Not so long ago, marketing usually meant gathering some demographic data, placing ads in selected print and broadcast media, stuffing mailboxes with direct mail, plastering the countryside with billboards, and, more recently, bombarding the universe with spam.
As technology advances and consumers’ expectations and digital sophistication rise exponentially, marketers no longer can focus on delivering static messages, regardless of how “targeted” or “multichannel” they may be.
Rather, brands now must create highly personalized interactions and experiences that they can refine or redirect in the moment as the customer or prospect moves continuously and seamlessly across channels and devices — from initial awareness through conversion and ultimately toward brand loyalty.
To deliver the kind of truly competitive personalized experiences that brand loyalists crave, marketers must confront a threefold challenge: gaining an in-depth understanding of each individual, creating seamless journeys that cover the full span of each customer’s life cycle, and being in the moment with individually relevant interactions at each critical milestone in the customer relationship.
These challenges, like most, come with immense opportunities as well. In a media-saturated and omnichannel world, brands stand to gain a significant edge over competition in growth and customer loyalty if they can recognize and delight consumers with frictionless journeys uniquely their own.
Making It Truly Personal
It’s no longer enough simply to greet a customer by name or to structure an offer or time communications using demographic data alone. It’s been done to death, and customers don’t think for a moment that the brand knows who they are and what they want.
The good news? The world is awash with a deluge of potentially valuable data — psychographic, transactional, social, behavioral, campaign-generated, emotional, and more — that brands can use to gain knowledge and understanding of each individual at a remarkably personal level.
Unfortunately, brands often encounter some issues as they try to harness deeper data for their personalization efforts. For starters, they often find that much of their available data — the first, second, and third-party data, as well as the structured and unstructured data they need to develop a detailed, comprehensive single view of customers — lies buried deep across the multiple systems that sit in functional areas across the organization, usually in isolation from each other.
This makes it difficult, if not impossible, for marketers to gain a current and complete view of their audience members, something absolutely essential to truly personalized marketing. Neither integrated nor analyzed, this siloed data lies untapped, preventing the brand from maximizing its potential value and greatly increasing the risk of irrelevant communications and fragmented customer journeys.
In addition to encountering resistance when attempting to break down organizational silos, brands also may struggle with the sheer scope and scale of available data, as well as with the disruptions and inefficiencies caused by new technologies that do not integrate well with legacy systems or cannot coexist within their tech ecosystems.
Unable to respond to critical audience actions, events, and external triggers in real time, a brand may squander important opportunities for capturing additional audience insights and deepening relationships.
To overcome such challenges, brands need the right tools or processes for accurate identification and progressive profiling of every individual. Whenever and wherever someone interacts with a brand, that person’s digital presence carries a distinct set of attributes — email ID, device fingerprinting, social handle, and so forth — that the brand should pick up and match against other available data.
With the right automation capabilities in place, the attributes can be used to distinguish first-timers from returning visitors and long-time customers, enabling the brand either to add a new individual profile to its database or to enrich an existing customer’s profile with new data.
The result is a 360-degree customer view that encompasses all the detailed, multidimensional audience insights required to power individualized engagement.
Mapping the Journey From Prospect to Customer to Brand Loyalists
Today’s digitally savvy customers have become adept at navigating their technology-enabled world of devices, channels, and touchpoints. Having mastered the ability to literally be everywhere at once, audiences have become channel-agnostic, turning upside down the traditional concepts of the linear customer journey at every turn.
Roughly 85 percent of online shoppers begin transactions on one device and complete them on another, according to Google. For those agile moving targets, one thing stays constant — their demand for personalized experiences that delight at every turn, every time.
Brands have no choice but to keep up. One-off communications and fragmented journeys won’t cut it. To cement long-term loyalty across the entire customer life cycle, brands must map out and deliver contextual omnichannel experiences that reflect the individual’s current stage in the customer relationship and evolve with each customer without a glitch.
Brands that flood every user channel with a deluge of generalized messages overwhelm audiences, disengaging and annoying them and diminishing the value of their marketing content. Compare that to the kind of engagement that breaks through the clutter, delivering individually tailored messages and personally relevant interactions through the channels the individuals prefer, and at the precise moment they’re most likely to respond.
Done well, this kind of omnichannel connection creates a holistic user journey that reflects in context at each touch point the individual’s interests, habits, purchasing patterns, and more. Even more important to nurturing brand loyalty, those experiences must evolve with the individual, accounting not only for changes in personal preferences and propensities but also for the stage of that person’s relationship with the brand.
Doing It in Real Time
As if creating an individually meaningful and seamless omnichannel experience isn’t challenging enough, brands must act swiftly. Empowered by the immediacy of their mobile devices and expecting instant gratification, consumers have no patience for delayed responses and slow deliveries.
The imperative to conduct business in real time is real. With advancing technology, the tolerable time for a brand to react or respond to a customer interaction has diminished from hours to minutes to seconds and now to milliseconds. That said, marketers must remember that real time does not always equate with velocity.
Of course, instant responses — like post-purchase thank you messages or location-specific push notifications — should be part of the real-time mix. Distilled to its essence, real-time marketing means being in the moment with each individual and prepared to respond at every touchpoint.
Being in the moment shouldn’t translate into a ceaseless harangue of manic communications that kickstart every time the individual interacts with the brand. While consumers have come to expect instant exchanges on social media, chatbots, or mobile phones, brands must weave all relevant channels into a seamless journey.
This underscores the importance of knowing what types of communications each customer prefers, when and where they’d be most inclined to receive them, and, of course, securing consent.
Marketers must walk the line carefully between communications and experiences that are individualized and those that customers could find invasive. While most audience members do value tailored interactions with brands, many would be alarmed to see what they might consider private information revealed in marketing communications.
Researching industry best practices and sustaining a productive dialog with its audience can heighten a brand’s sensitivity to the messages it sends.
When it comes to real-time relevance, every brand must live in its own time zone. The exact shape of its real-time marketing needs to align with its objectives and reflect the needs, preferences, inclinations, and evolving journeys of diverse customers. Real-time marketing is, therefore, both complex and increasingly essential for all businesses.
Bringing the Pieces Together
Although marketers often must race to keep up with the breakneck speed of change in customer expectations, channels, and technologies, the key to converting a prospect to a customer to a brand loyalist remains unchanged. It all comes down to building strong personal relationships.
Marketing automation offers solutions, technologies, and tools for doing that at a scale much easier, faster, and more efficiently. Technology alone never will replace the most critical determinant of customer loyalty: trust based on promises kept. That is something only the brand can do.