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News Plus 28 Apr 2021 - 3 min read

Telstra Digital boss: Retargeting is spam, contextual approaches win, but beware martech vendors' claims of completeness

By Paul McIntyre & Brendan Coyne
Jenni Barnett, Executive Director, Telstra Digital

Jenni Barnett: "Marketing and digital teams really need to focus on getting to the bottom of how much is too much for customers."

Jenni Barnett, Telstra Digital's Executive Director, thinks retargeting is spam and marketers need to cut it out. As regulators close in on data privacy and intrusive tracking, she said focusing on a more strategic contextual approach underpinned by first party data will pay far higher dividends – Telstra is seeing 5x conversion rates. But she advised those charged with digital transformation not to fall for martech vendors' claims of end-to-end capability. And Telstra is facing ongoing poaching raids on its digital teams as the entire economy piles into transformation programs and humans with digital expertise become highly coveted assets.

What you need to know:

  • Marketers should rein in retargeting "spam" and instead prepare for a contextual first party data world, per Telstra Digital Executive Director, Jenni Barnett.
  • By taking a contextual approach, with targeted sales messages occasionally interspersed with service messages, Telstra is seeing five times higher conversions.
  • Meanwhile, Barnett warns marketers not to believe martech vendor hype – no single provider can do everything properly.

The days of spam are over – and if you show me the same message on every single website I go to and have no way of knowing that I’ve actually [already] purchased the product, to me that becomes spam.

Jenni Barnett, Executive Director, Telstra Digital

Telstra’s most senior digital exec has warned the marketing industry to stop “spamming” people with retargeted ads and instead focus on more intelligent contextual messaging in a post-tracking world.

Regardless of incoming tracking changes from Apple and Google ahead of a looming crackdown by regulators, Jenni Barnett, Executive Director, Telstra Digital said digital and marketing teams should already be self-regulating.

Retargeting is just spam

“People are actually quite over the level of relentless retargeting on every single website they visit. It's saturated,” she told Mi3 on the sidelines of this week’s Adobe Summit in Sydney, which saw Adobe address some concerns emerging among its client base about the readiness of the US giant's tech stack for a post-cookie environment.

Global CEO Shantanu Narayen also told analysts and media before today's delegate summit that ecommerce would top $1 trillion next year for the first time in the US and $4.2 trillion globally. And any concerns the company may have held about its benchmark global event going virtual for the second year were allayed – international delegate registrations were up 80% to over 200,000 for this week's program, Adobe ANZ managing director Suzanne Steele said. 

Telstra's Barnett was one of a handful of executives who joined Adobe's pre-Summit briefing yesterday.      

“The days of spam are over – and if you show me the same message on every single website I go to and have no way of knowing that I’ve actually [already] purchased the product, to me that becomes spam,” she said..

“Marketing and digital teams really need to focus on getting to the bottom of how much is too much for customers. Some level of personalisation where it's in context and helpful is a really good thing. But there is a fine line,” she added.

“Suppression is important … as is really understanding customer tolerance for those personalised messages – because it can actually start to detract from customer satisfaction levels. The days of all channels to all customers all the time are gone.”

Tell, don’t sell

Service messages can enable more effective ways to deliver improved CX – and open the door for brands to sell without overselling, Barnett suggested.

“Customers are far more open to service messages over sales messages. Get those service communications right and customers are more receptive to [an occasional] contextual sales message, more open to that conversation,” said Barnett.

“It’s value versus volume – and when we approach our customers like that in a very contextual way, our conversion rates are five times higher.”

 

I don’t think any of the big tech vendors can do absolutely everything. Salesforce, for example, can be amazing for unified CRM. But they're not onsite digital optimisation specialists. So connecting the different stacks together has been the hardest bit.

Jenni Barnett, Executive Director, Telstra Digital

No martech silver bullets

Barnett, a veteran of digital integrations at Commbank prior to joining Telstra, also urged marketers now pivoting fully to first party data strategies not to put all their eggs in one vendor basket.

Telstra, she said, uses a mix that so far seems to be delivering.

“We have Salesforce for CRM and Salesforce for marketing cloud, which is very good for email and SMS, if that's what brands think they should be doing these days,” said Barnett. “And then we’ve got Adobe, which is our digital ecosystem for onsite personalisation across our owned digital channels – and that is where our customers are,” she added.

“I don’t think any of the big tech vendors can do absolutely everything. Salesforce, for example, can be amazing for unified CRM, and the agent tooling piece [the software for retail, call centres], absolutely fantastic. But they're not onsite digital optimisation specialists,” said Barnett, which is why it uses Adobe for that aspect. “So connecting the different stacks together has been the hardest bit. “

The vast majority of Telstra’s business by volume comes via self-serve transactions.

“When you look at stores, call centres and digital, 70 per cent [of transactions] are done digitally behind the log-in on our owned channels. That's huge – and that's without any human intervention,” said Barnett.

“If you add in our chat and messaging agents, it’s probably closer to 85 to 90 per cent. So we have an opportunity to talk to millions of customers every week, and we need to make sure our personalisation strategy can take effect.”

With tech stacks aligned and data and consent frameworks in good shape, Barnett is confident Telstra’s approach will continue to pay dividend – regardless of incoming privacy changes, because “we don’t share data, we don’t on-sell data,” and because most of its customers are logged-in.

Provided, that is, Telstra can hold on to its digital team.

“Two years ago probably no one would have even looked at Telstra digital for talent. But now there is something of a talent war going on. There aren’t that many people who know how to really utilise digital tech, or martech,” said Barnett. “We’re being poached.”

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