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The Modern Marketing Blog covers the latest in marketing strategy, technology, and innovation.

How listening to customers KO'd mass marketing

What gives marketing and advertising a bad reputation? Irrelevancy. Consumers are inundated with display ads, more than 140 weekly emails, text messages, promoted Tweets, mobile notifications and more. But how relevant is all of this to the consumer?

Today, consumers expect to find relevant information not just in their email inbox or on a web site, but in every channel they use.  Smart marketers are tapping that opportunity to build relationships that last way beyond the opens and clicks. How? By listening. And to listen, successful marketers are leveraging customer data, social media, and profile preferences to create targeted campaigns across channels.

“[Marketing] used to be easy and now it’s hard," said Bob Garfield author of, Can't Buy Me Like, in a recent interview. "It used to be easy to talk to a lot of people at the same time, with a single message. Now we have to  individually forge and cultivate relationships and keep cultivating them.”

This two-way conversation with customers is called relationship marketing -- and here are four ways companies are getting it started:

Display advertising gets smart

With online display advertising expected to hit $17.7 billion this year, marketers are discovering how to maximize their return on investment. With the vast amounts of data-driven intelligence now available, marketers are targeting customers in unprecedented ways.

A ski buff, for instance, searching online for a new snowboard would have previously seen ads related to say, the outdoors or snow forecasts, but rarely would they have seen what they actually need. Today's display advancements deliver not just ads for snowboards with the lowest prices, but also products and services related to snowboarding, such as equipment and deals on lift tickets.

“Display technology is now at a point where it is becoming so personalized that marketers can target consumers with far greater precision,” said Scott Jones, general manager of display marketing at Responsys.

Email marketing gets personal

Today's inbox competition is fiercer than ever -- with 258 billion emails a year and growing. So it's no surprise that consumers are feeling overwhelmed, and are more reluctant to engage. In response, savvy marketers are turning to data to deliver subscribers relevant and targeted content that doesn't wind up in a spam folder.

This customer-centric approach uses segmentation and dynamic content to drive email engagement. The snowboarding enthusiast who just bought new equipment, for instance, is offered a discount on snowboarding apparel based on age and gender. In this new age, quality reigns over quantity. Sure, marketers send out far fewer emails than they would have in the old batch and blast modus operandi. But they're not losing a female subscriber after trying to sell her male ski jackets.

Mobile messages gets real-time

Mobile is everywhere and it's a highly personal, real-time channel. Over 90 percent of U.S. adults have a mobile device always in reach and SMS messages are typically read within three minutes of being delivered; 97% of them are opened. Now more than ever, consumers are using their smartphones and tablets to inform purchase decisions.

However, many consumers guard their mobile numbers as closely as they do their Social Security numbers. To start a mobile dialogue with consumers, marketers first have to earn permissions and sustain their SMS campaigns through relevant and targeted messaging. For example, marketers can encourage the owner of a new snowboard to sign up for text messages with "Enter to Win Free Lift Tickets" contests. Once engaged, marketers must sustain the SMS campaign by keeping messages relevant to snowboarder's purchase and where she is in the sales cycle.

Social media gets responsive

Social media channels -- and the unique opportunities they offer marketers -- are flourishing. For years now companies have been interacting with consumers on popular social channels such as Twitter and Facebook. They use these sites to post daily news, updates and deals in order to inform and engage consumers.

But few companies have been as successful in starting a dialogue and building a community around their brands as Southwest Airlines, Clorox and Old Spice have been. What are they doing right? They have representatives whose job it is to listen to their fans and followers, respond to and retweet their posts – and show that they are paying attention.

It's a worthwhile investment. Research shows that customers who engage with companies on social media are likely to buy up to 40 percent more products and services from those companies.

Mass marketing used to be appealing because it was easy. Today's consumers are demanding that brands act as members of a community rather than soapboxes for a single product. Says Bob Garfield, the marketing expert and author: “The greatest barrier for marketers is to simply accept that mass marketing – the old way of doing things – will no longer work in the era we’re living in, the relationship era.”

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