Igniting Customer Connections

41+nmz+E1WL._SX333_BO1,204,203,200_

Perhaps the most daunting development in advertising – or whatever it is we’re calling what we do today – is the attempt by organizations to combine data with software with marketing. Not on an ad hoc, jam-it-in-the-presentation-somewhere basis, but on a structural, organizational level. Agencies buying data boutiques; Data centers buying ad shops; Enterprise software companies buying marketing companies to share space with number crunchers.

You can see the allure. “We have all this incredible information about our customers” scream the clients. “We know where they’ve come from, where they’re going, what they’re thinking when they do almost everything! Information like that should make the advertising you produce for us infinitely more precise, resonant, and therefore effective!” “Yes!” shout back the terrified agency principals. “It makes our briefs so much more insightful! And insight is at the core of what we do! It says so right on our website, on our business cards and on our t-shirts!”

The problem, however, is that we’re not just talking about three different companies with different cultures, histories, baggage and business models – though, of course, there’s that. We’re talking about three fundamentally different ways of thinking. The way you solve a data problem bears as little relation to the say you solve a software problem as the way you solve a software problem bears to the way you solve a marketing problem.

So it’s not just a matter of getting three companies to toe the same line and play nice; it’s about getting people together in a room who can’t even agree what the problem is, let alone how to solve it. Who probably, in their heart of hearts, think that the OTHER two morons in the room are the REAL problem, and that if they’d just shut up and let me do my job, we’d all be a lot happier and I could go home before midnight tonight.

As a result, of course, in spite of the billions of dollars spent and trillions of hours wasted, and the quintillions of pixels burned, nobody’s really been able to crack the code.

But that doesn’t stop people from trying, of course, which brings us, finally, to Andy Frawley’s Igniting Customer Connections. Frawley, President & CEO of Epsilon is no stranger to the struggle. Epsilon itself is a “global marketing company” that Forrester Research called “the best operations, technology and strategy and analytics services we’ve reviewed” and which is owned by, wait for it, data company Alliance Data.

Organized in three parts, Mr. Frawley first lays out his particular method for dealing with the new world we’re in, then backs up his thinking with some “specially commissioned research” and “exclusive interviews”, and then wraps it all up with a series of chapters he calls “fundamentals”.

To his credit, Mr. Frawley does show some surprising cross-industry insight for a data and tech guy. “Technology” he writes, “is only an enabler of change, not the change itself.” And elsewhere “As marketers we are often stuffed with data and stressed for insights.” And perhaps most surprisingly (because it’s so rarely said by anyone in the business) “Because measurement in itself isn’t helpful. It’s what you do with what you learn that really matters”.

At core is his focus on using the emotional experience of a consumer as the driving force for marketing – not, admittedly a new idea, but again, surprising from a tech and data guy “Many of the key drivers of business outcomes” he writes “correlate not to simple demographic or transactional attributes as in the past. They come from the emotional and experience side of the equation.” Which then leads him to “Experience creates emotion, and emotion is what makes an engagement meaningful” and ultimately:

“No amount of technology can match the time-tested smarts of an experienced marketer, a powerful executive vision, and the commitment of the entire marketing team – not to mention exceptional products and/or services. While technology may accelerate and enable the brain of your organization, people remain at its heart.”

And while none of this actually cracks the code, it shows that Mr. Frawley understands the nature of the battle he’s in, and has an open mind for the answers he doesn’t yet have.

And yet, much of the book feels like a repurposed new business/CMO luncheon presentation, augmented with fairly formulaic interviews with past clients, and disappointingly bookended with boilerplate content at the end.

Eventually, of course, someone will figure this out. And they’ll make a ton of money. And then they’ll write a book about how they did it. And by that time, frankly, it will be too late for the rest of us.

Until then, we’ll have to make do with works like Mr. Frawley’s, and commend his efforts if not his results.

Igniting Customer Connections by Andy Frawley was published by Wiley on 10/27/2014 – order it from Amazon here, or Barnes & Noble here – or pick it up at your local bookseller (find one here).