"I feel the need…the need for speed!"

I’ve been watching trailers for the new Top Gun movie.

As a child of a certain generation, the sight of Maverick turning on the afterburners in his F-14, playing “friendly” volleyball on the beach with Goose, Iceman and Slider, and, despite himself, eventually coming out as the hero, holds fond memories.

Everything about Top Gun revolves around speed. It is sexy, dangerous and enticing.

It may seem a quantum leap, but it is really relevant to how marketing should operate. Maverick may be the hero, but Iceman is closer to how brands should behave towards the customer: fast, precise, consistent and on-mission.

"This is what I like to call a target-rich environment."

We’ve been hearing for a while that data is the new oil, and how you use data will be your competitive advantage. McKinsey was talking about this in 2011. And yet for most companies in 2019, this remains a dream that is impossible to reach.

For many, it’s unclear where they should start. Some begin with a big technology purchase – Gartner in its CMO Spend Survey 2018-19 estimating 30% of all marketing budgets go on new tech. Others hire data scientists hoping to discover the secret sauce missing from their marketing. These are solutions looking for problems. Unsurprisingly they rarely deliver the goods.

Too often, companies miss a crucial first step: defining what “digital competitive advantage” actually means for them. Forrester’s State of Insights-Driven Business Maturity, 2019, identified that fewer than 10% of firms have been able to sustain competitive advantage through data, as their strategy was poor.  

Therefore, we must define who our real competitor in digital is, and how we beat them.

In Top Gun, Maverick’s real competition wasn’t Iceman. It was Maverick himself. But it took him the entire movie to figure that out.

If only he’d done it at the start.

"I saw a MiG do a 4G negative dive."

Identifying your digital competitors, and how you beat them, begs two more strategic questions:

  • How can we provide exceptional value to our digital customers?
  • How does that either drive revenue or cost-efficiencies for our business?

The natural (and some might say the only) digital outcome from the former is a version of personalization. Having a one-to-one relationship in a bricks-and-mortar world is relatively easy - it can shape an entire relationship with a brand. In a hotel, for example, the check-in clerk can read the customer’s tense body language, hear the urgent tone of their voice, and so respond accordingly and provide a truly five-star customer experience.  

In a digital world, where you’re often guessing who a user is, let alone what their circumstances are, the only way to get close to this relationship is providing relevant content, offers or experiences, unique to your brand, based on what you can learn through the data they have given you.

This may allow you to have a value-based conversation, rather than a price-based one. If you, as a brand, can demonstrate value, the conversion levers aren’t just about offers and discounts. According to the Forbes article “Personalized Customer Experience Increases Revenue and Loyalty”, 40% of U.S. consumers say they have purchased something more expensive than they planned to because of personalized service.

For years, airlines have understood this. Business travelers value luxury perks over the ticket price – a separate check-in queue, air miles and access to a business lounge. The same traveler might be the most fickle deal hunter when it is their own money, but when it is the company’s, they become the biggest advocate of the most frill-packed Executive Club. The airline is selling on value. Instead of offering discounts for loyalty, they do the opposite and put the price UP.

This is the equivalent of a MiG doing a negative 4G dive – the opposite of the commonly-held belief in the marketing department of what is possible.

"Your ego is writing cheques your body can’t cash!"

This is where data as a competitive advantage starts to make sense.

Those who are collecting their own pool of clean, robust and genuinely insightful data, as well as building an architecture which allows them to use it across their channels, have the beginnings of competitive advantage.

However, even if your competitors are doing this, you still hold a unique position – the data you own no-one else does.

This is where I see companies who focus on building massive prospecting audiences, still using cookie-based media buying despite GDPR, and leveraging big pools of 3rd party data, are starting from the wrong point. Everybody else has access to this data too, so where is the competitive advantage in that? This data has its place, but it works best being driven by a clear picture of your audiences based on your unique view of your customers, and what would be valuable to them.

"I feel the need, the need, for speed."

Just owning this pool of data is not necessarily enough. What you quickly realize is that the thing that sets you apart from competitors is not just what you know about your customers, but how quickly, consistently and effectively you can act on that information. Be like Iceman.

The traditional view of audiences, based on a moment-in-time snapshot from a CRM database, is woefully inadequate in the digital world. Unless you’re an Amazon, Facebook, or Taobao the vast majority of your digital users will be anonymous. They come to your site, look around and leave, having never logged in.

The “secret sauce” is to create an architecture which allows you to do something intelligent with both this anonymous and known data as quickly as possible. As an example, Ancestry.com increased its reach to potential cart abandoners by 60% by leveraging real-time behavioral data to send a reminder email in under an hour. Effectiveness of re-engaging those same customers dropped to 5% after 24 hours, showing the importance of speed and action. This according to Tealium’s report “How Brands Can Leverage Customer Data Platforms to Create Timely, Relevant and Personalized Experiences.”

"You’re still dangerous… but you can be my wingman any time."

Therefore, defining who you’re competing against, and why, aligned with the platforms and processes that will allow you to spot behaviors, interpret what they mean at the moment that a customer is in, enabling you to provide something valuable, will help you come out on top.

Incidentally, this is where AI will give you an additional competitive advantage. AI gives you speed a human couldn’t – preferably within tenths of a second so that the experience platform can respond fast enough to convince the visitor to buy before they decide to buy from your sworn competitor.

Getting to this will allow you to be the Top Gun, not the wingman. Think Maverick, market like Iceman!

Patrick Milburn, managing director, Hong Kong at Mezzo Labs contributed to this article.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of CDOTrends.