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Where are your customers?

Where are your customers is a provocative question and one many marketers no doubt are asking of themselves. It’s more complicated to answer this question when customers have such a wide array of choice and the megaphone of social media through which to communicate with peers and the wider world, yet marketers have to find ways to meet customer demand for highly relevant communications.

In order to do so, a mastery of targeting is a must. Targeting is and has always been a fundamental technique for direct marketers, but targeting today is exceedingly complex. In order to shed light on the question at hand and derive real insight, we have dedicated the February issue in its entirety to this important topic.

The power to laser-focus messages through a host of criteria: geography, demography and behavior, and the amount of data available to do so have increased direct and digital marketers’ ability to drive home relevant messages to the right customers through multiple media channels. It seems no detail about prospective customers is unavailable, and a big part of the challenge right now is harnessing that data and turning that into smart strategy. Doing so will help you find — and keep — your customers.

Dell, our Brand Feature, is one marketer that made the decision to completely change focus and reposition its brand, based on customer research and knowledge about its core constituents who span the public, large enterprise, SMB and consumer markets.

Targeting such a diverse customer base is a challenge, and Dell has relied on the direct marketing model it pioneered more than a decade ago. SVP and CMO Karen Quintos told us, “From a targeting perspective, one of the biggest advantages we have is our direct model.” However, Dell’s targeting theory is not simply built on targeting one aspect of the customer persona or placing customers to individual silos. After all, a business executive who runs his company’s computer network security is also a consumer who may be in the market for a laptop.

A marketer like Dell needs to map the data gathered across channels, such as the company website and Dell’s social media channels, connect it with other third-party data and then correlate that with predictive analytics to determine where they are in the purchase cycle and how best to market to them. Dell’s strategy also includes using its direct customer knowledge to integrate social media into its back-end CRM. The company maintains rich customer data it has amassed over time that can help it target business customers through social media, directing them to “the right case studies and white papers and points of view and virtual events,” Quintos said.

There are plenty more in-depth marketer stories detailed in this jam-packed issue.

In fact, we’ve changed up our entire Direct Report section of the magazine this month to devote that space to a close look at the most — and least — engaging targeting campaigns. We ranked targeting campaigns from Vicks, IKEA, Pandora and The Dish Network in Heat Meter, and I think you’ll be interested to see which brands turned on the heat and which left us cold.

I hope you’ll check out our Spotlight feature this month, to learn how AT&T’s CMO of Mobility and Consumer Markets, David Christopher, turns every data point into a targeting differentiator.

Our email marketing feature delves into the back story of brands including Marriott International, Orbitz, DirecTV and FedEx that are using targeting strategies to maximize their email campaigns, and it addresses the stunning lack of targeting and personalization in many marketers’ work, despite the fact that these tools are well-established. It often comes down to poor data management.

There are additional lessons in the pages that follow on what not to do. For example, American Eagle Outfitters and Abercrombie & Fitch have failed to capitalize on targeting through social media, as detailed in our Battle of the Brands feature.

Our Vertical feature focus this month delves into the complex world of insurance marketing with a look at how these marketers have increased investment around personalized messages and so-called micro-segmentation. State Farm and Aflac are among those highlighted, and our case study on Hiscox USA’s targeted direct mail campaign shows that timing of messages is ultimately as important as demographic targeting and messaging.

Our Plug-ins columnists this month take a look at targeting in email marketing; you’ll learn a thing or two to apply to your own business from these email marketing all-stars, including Strongmail’s Kara Trivunovic; Stephanie Miller of Aprimo; Brightwave Marketing’s CEO Simms Jenkins; and Gyro’s JP LaFors.

But wait, there’s more.

The Work, Gloves Off, The End (USER) and our opinion columns this month also all focus on the theme of targeting. In his op-ed, David Smith, CEO of Mediasmith paints a picture of the future, arguing for the need for targeting to be applied to all digital media inventory, a move that will require marketers, their agencies and the publishers all working together towards a common goal.

There was so much ground to cover in this issue, because data is and will continue to drive everything marketers do. Targeting and custom messaging based on the data are going to continue to serve as the basis for marketers’ opportunities and challenges for 2012 and beyond. Everything comes back to the data, all the power is in the data. In the digital marketing realm, in social media, display ads, and mobile marketing through smartphones and tablets, the intense focus right now is on using data to personalize information to customers.

It is an extremely difficult task for marketers. The possibilities and upside are huge for those who are able to harness it, but leveraging disparate data to do cross-channel targeting is challenging especially with so many new streams of information available. Bruce Biegel, managing director of Winterberry Group, said in his remarks at last month’s Direct Marketing Club of New York luncheon, “It’s the year of channel integration, driven by data, analytics and — more than anything else — attribution.”

That means we can also expect changes and adaptations among those who exist within and serve the marketing community. Biegel says that not only will the direct and digital ad agencies continued to morph, but expect the integrated marketing platforms, built by the likes of Adobe, IBM, Google, Oracle and the rest of the ad tech ecosystem to continue to push deeper into marketing, connecting them more tightly with IT and making the agency, marketer and marketing service provider relationships ever more complex. Stay tuned as we continue to track this diverse marketplace.

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