Why Decision Trees Are Terrible for Omnichannel

A version of this post originally appeared on the Marketo blog.If you’re in B2C marketing — especially email marketing — you’ve likely seen an incredibly complex decision tree at some point.You know decision trees: the complex web of interconnected steps that define how buyers receive email marketing messages. If this, then that. If this other option, then that other option. The more complex the decision tree — the thinking goes — the more “personalized” your marketing strategy.

A “simple” decision tree

However, decision trees and flow charts can quickly become overwhelming, confusing, and make it tough to gauge the performance of your B2C marketing. Most decision trees are built on incomplete or inaccurate assumptions that aren’t backed by data, impacting your ability to measure the success of campaigns.Even worse, these ineffective workflow diagrams are almost impossible to integrate into a full omnichannel marketing strategy. The many branches only apply to emails, leaving out your paid ads, push notifications, and other interconnected marketing channels in the process.Decision trees have been the bane of marketers’ lives for years but, for lack of any other tools, we’ve all continued to use them. Thankfully, there is a better way to manage your B2C marketing flow that is simpler, easier, and even helps you measure your omnichannel marketing campaigns.It’s time to ditch the decision tree and move on to a better marketing process — no branches required.

Out-of-control complexity

Every marketer remembers their first decision tree. You probably initially created it as a simple flowchart with a few branches you could easily use and decipher. But then, as you considered each option and all the different outcomes, the flowchart slowly became bigger, more complex, and unwieldy. For example, here’s the logic you might think through as your create a decision tree for your buyers:
  • If a buyer hasn’t opened an email in a month you’ll add them to the 3-touch re-engage flow
  • If they still don’t respond to those emails you add them to your “last ditch promotion” event
  • If they respond to that message you add them to a re-engaged customer flow that lasts for one month
  • …and so on
It takes a lot of time and effort to determine this myriad of outcomes and decide where and when to split up your audience based on their behaviors, demographic information, and more. Some of those decisions may be based on logic, but others may be based on an idea you think may work.And as your decision tree grows in complexity, it becomes increasingly difficult for other people on your team to understand it. Since only you really get the logic behind it, it’s complicated to help others wade through the many branches and explain why you chose that path. The general rule is that the more decisions you include in a tree, the less easily understood it is and the more your own biases and personal preferences can slowly creep in.

Lack of cross-channel visibility

Not only can complex decision trees be tough to manage, they’re also incredibly limited. Every B2C marketer today realizes that email alone is not enough to engage buyers and drive sales. You have to be where your buyers are — including on social media, Google search, and more. If you want to implement a true omnichannel marketing strategy, you need to manage campaigns across channels so you can deliver a seamless experience with consistent messaging.Unfortunately, decision trees don’t provide the necessary visibility for omnichannel. With decision trees, you’re often restricted to email alone and have little visibility into outside campaigns. While your email campaigns may be doing well, maybe they’d perform even better if you swapped out a transactional email for a push notification or a message on Facebook messenger instead. But if you’re relying on a decision tree, you’ll probably never be able to test that hypothesis. Without cross-channel visibility, decision trees can’t help you experiment

Less accurate analytics

Experimentation and testing is also a huge part of B2C marketing and a huge miss for decision trees. Because you can’t create campaigns across channels, you also can’t quickly measure and A/B test those campaigns. And as a marketer, you want to make informed decisions about which channels are performing well, which campaigns you should focus on, and which need a change of strategy. For example, you can’t understand:
  • What is the conversion rate of that push notification message?
  • What is the open rate of the latest email campaign?
  • How does that conversion rate change if you swap the order of the two steps?
With a decision tree, you have no way to measure a campaign like this because it includes two different marketing channels.As a marketer, you need all of this data in one place to get a holistic view of what’s really going on with your buyers. Without a complete view of your customers’ preferences by channel and responses to your marketing campaigns, you can’t optimize anything. These fragmented experiences will likely translate into less engagement across all channels and, ultimately, less revenue. Put simply, decision trees make it harder to effectively measure your B2C marketing.

Get omnichannel campaign management

Instead of managing your email marketing in a decision tree and all the rest of your marketing on other channels, you can easily create, execute and measure multi-touchpoint campaigns in one place. You can create a single customer engagement flow that includes email, web push, or mobile app push notifications and keeps it all in a single, simple view.With omnichannel campaign management, you can get far, far away from the complicated flow charts and decision trees that marketers have been using for years. Instead, you will be able to understand which channel to should use for each customer touchpoint by accessing all campaign information in one “trunk” — the same place where you created the campaign — instead of many separate branches.And instead of a decision tree that lacks accurate analytics, omnichannel campaign management uses historic customer behavior to help marketers deliver the right content through the right channel at the right time. This marketing message can then be optimized and measured across channels to drive improvements in metrics such as engagement, clicks, and even revenue. And because it’s all in one place, it’s far easier to make sure your decisions are based on the data, instead of your gut.Decision trees may have been a fact of life for marketers for years, but they don’t have to be the standard forever. By keeping it simple with omnichannel campaign management, you can manage and measure your campaigns across channels without getting lost in a maze of branches.

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