The evolution of phone marketing

In the beginning, there was the Motorola DynaTAC 8000X. And it was not good. By 2017 standards, it was barely a phone. Virtually zero coverage, a price tag that translates to almost $10,000 of today’s dollars, and completely devoid of apps. It also had a 10-hour charge time that only translated into about a half-hour of use. Truly a pinnacle of technology.

From town criers to SMS

While 1983’s big breakthrough was a far cry from the iPhone X, it was a harbinger of things to come — a personal telecommunications device that could be carried outside the hardwired home. It took another 10 years to make cellphones that you could comfortably — well, somewhat comfortably — carry in your hand. And it would take a few more years still before the advent of the flip phone. Ultimately, it was almost 25 years after Motorola’s original mobile phone before smartphones appeared and mobile marketing as we now know it began in earnest.

Admittedly, forms of “mobile” marketing existed before the iPhone went on sale in 2007. Centuries ago, young boys called town criers — the millennials of the Middle Ages — called out news as they scurried the streets of Europe. In the 1800s, door-to-door peddlers were a mobile sales force to be reckoned with. But, of course, these weren’t phones. And it wasn’t until the early 2000s that SMS (short message service, aka text messaging) — as well as web access via mobile browsers — took off. With these factors now in play, connecting with consumers via handheld devices began to really take hold as a viable mass marketing tool.

Bracing for inbound

But we’re not just talking phone tech today, or mobility, for that matter. The idea of using phones — smart or otherwise — as a way to reach out to prospects and customers has been around since the early 1900s. It took until the 1970s before call centers and what was quickly dubbed “telemarketing” emerged. The industry exploded as technology made it cheaper to set up outbound call centers; by 2000, the 10 biggest telemarketing agencies were making a million or more calls per hour. It was also by the turn of the millennium that essentially all businesses had now equipped themselves with toll-free numbers and braced for the rise of inbound marketing.

Inbound marketing, in simplest terms, is waiting for consumers to call — or text, or visit, or click through to — your business. But waiting doesn’t do it justice — inbound isn’t passive. It’s active waiting; or, more correctly, encouraging consumers to contact you. And it’s important to note that inbound isn’t a battle for prospects’ attention. It’s not a hard or aggressive sale as much as it is a strategy for presenting your business. Through social media, blogs, search engines and so on, you encourage the consumers who find your offering relevant to their needs to reach out to you.

Inbound is often broken out into a customer journey — from being total strangers to having an awareness of your business, then moving through stages of familiarity with you to consideration of your products or services, and finally the decision, or conversion, that converts them into customers. A good inbound marketer will present content in the appropriate channels to suit the interests of prospects throughout this journey, with each piece intended to propel the buyer toward conversion.

The trick is knowing if and how the content and the channels are actually moving the customer along in his or her journey. That’s done with data.

Instant everything

But, before we get too deep into the discussion of data, keep this in mind: Just two decades ago, you’d be reading this in print. You’d either have to have a subscription to the publication it was printed in, or you’d have to be somewhere — a library, school, office or waiting room — that kept a collection of magazines and other periodicals. To make a purchase, you’d most likely go to a retail store after looking up the address in the phone book and somehow getting there without GPS. Some transactions were handled over the phone, some by snail mail. Now, you can simply ask Alexa — at the same time she’s shuffling through your favorite playlist — to order virtually anything Amazon carries (which is virtually anything). Our culture has adapted to this new normal quickly, and it’s good for marketers.

Why is it good? Because, getting us back to data, this anything-anywhere-anytime digital landscape creates immense amounts of data. What the town criers, door-to-door salesmen and switchboard operators never knew was what the customer did before or after their call, cry or knock. The beauty of the evolved mobile phone, and the internet it connects to, is how it collects, manages and contributes to — specifically, consumer data. And data tells marketers what channels and what content is working.

Channel attribution

Having the data is one thing, but doing anything useful with it is quite another. And it depends on what your interpretation of the data is. A single click can be meaningless without context — without scoring it and extrapolating what it means about that specific customer’s journey. One way to make sense of your data is with channel attribution, based on customer touches or clicks. Essentially, you assign credit for conversions based on the touch’s position in a customer’s journey.

There are a number of models for doing this. Here are a few of the most common:

  • First click gives credit to the first click in your customer’s journey to conversion. This model assumes that the first piece of content the customer saw was so compelling or so well placed that it sealed the deal.
  • Last click assigns credit to the final touch before conversion. This assumes that your final ad placement or piece of content was super compelling, a sort of finishing move. Though, in reality, it may simply have been the straw that broke the camel’s back.
  • Position-based doesn’t assume that a single piece of content made the sale, but instead assigns credit across multiple positions. Typically, the first and last touches get 30 or 40 percent of the credit, while the remaining credit is doled out equally across all other touches.
  • Linear plays no favorites, spreading credit evenly across all clicks. In this model, comparing the overlapping characteristics of numerous linear journeys can offer a fairly solid picture of what content and channels are working best.
  • Time decay gives additional credit to touches closer to conversion. This tends to drive marketers to focus more on the consideration stage, rather than the awareness stage of their buyers’ journeys.

Each of these models has pros and cons, but none is fully effective with incomplete data. Problem is, most marketers’ data is incomplete. The reason? Even though we’ve moved into instant, digital everything, some very significant parts of a buyer’s journeys still happen offline, and offline actions rarely get credit in any attribution model.

Tracking multiple channels

Offline data deficiency gaps can widen due to  the very tangible differences between various marketing channels; some channels are simply more widely used by specific demographics during specific legs of their journeys. Facebook, for example, is a great place to build awareness and create a community, but it’s not typically where consumers go to make purchases or to gain deep knowledge of your products or services. At the other end of the journey, calls are rarely first touches. A customer who phones your business may want information that they couldn’t find on your website — and there’s a good chance the customer is ready, or is almost ready, to buy.

If you’re not measuring phone calls, you’re likely missing a big chunk of your data. This is especially true if you’re using a last click model that would be giving calls a huge share of credit, if only you were tracking them. The technology to integrate call data with other marketing, advertising and sales platforms does exist, though. CallTrackingMetrics’ call intelligence platform turns PCs, tablets and smartphones into tools for taking inbound and making outbound calls, all the while collecting data, recording, transcribing and more. And our application integrates call data with Salesforce, Google AdWords and other marketing platforms, giving marketers a complete picture of all their marketing data.

Why is call tracking important?

It’s a digital world, but calls are far from dead. Even though the integration of the web and smartphones into everyday life has done away with phones that flip, remain tethered to walls and/or weigh more than coffee mug, phone calls are still alive and well in the marketing process. In fact, the evolution of phone technology has created a mobile-first world, where mobile searches result in immediate calls and conversions — from the same device. Measuring which search queries, ads and content make those calls happen, therefore, is key to building and refining a winning overall strategy.

Predicting which new technology or device might emerge as the next big marketing tool is a tough endeavor. But there’s no need to get out the dusty crystal ball. By keeping a keen eye on all marketing data at all parts of the customer journey, you’ll be prepared to quickly take advantage of that next hot tool, no matter what form it ultimately takes.

The post The evolution of phone marketing appeared first on Search Engine Land.

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