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McCormick & Co. and the great 'contextual marketing engine'

Lately I’ve been talking to a number of folks about the CIO role in multichannel customer engagement — or, the requirement to engage and serve customers on whatever channel (as the marketers say) they are on. For many customers, the channel of choice will be a mobile device, but the array includes everything from direct mail and email to online and all the places in the physical world where your company does business. Jay Ferro, CIO at the American Cancer Society (ACS), aspires to have systems in place, for example, that can greet donors when they arrive at a charity event and thank them when they leave, whether that’s by text, email, phone call, or by the person manning the coatroom.

It seems we consumers not only expect the companies we do business with to be on whatever channel we’re on at the moment, but also to keep track of our sundry interactions with them, so we don’t have to repeat ourselves every time we change channels.

To meet this new customer service bar requires a lot of technology, most of it not out-of-the-box. And it will require close collaboration between IT and the business, and in particular, the CIO and CMO, as you’ll read in my story this week, “CIOs called on to master multichannel customer engagement.”

Contextual awareness

Retailers, of course, are acutely aware of multichannel customer engagement, so are sports franchises like the Atlanta Falcons, but it’s a competency that any business with a marketing and customer service arm will have to master. “It’s a big challenge,” said Cory Munchbach, an analyst with Forrester Research in Cambridge, Mass.

The future of marketing is about context, she told me. To meet customers on their own terms, companies have to build what Forrester has dubbed “the contextual marketing engine.”

“This is the idea that you can use your technology to fulfill an interaction cycle — and have a system where every interaction leads you to some kind of data point that you use to inform your next interaction,” she said.

She described the engine as having four core elements: automation of campaign management; the ability to interact with customers on the various channels; predictive analytics, with an emphasis on real-time analytics; the customer insights uncovered by the results of the analytics and the other information the engine is gathering. (I might add another facet: prescriptive analytics, or the ability to do whatever it takes to close the deal, whether that is getting us to purchase a product we didn’t quite know we wanted or making a donation to a philanthropic organization.)

An old company learns new tricks

One example of a company that is building out its contextual marketing engine, Munchbach told me, is McCormick & Co., the spice maker.

“McCormick has built this tool called the FlavorPrint, where you can go online and tell it the foods you like and it starts to build a sophisticated profile of your preferred flavors,” she said.

Based on a person’s “flavorprint,” the tool then offers up recipes that — of course — incorporate McCormick spices.

“For a 100-plus-year-old CPG [consumer packaged goods] company that is pretty remarkable, and it has driven real business results,” she said. “The old campaign advertising wasn’t moving the needle, whereas now they have this incredible trove of data they can leverage about people’s flavors.”

I can attest to the trove. The test takes you through a potpourri of foods and flavors that you’re asked to give a thumbs up or down to. The first round through, I said yes to 99% of the items that came up. (What can I say, my family likes to eat.) My  first set of recommendations was basically diner fare —  lots of cheesy, fried and meat-laden dishes.

I soon found, however, that I could refine my profile endlessly, answering questions about what cooking equipment I owned, how many people I cooked for, how often and on what days I shopped for food, and on and on and on. After 10 minutes, that old FlavorPrint engine, I have no doubt, knows more about what I’m likely to cook (or not cook) than I do.

Email Linda Tucci, executive editor, or find her on Twitter at @ltucci.

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