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Some of today’s most successful marketers can attribute their achievements to decade-old wisdom dating back to post-war Japan’s ‘just-in-time’ approach.

In those days, manufacturing organizations learned to trim their inventory and produce only what their customers demanded, at the right time, and with the highest level of quality. 

This approach is proving just as effective in today’s marketing world, according to a recent Accenture survey among 500 CMOs. Instead of assembling cars, this new approach focuses on creating content when it is needed and tailoring it to the needs of interested consumers at the right time.

Marketing organizations that have mastered this approach are three times more likely to beat their peers on revenue growth.

So, exactly how are these just-in-time marketers achieving better results? Here are five key takeaways for their peers: 

1. Recognize that your marketing probably has a waste issue.

Just-in-time marketers know that inefficiencies in their operations can cause content velocity issues. Historically, delivering creative concepts was widely considered marketing’s “sweet spot”. While creative will always be at the heart of excellent marketing, it won’t solve the growing challenges resulting from a rising number of digital channels.

Marketing will need to be streamlined, with more rigour applied in operations to ensure success. 

2. Be digital in a smart way.

Just-in-time marketers aren’t more digital per se, they are just smarter about it. For them, digital marketing isn’t some separate organization in a company. Most companies consider their digital and traditional marketing initiatives “very highly integrated” with their business.

The key, however, is to avoid spending more on digital and analytics, and focus on harnessing talent. Individuals with strong digital and analytical skills should be deployed across all marketing teams, and their expertise should be made widely available through centers of excellence.

3. Know when the time is right.

Just-in-time marketers understand the differing needs and intent of customers across every channel through every part of the customer journey. This allows them to identify the distinctive messages that will truly resonate with their audience.

In our digital world, these messages change daily, hourly, even down to the minute or less. Just-in-time marketers monitor customers’ shifting needs both on an ongoing basis and in the moment so that they are able to anticipate needs and help them achieve their goals in real-time. 

For example, a frequent traveler will have very different needs when traveling on business versus on vacation with the family. The usual customer profile and loyalty program data will not be able to reveal those diverse needs. 

Consider shopping: On a weekend, customers will look at filling a cart for the upcoming week, where browsing, coupons and in-store promotions might be the right experience to highlight. Whereas for shoppers dropping in on Tuesday during their lunch break, it’s speed and convenience. 

Or take a US auto insurer that offers a feature where customers are able to input the amount they are willing to spend on insurance and are then matched with options based on their preferences. This approach has increased conversion rates by 5%.

By understanding a customer’s intent in the moment, companies can leverage such data in their marketing. 

4. Know who you are serving.

Just-in-time marketers excel at generating customer insights. Organizations should utilise employees that have specialized analytical skills to derive actionable insights from customer data.

For example, HealthMarkets prioritized inbound calls from prospective customers because it noticed that one-on-one interactions yielded higher rates than those over other channels including online marketing.

Using this insight, the company looked for ways to optimize its marketing campaigns to drive one-on-one conversations, and as a result, company revenue surpassed its seasonal sales projections.

Similarly, a financial services company was experiencing large abandonment rates on an online loan qualification form. The company identified the problematic questions and edited or deleted them in an attempt to increase completion rates.

However, had it dug deeper into customer insights the company would have found that in fact its most valuable customers didn’t actually have challenges with those questions. The company ended up spending time, resources and money optimizing for the wrong audience and missed the mark on the intended outcome – acquiring more high value customers. 

5. Argue for technological freedom.

Just-in-time marketers are differentiating themselves in how they manage tech investments. They do so by choosing or investing in their own IT solutions. 

Why bother?

Taking a page from the playbook of manufacturers to develop just-in-time marketing strategies will help CMOs address two major challenges.

Firstly, in today's business environment CMOs are expected to be much more accountable than they were in the past, evaluated mainly based on the return the company gets on marketing spend.

Now, also consider that the 80% of customers that are typically reached by traditional mass marketing activities are either completely uninterested in the promoted product or unable to make a purchase.

In addition, the evolving role of the CMO, which expands beyond marketing to address the full customer journey including marketing, sales, service, loyalty and more, urges just-in-time marketers to go beyond the lessons learned from manufacturing and keep the human touch steeped in empathy for customers.

Secondly, brands need to be able to act and react more dynamically than ever as we’re entering a new era where delivering on the brand promise is equally as important as the brand itself, where the experience is the brand and where we go from offering experiences to relationship-building.

As services and organizations continue to become more ‘living’, so must brands.  

The author would like to thank Rob Davis, managing director at Accenture Interactive, for his contribution to this article. 

Glen Hartman

Published 17 February, 2017 by Glen Hartman

Glen Hartman serves as Senior Managing Director for Digital Transformation at Accenture Interactive and is a contributor to Econsultancy. You can follow him at @hartmanglen or connect with him on LinkedIn.

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