From customer knowledge to action and back - Part I


As a marketing manager and aficionado of the techniques of direct marketing, you are probably among the devoted proponents of the principle of having a centralized marketing database that gives you 360° insight into your relationship with every single consumer. Personally, I am an ardent follower of this school. However, I must confess that certain recent developments have been a test of my faith. I'm referring to the rapid increase in the number of channels of interaction and, as a result, the increasing use of identifications, the use of pseudonyms, the development of "omni-channel" sales approaches, the exponential growth in the use of new devices (smartphones, tablets and connected TVs) and, lastly, the development of multiscreen behavior. And to complete the picture, we now have to take into consideration the various regulations on the protection of privacy, the protection of personal data and the right of consumers in connection with the data that are collected.

Within this context, could it be that customer knowledge now amounts to little more than a sweet illusion? Has the time come to reconsider our approach to the creation and use of databases?

Before going any further, I would like to clarify my view of the mapping of information systems in response to the needs and expectations of customer knowledge and the necessary exploitation of this knowledge in support of marketing campaigns. For one thing, a marketing database can be regarded as one of the tools and components of the CRM approach in the broad meaning of the term. It should not be confused either with the company's data-warehouse, with the CRM database or with the repository of customers and prospective customers, insofar as such an application exists (the Master Data Management approach).

A marketing database is an operational tool that complements the above tools and that is designed, on the one hand, to help develop customer knowledge through the collection and exploitation of behavioral data and, on the other hand, to facilitate marketing actions, loyalty campaigns and sales promotions and make them happen. A marketing database is therefore in many cases one of the modules that is part and parcel of campaign management solutions which analysts now rightly refer to as "Integrated Marketing Solutions", given that the concept of "campaigns" is losing its predominance in favor of real "one-to-one" approaches.

More than ever, marketing databases therefore focus on consumers who are looking for a personalized approach, who want to receive high added-value services and who are therefore willing to volunteer their personal data, including through the famous opt-in. The challenges that this throws up are connected with the development of customer experience, the relevance of the content and the maintenance of contact frequency in line with the expressed expectations.

Up until a few years ago, intelligent processing of postal addresses provided a means of accurately structuring the marketing database, identifying the structure of households and checking for the existence of duplicates in files. However, as we mentioned in our introduction, the advent of digital communication has totally transformed these practices, even though the processing of addresses must remain one of the key components of information systems. What, then, is to be done?

Other than outsourcing the management of your databases to a mega-base specialist or pooling data, the most practical solution is to let your customers and consumers in on the action! You should henceforth consider that the data they have entrusted to you in fact belong to them, that only they can find their way through the maze of their multiple identities (email addresses, identifiers in the social networks, mobile phone numbers, identities in the mobile app stores) and that your main task is to earn and build their trust and respond with due professionalism to their expectations in terms of personalization, relevance and use of the appropriate channel. In short, you must give them easy access to a preference center that is user-friendly but nonetheless secure.

According to the emerging regulations and the rules of professional ethics governing the sector, you should accurately declare how you use the data. This is the foundation on which you must now endeavor to build your marketing database.