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The rapid evolution of technology has forced marketing to constantly adapt its strategies to stay one step ahead. The need for fresh, innovative ways of reaching customers and maximising return on investment is clear, but in such a fast-moving market the opportunities presented by technology can seem endless.
Using mobile, digital and online channels, as well as in-store technology, has become essential, as has having a 360-degree view of the consumer base when deciding which channels to use for a product or service.
In recent years, web 2.0 has allowed businesses to extend their reach, but mobile in general, and WAP technology in particular, is still some way behind, as Carey Bunks, head of product and technology development at Yell.com, points out. 'Trying to get information on your mobile can be quite painful and takes a lot of time because websites are built for PCs and not mobile-phone browsers,' he says. Getting through to potential customers via WAP, then, can often involve wasted effort on both sides.
However, there are tools to make the customer experience more effective through specific WAP-built applications. 'Having an application that auto-completes search words as you type them in, or saving information onto your phone, are ways in which specialised applications can improve the user experience by making input and the consumption of output more user-friendly or ergonomic,' adds Bunks.
Tapping into the buzz
Search engines are another powerful tool. According to Richard Clark, pureplay marketing manager of DSGi, they can 'help gauge reputation management and buzz metrics, finding out what the web is saying about you, negatively or positively'.
'We are looking to use a piece of software at Dixons called "market sentinel", which allows us to identify and gauge the views of opinion leaders, and takes into account forums, live chat and a whole raft of user generated content areas,' he adds. 'All of that, to a varying degree, determines where you rank in search engine results.'
With the use of social networking sites such as Facebook booming, marketers are now harnessing their reach to address consumers on a different level. 'Social networking has become a valuable way of getting feedback from customers. It has become part of our daily routine, and our marketing plans,' says Daniel Kerzner, regional director of online marketing at Starwood Hotels.
Starwood has developed a website that uses footage from a network of webcams that capture the views from its hotels. 'The landscape of digital marketing has changed dramatically,' adds Kerzner. 'With websites like TripAdvisor and the rise in digital and online channels, the web is critical to reaching key audiences that can no longer be accessed through traditional marketing channels. Our site shows customers an experience that is not solely about the product.'
When using developing technologies, it is essential that the customer is offered an alternative experience. 'Integrating the latest technologies is important, but so are old-fashioned face-to-face interaction and customer service,' says Joanne Webb, marketing director for Disney Store Europe. 'We have a number of platforms available, including in-store audio/visual, events, in-store demos and online content, but implementing these is all about planning, education, and hard work.'
Offering the customer an alternative experience has also been extensively explored at Starwood, which aims to maximise the benefits of paid search. 'Specific landing pages have been implemented so that if, for example, a customer is searching on Google for a particular hotel, Starwood will provide them with an offer available exclusively to customers referred through that channel,' says Kerzner. 'This relevant, targeted messaging has dramatically increased customer conversion, and, ultimately, return on investment.'
It is crucial, then, to know the target audience inside out. 'Good research from many angles needs to be conducted and reviewed,' explains Jamie Galloway, new media director at the COI. 'It needs to rely on more than assumptions and trends, by looking at and understanding how your target audiences are using and interacting with media and with each other, and what is driving that process.'
To maximise return on investment, technology also needs to be consumer-specific. 'It is less about examining trends and jumping on a bandwagon than looking at the dynamics of the marketplace and seeing where there are business opportunities,' adds Galloway.
Staying one step ahead should be every brand's priority. But with businesses all battling along the same digital path, an alternative consumer experience is the best weapon that marketers can have in their armoury.
DATA FILE - MARKETINGTECH
Date: 31 March
Venue: Grange City Hotel, London
Speakers include: Joanne Webb, marketing director, Disney Store Europe; Frances Dovey, interactive & emerging media manager, Cadbury Schweppes; Carey Bunks, head of product & technology development, Yell.com; Barry Holloway, marketing director, uSwitch and UpMyStreet; Justin Moodie, head of ecommerce, HMV; Daniel Kerzner, regional director of online marketing, Starwood Hotels; Jamie Galloway, digital media director, COI; Stuart Fowkes, press officer, Oxfam; Julian Sambles, head of audience development, Telegraph Media Group; Luca Cucciniello, marketing manager, Spotless UK; Richard Clark, Pureplay marketing manager, DSG International PLC; Sandrine Plasseraud, brand manager, Renault; Parminder Bahra, executive editor, Times Online; Sam Barratt, head of media, Oxfam; Kirsty Montgomery, international email marketing manager, Hilton Hotels Group.
Contact: Call Haymarket Events on 020 8267 4011, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.marketingtech.co.uk.