:

  1. Enhancing the effectiveness of current programme initiatives through segmentation and targeting.

  2. Optimising response through channel integration.

  3. Introducing new processes demonstrating significant potential.

The intelligent marketing process ensures that every element of The Day’s audience marketing communications — regardless of platform — is informed by the marketing database.

This, of course, includes personalisation based on name and address, but also includes offer, creative treatment, and channel based on Targeted Growth Model criteria, transactional behaviour, and date triggers.

Step 6: Reporting and continuous improvement.

Intelligent marketing is a closed-loop process. That is, performance against plan is continually tested and monitored so that processes can be fine-tuned to ensure optimal performance. A true closed-loop marketing process is one of continuous improvement.

In addition to the standard metrics (such as starts by source, subscribers/members by term, expire inventory, EZ Pay enrollment, etc.), some of the key performance indicators tracked by The Day on a weekly, monthly, and quarterly basis include:

  • Campaign response by TGM segment.

  • Campaign response by channel.

  • Channel retention.

  • Channel ROI.

  • Campaign response by membership tier.

And because The Day is a member of a coalition of publishers that collaborate to implement an intelligent marketing framework by sharing costs, best practices, and benchmarks, the company is able to consistently monitor its performance against its peers to ensure that its “best” practices indeed remain the best.

Conclusion

There is another chapter to this story.

Documentation of The Day’s data-driven approach to new revenue through target marketing services for the merchant community must be left to another day (pun intended). But I will give you a teaser … it is a good yarn.

For now, I will simply restate the conviction that the viability and vitality of our industry — including that of my little newspaper in Aurora, Colorado — depends upon our capacity to deliver value to our constituents through relevance.

Relevance is driven by customer knowledge. Intelligent marketing provides the framework for both harvesting that knowledge and transforming it into relevance.