Acting at the Speed of Consumers

Inventor Thomas Edison once argued that “The value of an idea lies in the using of it.” Had he applied this thought to marketing analytics, I’d argue it would have read, “The value of data lies only in its ability to support timely and relevant action.”

In recent ClickZ columns, I’ve written about what’s required for effective marketing, namely completeness of data, openness, and flexibility of the optimization platform. Marketers continue to struggle with low returns on marketing investment (ROMI) due to their inability to operationalize their organizations for more effective gathering, interpretation, and application of data-driven insights. (See “Investing in the Future With an Open Marketing Platform,” ClickZ, October 22, 2014)

The fundamental issue can be summarized in one word: “actionability.” Action is the ultimate goal of data. We need to decipher the volumes of customer data, concealed across numerous channels and interactions, to achieve the nirvana of effective 1:1 marketing. But what does actionability mean in a world of rapid expansion of digital platforms and borderless e-commerce?

Of course, this is a case of “simpler said than done.” There’s a great deal of chatter about how to unify multichannel consumer data to drive actionability. But in actual practice, most organizations don’t have staff to monitor and act on data as it streams across digital platforms. Typical optimization programs have access to only limited customer information and lack data on historical and cross-device customer behavior. Brands are often unable to tap into all of their rich customer-centric data, as most optimization tools do not yet support sophisticated data exchange mechanisms either. Likewise, most ad retargeting solutions leverage limited sets of onsite data to personalize their offsite display ads.

The big media outlets and e-commerce vendors whose websites are visited by millions are among the few to act on real-time data and offer content personalization and/or 1:1 targeting. In the case of media companies, advertising dollars depend on maximizing audience size, so they are motivated to dynamically adjust content and article placements to reflect what news is trending and where their readers are coming to drive up site stickiness. E-commerce gets even more interesting, as data from customer engagement across websites, mobile devices, social media, and even call centers is starting to be brought together to create omnichannel profiles, enabling retailers to personalize consumer experience at any touch point. While actionability at the speed of consumers is still at its infancy, there are great success stories emerging in travel, hospitality, technology, and retail. Here is what they have in common:

  • Data: It all starts with data. The ability to consolidate and integrate data from multiple sources – historical data along with current click-stream activity – is fundamental to creating the rich customer profiles required for 1:1 marketing.
  • Analytics: Personalization engines, email services providers, and other systems responding to consumers are only as good as the quality and timeliness of the underlying data and the strength of supporting analytics. Action shouldn’t be based simply on a sets of business rules, but leverage advanced analytics models such as channel attribution, correlation discovery, or seasonal forecasting.
  • Action: Deliver the consumer what they want: a rich contextual experience that follows them across devices, sites, and channels – an experience based on recent and past behavior as well as immediate intent. That means seamless integration of the analytics platform with tools that provide content personalization both on and offsite, as well as marketing automation solutions that enable effective 1:1 targeting across all touch points.

A 2014 E-Commerce Retrospective

Given actionability as a critical success factor, let’s look at one of most important trends marketers must address in this omnichannel world. Business Insider reported that 52 percent of traffic to e-commerce sites during the Thanksgiving holiday was generated by mobile, up from 22 percent last year. That’s a massive jump, documented in IBM’s Digital Analytics Benchmark Survey. But substantially fewer were actually buying from mobile devices, which made up only 32 percent of transactions, IBM tells us. So the bulk of online sales (68 percent) were still taking place on PCs. IBM reported that tablets, in contrast, were used 15 percent of the time and comprised 18 percent of online sales.

Why is e-commerce still so PC-centric? I contend it is because brands have a ways to go in terms of creating a positive omnichannel experience for their consumers. To increase conversion rates and customer satisfaction across channels and devices, businesses need to make progress in the multichannel/device data integration and analysis. Just as important, they need to be able to pass these insights into the variety of tools enabling brands to interact with consumers in near real-time – whatever their engagement platform of choice may be.

If brands don’t appreciate the nuances of the myriad of consumer behaviors across channels and devices, and figure out the most effective ways to respond to them at the increasing speed of consumers, they not only risk low conversion rates, but eventual irrelevance. That’s a key takeaway for us as we dive into 2015.

Image via Shutterstock.

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