As marketers, we all know the story that mass marketing is dead and that personalization is key. Yet today, for many brands, the level of personalization still differs greatly. Many personalize beyond simple First Name to incorporate content that is dynamic and tailored to the individual; but first and foremost, with a focus on promoting products, content, or services. Thus, they take a sales-first approach.
Consumer behavior has changed, perhaps forever
COVID-19 has changed the way consumers interact with brands, perhaps forever. Everyone knows the impact that it has had on specific High Street retailers, as well as travel and hospitality brands, and that some industry sectors have flourished in these unprecedented times. However, irrespective of industry sector, marketing needs to adapt to these changed consumer behaviors. COVID-19 has taken everything you thought you knew about your customer and thrown it out of the window. Traditional approaches of segmentation, or even predictive modelling, just do not work anymore. The history of someone’s spend in the past has less bearing on their future spend now, meaning things like predicted customer lifetime value (CLTV), traditional Recency Frequency Monetary (RFM) analysis, and product propensities no longer work. Brands need to shift from a sales-first to a customer-first approach.
But we are already customer-first?
Many brands believe they are customer-first, and some may be, but ask yourself this simple question: How many of your marketing automation programs are defined to ensure great customer experiences? I am not talking about beautifully designed, mobile-responsive content, or even introducing more interactive kinetic capabilities. I am also not talking about post-purchase surveys, or simply excluding people who logged a complaint in the past X days, but messaging that is designed to be truly helpful and is contextually relevant to their position within “your” customer lifecycle, and leveraging real-time data that is driven by their precise intent.
This adaptive marketing approach is essential to engage your customers with a degree of relevance and empathy that will instill trust in your brand. This is not just trust in your products or services, but also in your handling of their personally identifiable information (PII) data – which is essential to deliver customer-first experiences. Brands need to incorporate better “value exchanges” with their customers. For instance, don’t just trigger a post-purchase survey, but trigger a message which provides more detailed product information, or a list of FAQs to help adoption. This could reduce returns, creating savings to your business, and resolve a process that with COVID-19 in its peak posed a challenge for those in self-isolation. It could also deliver a vastly improved customer experience. Brands that will win in the current climate are those that put themselves in their customers’ shoes.
Forget your past data, and embrace real-time data to ensure relevance
I already mentioned that marketers should forget what they think they know about their customers, but to focus now on what you actually know. To do this, you need to capture all of the relevant “signals” around your customer. These signals help to identify those moments of intent, to better engage them with both precision and relevance. Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) can also be leveraged to ensure real-time data is processed at scale, delivering more relevant personalization of content or product offers. Flexible customer journey design tools also leverage not just data from your database, but allow for these “real-time signals” to pivot the user’s path in the journey, moving away from the old-fashioned and restrictive, linear-based approaches. But this requires two significant things. Firstly, real-time data, fast enough to know the customer context is still relevant “now.” Secondly, and perhaps the most important of the two, it requires earning the right to capture, store, and leverage that data and augment it with other data that is volunteered, which provides valuable information for contextual personalization.
Earn data through brand transparency
Our recently published joint report with Dutch e-commerce professional group, ShoppingTomorrow, and global marketing agency partner, Merkle Netherlands, found that 56% of people aged 18-35 are willing to share personal data in order to ensure they receive a more personalized customer experience. Added to this, a recent Econsultancy Report in partnership with Tealium also stated that the drive towards personalization is likely to also be the reason why 83% of survey respondents agreed that data privacy compliance will become a competitive advantage, as consumers increasingly demand that their data be used in a transparent and valuable way. There are various ways brands can earn data, and traditional loyalty or incentivized campaigns enable capturing of data which can be leveraged to segment and personalize content and offers. In addition, gamification can drive engagement which, when combined with offers, enables a softer value exchange for data capture, and also allows brands to re-permission data consent that may have been lost when rules for GDPR or CCPA came into play. Be clear on the data that you will capture, how you will use it, and the value exchange they can expect, given their explicit permission and consent.
Intelligent Marketing vs. Conventional Marketing
Intelligent Marketing takes those traditional marketing techniques and injects customer-first approaches to ensure they deliver better customer experiences using all of the areas we have discussed so far. Consumers’ behavior today will be driven largely by evolving demands, as we move through release of the COVID-19 lockdown into what is becoming our new normal. Real-time behavioral tracking and segmentation will be key to ensuring relevance, and to ensure communications are customer-first offers augmented with helpful and empathetic messaging. How many people found demand high at times for certain products such as toilet paper, rice, pasta, or eggs – and they could not get hold of them? How many people (like myself) received unhelpful abandoned cart campaigns for purchases that were not actually abandoned, but were out of stock. Leveraging real-time data enables brands to take those basic marketing techniques and make them intelligent. Simply do not send the message if the product is out of stock, or better still, provide viable alternatives that are in stock. As a keen home baker and grower of produce, I am currently frustrated getting hold of strong flour and compost, as bored consumers looking to keep the kids entertained or spending time outdoors in their gardens change those purchase trends as they go through phases. This is something we have all experienced – and this is where content or product recommendations around things that are trending but are in stock can also help dynamically deal with these shifting patterns across both essential and non-essential items.
Lastly, marketers are already familiar with the concept of Location-Based Targeting: triggering messages based on real-time signals capturing a consumer’s precise movement (either within predefined geo-fence regions, such as proximity to a physical location or store, or through beacons). Now, every consumer of all ages is becoming familiar with this, thanks to discussions around “contact tracing technology” surrounding COVID-19. Marketers more than ever will be able to educate consumers on the benefits of leveraging such location services for better customer experience; not only triggering messages and offers to the consumer, but also triggering a notification to the store to alert them that a customer that has placed a click-and-collect order has arrived, for contactless collection.
To summarize, this situation is not all gloom and doom. But as consumers adapt, brands need to adapt their marketing to towards a customer-first approach. Brands that adopt robust data privacy and compliance practices will earn the right to data that will enable them to communicate more relevantly, with empathy, and provide greater transparency to gain trust. In turn, this value exchange will benefit both parties, providing mutual benefits of loyalty and advocacy with the consumer, and meeting the demands of the consumer from both a privacy perspective, and in terms of a more personalized and customer-first experience with your brand.