Born digital or not: 1:1 personalisation sets new standard for marketing

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It is the entertainment awards season again as the industry confers recognition on music and moviemakers in the Grammys and Oscars. But let us switch arenas. If we were to give awards in personalised, 1:1 marketing, who would get the nod?

Clearly companies like Amazon and Netflix would end up on the red carpet. These “born-digital” companies have been pioneers in personalisation, creating marketing algorithms, gathering intelligence and then delivering relevant content to customers with varying degrees of success.

Think Amazon’s “Item-to-Item Collaborative Filtering” algorithm, matching personalised recommendations to perceived interests and preferences based on common metrics like click-throughs and purchase history.

Consumers today demand increasingly enriched, personalised experiences from companies as they shop on and offline, but the marketing team taking on this mission has a number of hurdles to clear. First, you must collect sufficiently granular user-level data across the myriad of platforms, channels and devices. This is the source for building rich customer profiles that serve as the backbone of personalised marketing. And you need the capability to analyse and act on it in real-time, or at least in a timely manner, across those channels based on consumer preferences. I call this acting at the speed of the consumer.

How hard can it be?

A Forrester Consulting survey of 150 North American digital marketing decision-makers in enterprises last year gives us a hint. Personalisation is not new. Forrester analysts reported that many companies use some form of personalisation in interacting with customers (77 percent).

At a basic level, segmented email campaigns are in this category. Yet only 13% of these decisions-makers reported that they applied personalisation across multiple channels using different types of techniques. This amounts to a form of brand amnesia.

As the Forrester analysts said, “Delivering a relevant personalised experience to customers as they move from one touchpoint to the next is severely limited when you are unable to track them from one to the other.” 

Stage one: Data collection

Data, of course, is the foundation for 1:1 marketing. But the challenge of unifying data cannot be underestimated with the explosion in number of digital platforms and touchpoints − all closely interrelated with consumer behavior offline. In fact, a new Forrester report noted that the biggest obstacle to “maximising the complete set of data collected during a customer interaction is the inability to bring siloed data sets together.

By the time data is extracted and integrated using traditional means from various tracking, behavioral and performance systems, the customer has long gone.”  (“Boost Digital Intelligence with Tag Management,” James McCormick, Forrester 2015)

That iss why tag management technologies were developed in the first place. Consumers interact with brands in intricate paths, nimbly touching combinations of digital platforms and offline channels. These channels are intimately interrelated. A consumer who visits a website from a mobile campaign is different than one who responds to a banner ad or a promotion on Facebook.

What makes the job more difficult is that marketing data is different from other corporate systems like finance and sales. It resides largely outside the corporate firewall, existing in hundreds of siloes. Added to that are vendor practices. Retrieving data from each of your vendors can be costly and inefficient.

The best of the tag management solutions (TMS) make it possible to capture that data at the user level and, in the process give back ownership of their data to brands. Digital data can then be combined with offline data, such as finance and sales, for a holistic, 360-view of the consumer.

Stage two: Using analytics

Marketing automation, content management and personalisation engines are among a rapidly expanding array of third-party technologies intended to support the marketing mission. But these technologies are only as good as the quality of the data and strength of the analytics. Data is the foundation. Marketing analytics helps you make sense of it, enabling you to move in the paths the consumer takes as he or she interacts with your brand.

A word on analytics. These sophisticated software and statistical algorithms may seem far afield from traditional marketing skills, but the best platforms convert complex “inputs” into simple “outputs” −  easy-to-use information for marketing decisions.

Attribution models, for example, can be used to discover precisely what actions across different channels contribute to customer churn, conversions and revenue. Correlation discovery reveals the hidden relationships between what a consumer does in one channel or platform to another. And predictive analytics tests “what-if” scenarios, assessing the likely outcomes of marketing decisions to optimise interactions with consumers. 

Stage three: Delivering 1:1 marketing

Finally, action. Data without actionability has little value. To deliver high-quality, personalised experiences to consumers that reflect both historic actions and immediate intent, you must seamlessly integrate the analytics platform with marketing automation and content management solutions.

Clearly, no single tool or system will do the whole job. Nor should you rely on a single vendor, given the rapid-fire innovation underway in these spaces. That is why I close with this final note on the need for an open marketing platform. Ask yourself before you invest in new technologies: can I retrieve the data in an open, industry-standards format and maintain flexibility to use it for analytical purposes?

An open platform will be agnostic, supporting you as your data management and analytics needs mature.  Trust me − you will want the freedom to take full advantage of current and coming innovation!

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