It was not too long ago that ‘knowing’ a customer meant one of two things: i) you made sweeping generalisations about them, or ii) you knew whatever they told you. Thanks to fast-advancing technologies, you can now know a lot about customers and prospects – some might even say too much.
The challenge, then, is how to make sense of the data you have in order to create a rich, accurate and actionable perspective of the customer – a 360-degree view, if you will.
Before focusing on how marketers can benefit from an all-round view, let’s talk about the customer. They should be at the centre of everything a marketer does. Customers should not be seen as something removed or at a distance or to whom something is done. They should be the catalyst for every move a marketer makes. Why? Because at the end of the day, making the shopping, browsing and engagement experience positive for customers will be favourable for business.
Creating this positive experience is built on insights; however, the secret is not as simple as more data. In fact, more data can complicate a marketer’s job. Not only can it raise privacy concerns, but too much data will mean you cannot see the wood for the trees. To be successful, marketers need to learn how to recognise what information is of value and how to use their most valuable data to form the fullest and most complete view of their customers.
It may be helpful to start with a quick survey of the kinds of data available to marketers.
The first, and most valuable, is the marketer’s own data, which usually takes the form of customer relationship management (CRM) data. This may be obvious, but its diversity (past-purchase history, loyalty programme participation and so on) can mean potentially gainful information is overlooked, especially if such data is not promptly and effectively put to work.
Another is third-party data. This can be handy for filling in details of target audiences, or when seeking to create ‘lookalikes’ of existing customers. The value of third-party data is often inflated, however, and should never be seen as a substitute for the marketer’s own data. While third-party assets serve a purpose for getting reach, CRM data paves a better route to differentiating customers, such as new ones from existing ones.
The final type of data to consider is real-time information about customers or prospects. Some consider this in the same way as either first- or third-party data but it exists and functions differently. It can certainly be used to help shape a customer profile, but in its raw form – in the moment – it acts as a targeting beacon for advertising based on the marketer’s knowledge of their customer.
With these three data types in mind, how can a marketer use them to come up with the most accurate picture of their customer?
First, the full scope of owned data needs to be understood.
This means looking beyond marketing databases and into CRM, merchandising, loyalty, revenue management and inventory systems. As a marketer, I would want to know what my customers are saying about my products; when they might make another purchase from me or a competitor; how frequently they have done business with me in the past and how much they spent; whether they are eligible for rewards based on loyalty; and whether, based on their purchase histories, my inventory includes the product that would fit their needs.
I would want answers to these questions quickly in order to inform how I connect with a customer in the moment.
Next, marketers must bring together all the data from the aforementioned sources.
Arranging all of the assets together in a single digestible view allows marketers to take a step back. It enables them to recognise the fantastic complexity existing in the relationships within their data in a ‘single customer view’. This is also necessary to evaluate the available information and identify which is meaningful and which is noise, since not all data carries the same weight. Unless viewed through a single lens, it can become difficult to understand what holds most value. Approaches for creating this type of integrated perspective exist but in many cases they are cumbersome and time consuming. That brings us to the third challenge.
Pulling together data from multiple sources – especially offline data – typically takes too much time to be of value.
I would want to know whether a customer has purchased an item in one of my stores before I deliver an ad to them. I know my point-of-sale systems are collecting that data but onboarding (matching offline to online data) can take weeks. What good does that do? It amounts to wasted impressions and a customer sensing that I do not really know them, which isn’t in anyone’s interest.
What consumers want from advertising, and what marketers are empowered to provide, are relevant and engaging experiences. They want to see offers that are dedicated to them, not for any random Tom, Dick or Harry or some member of a cookie-cutter ‘audience’.
Recognising what information is of worth and knowing what to do with the most valuable data allows this kind of highly personalised marketing message to be delivered at scale.
Online advertising, and marketing in general, is at an inflection point. Simply serving more ads faster misses the point. Even providing well-targeted ads is not enough. We must look at customer engagement from the 360-degree viewpoint. Now is the time to connect the dots online and offline to create a seamless experience where every touchpoint informs every other. This may sound pie-in-the-sky, but it need not be. If a customer has made a purchase offline, they should not be targeted with the same item online. And likewise, if online engagements lead to offline sales, that influence needs to be attributed accurately. This future in marketing can begin as simply as that.
Creating a smooth, information-fuelled experience that considers the customer from every angle, while keeping him or her at the centre of every action, should be every marketer’s goal. Everyone wants a meaningful relationship that delivers maximum value to all. This cannot be achieved without immediate and actionable access to all relevant information. This cannot be achieved with bits and pieces of data presenting a hodgepodge picture of a customer’s relationship with a brand.
This can be achieved only when all of the systems available deliver the most complete picture possible: the 360-degree view that lets marketers appreciate the forest as well as the trees.