Digital Engagement and the Technical Debt Dilemma

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Posted By: Greg Ness
October 16th, 2020
5 minute read

Abstract: Many organizations rely upon cobbled digital engagement platforms loaded with technical debt. The time and resources required to keep them running can be as costly as the platforms themselves and even undermine audience engagement. Keeping up with the advances in personalization delivered by the likes of Facebook, Google and TikTok is virtually impossible. The moral of the story: as digital engagement technology advances with new levels of personalization, the cobbled platforms fall further behind.

So Maybe it’s time to approach digital engagement differently, with a purpose-built digital concierge platform?

Technical Debt Romance: Higher Costs and Weaker Engagement

In 1976 I bought a ‘62 MG. I paid the purchase price of the car in repairs every year until I sold it in 1979 (with a full disclosure to the buyer, an amateur mechanic). Over the course of those three years I rebuilt the engine, clutch, carbs, brakes and master cylinder. I thought every repair would be the last, but after emptying out my savings I concluded it was an ongoing project.

My top speed and turning radius never changed. All the while safer, higher performance cars with enhanced features and, capabilities kept rolling off assembly lines.

Who needs more evolution?

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Is Your Platform Up to Speed or Taking You for a Ride?

I’ve been in marketing for decades. The notion of treating customers as individuals at scale was given a boost by Peppers and Rogers back in 1999, in the middle of the dotcom heyday. See, for example, this classic article from Harvard Business Review: Is Your Company Ready for One to One Marketing. Yet even then the most advanced companies were only focusing on a subset of their most lucrative customers, to increase profits by extending customer loyalty:

“If the top 2% of your customers generate 50% of your profit, you can protect 50% of your bottom line by fostering learning relationships with just the top few customers. But if the top 20% of your customers make up 50% of your profit, then it will be ten times as costly to achieve the same bottom-line benefit.”

– Peppers and Rogers, Harvard Business Review, Jan/Feb 1999

That was the expectation until about 16 years ago, when there was an explosion in engagement innovation and automation, much of it related to CRM, SFA and marketing automation. Most of the popular platforms today trace their architectures and ranges of capabilities to those innovations.

While new features and integrations have been added over the years, they don’t often combine some key requirements for personalization at digital scale, including: omnichannel with dynamic, personalized webpages built for digital scale and easy to build journeys. See my previous blog on 3 key requirements.

Who needs more evolution?

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Their cobbled platforms typically treat individuals as personas at the start then guide them through a series of static pages and journeys based on their interests.

As more integrations were added, large tech innovators, including Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Google and even TikTok, invested heavily in personalization and drove new expectations for engagement experience. Customers started as individuals and over time the relationship deepened with each activity. These multi-billion giants built amazing loyalty and revenue growth, on scales far beyond the foresight of Peppers and Rogers in 1999.
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As the tech leaders have proven, combining digital scale with personalization (versus static persona-driven journeys) has tremendous benefits, from enhanced loyalty and engagement to upsell and cross-sell opportunities and customer satisfaction. Personalization can reduce acquisition costs by as much as 50 percent, increase revenues by up to 15 percent and marketing investment efficiency by up to 30 percent, per McKinsey as mentioned previously.

Building journeys with these older cobbled platforms often requires specialized, manual skills, including IT assistance. This has given rise to the establishment of an industry of paid automation platform consulting services for simple operating some of these systems. My MG repair mechanic knew me on a first name basis. I bet your automation platform consultant is as familiar with your team. Even with internal teams, there can be extensive, ongoing training and certification costs, before you even turn the key on new campaign features.

Retiring Technical Debt may be a Viable Option

Chances are your team has invested heavily in its platform, including numerous specializations, a cadre of consultants and a team of employees whose interests are tied to maintaining the status quo, even as the business case is degraded by rising costs and complexity and declining engagement.

Even small companies can have individuals who feel personally bound to past decisions and are unwilling to change course, regardless of business impact. The key is showing them the way forward with a new generation of seamless platforms purpose-built for new customer expectations. Take SmartStory, for example:

Contact us and we can brief you on how your team can deliver the right content to the right person at the right moment. It’s probably much easier than you think.