When I was a kid, I struggled with numbers. Long division? Solve for X? Calculus? It didn’t make sense. The way math was taught simply didn’t align with how I learn. It felt so theoretical, with word problems that had no relevance to my life. I could never get past the question, “When will I need any of this?”
Simply put, I didn’t have context for why I needed to learn math.
After undergrad, I worked in various media and marketing roles; however, a client question made me rethink everything. I was asked to provide the ROI for the millions in marketing dollars we were managing, and I didn’t know how to answer the question. I couldn’t point to sales because we couldn’t discern marketing’s impact versus what would have happened anyway. I couldn’t point to impressions, clicks, or any other vanity metric, because (as any IMCer will tell you) vanity metrics don’t mean anything without sales.
So I went on a quest to answer this question. I considered various MBA and graduate programs, but I quickly found a home at Medill IMC – a graduate program dedicated entirely to customer-focused marketing. But it was in statistics class where I fell in love with math. I finally understood the why. We use math to understand people. To be better communicators. To determine marketing’s impact. To identify context.
I’ve spent my post-IMC career in marketing technology. Since graduating in 2011, the number of channels and tools marketers use has grown exponentially. When I was at IMC, Instagram wasn’t a thing. Snapchat wasn’t a thing. Adtech was just starting to become a thing. No one was talking about AI (except when Watson played Jeopardy!).
However, the core of IMC hasn’t changed. We still look at customers holistically. We still combine insights and analytics. We still recognize that customers see brands, not individual channels. Given how quickly the marketing landscape is changing, IMCers help define what marketers can do versus what they should do. We help define context.
Marketers talk about managing the entire customer journey and showing customers we know them. But, here’s the rub: many marketers neglect to do this in the customer’s context. It’s common knowledge that customers want something in exchange for their data, whether explicit (15% off for joining an email list) or implicit (better offers for browser data). In these scenarios, there’s a clear exchange and, more importantly, customer consent. It’s like a good relationship – there’s been time for it to build.
Customers get uncomfortable when brands overstep. When they use data they shouldn’t use. When they get too personal too early. When this happens, customers get creeped out. They get angry. Brands must have permission to get personal. I’m not talking about legal permission (though that’s important); rather, it’s about brand permission. Brand trust. The right context for the relationship.
Technology will continue to evolve. Channels will continue to pop up. We will have more data, and get better at analyzing it. But the market will always need people who make sense of the data. Who separate the signal from the noise. Who build customer relationships. Who help customers feel that brands “get them.” The market will always need IMCers.
This piece is the Preface of JIMC 2018: “The Only Constant is Change”
Written by Ed Jaffe, Strategy Lead, Watson Marketing at IBM & Adjunct Lecturer at Northwestern Medill IMC
Edited by Andres Rodriguez, Medill IMC Class Of 2017
Photo by: Celeste Eizaguirre