What tops the marketer’s “wish list” these days? I’d say the answer is easy. We have access to the data, analytics, and tools necessary for 1:1 marketing. Increasingly, consumers accept nothing less. But executing on its promise often feels like searching for small needles in a haystack of data. You may track the consumer journey across digital channels and platforms, monitor call center inquiries, and log point-of-sale purchases in-store. But how do you dynamically pull together coherent user profiles − to act on in real time − from each consumer’s historic behaviors and anticipated preferences?
Let’s start with the pivot in mindset required to conduct personalized marketing. Historically, marketers have sought to optimize websites and other platforms to convert more buyers, with the consumer tracked as a “hit” or “visit.” At its core, this strategy is about funnel optimization. Compared to the more limited perspective of single-channel funnel optimization, 1:1 marketing takes a broader view of consumer engagement to deliver highly relevant omnichannel consumer experiences. Here the individual is primary, not the channel. The data, as a result, must be organized as consumer-centric, across channels and platforms. Funnel optimization, on the other hand, comes from a visit-centric vantage point. (Due to its over-reliance on the session-based Web-cookie, this can produce misleading results when actions span sessions and devices – but that’s another article altogether!)
So, just how do we make the shift of perspective from the visit to the visitor? In a nutshell, we must gather and integrate user-level data, then stitch together user profiles − leaving out no device, platform, or touch point. Therein lies the opportunity and the challenge.
Putting It All Together
One of the biggest obstacles to personalized marketing is the data itself, or more specifically, collecting data that is both sufficiently granular and complete. After all, user-level data by definition relates to the user, a single person. Think of the average, tech-savvy consumer. She begins her day by reading an online newspaper, clicking on banner ads, checking out a mobile promotion for a school camp, and making reservations for dinner on the way to work. She may shop in-store or online over lunch for a gift for a friend. Every step − from the coffee she buys with her mobile phone app to the travel reservations she makes online for the family holiday − tells a story about her preferences. That’s the level of granularity and completeness required in 1:1 marketing. And it’s a story multiplied by tens and hundreds of millions of consumers – one customer at a time.
Given the scale of data, and the speed at which it grows across an expanding numbers of platforms, it’s no wonder that personalized marketing can seem beyond the ken of many organizations. Critical marketing data about the consumer tends to be highly siloed. Marketers easily lose the thread as a person moves across multiple platforms and devices. When consumer profiles are developed, they are often fragmented and incomplete. What’s needed is comprehensive data, unified in a profile that enables marketing to deliver more value to each individual.
Fortunately, data management technology has evolved to support that mission, particularly in the form of advanced tag management systems (TMS). As Forrester analysts put it, marketers recognize that the “real benefit of tag management is in its ability to enhance their understanding of, and interaction with online customers.” Almost two-thirds (60 percent) of the respondents in a recent tag management study said tags were a “method of managing the exchange of data between on-site visitors and digital marketing vendors, within a larger system that includes offline data,” while nearly half (43 percent) said tag management gave them the ability to better integrate data across online channels. In short, a best-practice tag management system enables the marketing team to collect and maintain control over this cascade of digital information.
Building the Data Layer
A second ingredient required in 1:1 marketing is the unified “data layer,” which ideally delivers a single source of truth drawn from all your digital platforms and channels (including offline) for analysis and action. But not all the tools available to create and manage the data layer are created equal. Some enable marketing organizations to more easily organize the data into a repository that streamlines where it goes and how it is used for business and marketing needs. And to my point here, the best of data layer management tools also make it possible to manage this repository to make decisions based on user-level data and set rules to deliver relevant experiences.
Creating the User Profile
Finally, there is the universal user profile. This profile combines data at the user level from many different visitor sessions across multiple channels and devices. To create that profile, we stitch together user-level data generated across digital platforms and devices. Once these profiles are created, it’s possible to continuously update, enrich, and refine them in real time. Advanced profile stitching capabilities enable cross-device stitching, using common identifiers like email addresses and customer IDs, as well as the ability to reconcile anonymous and well-known visitor sessions. Plus technology now enables the marketer to configure the identifying attributes that drive profile stitching, and to set rules for how profiles are merged. These profiles can then be used to support a variety of actions driven out of your marketing stack, including content management systems, recommendation engines and other personalization tools, all designed to deliver on the to 1:1 marketing promise.
The objective, of course, is to recognize your visitors as the unique individuals they are, building rich profiles that enable right-time delivery of relevant content or action that will be of real service to each of them. It’s all part of the process of getting to know each other. When all is said and done, what we all want is to engage in a conversation of mutual value and trust between consumer and brand.
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