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This holiday season, customer-centric brands have an opportunity to up the ante for their consumer shopping experiences with an ace in the hole: Big Data.

Savvy e-commerce brands, like Macy's, Sears, Wal-Mart, and eBay, are focused on capturing not just data but also the insights driven from the data, in order to make informed decisions about their customers' shopping habits and behaviors, both online and offline, from Black Friday through the New Year.

The emergence of new structures for rich data allows for the unprecedented ability for brand marketers to truly deliver highly personalized, one-to-one e-commerce experiences. As we know, today's consumers are pros at ignoring mass media and listening only to what they want to hear. But, with access to and effective use of Big Data, brands can enhance consumer experiences with contextual relevance that allows for engagement at precise moments when customers are most persuadable. While profile and behavioral data can identify in-market consumers, situational data attributes—including location and time of day, mood and social situation, product availability and remaining inventory, limited time offers, and seasonality—can reveal contextual insights that often hold more relevance for consumers than their persona, segment or online history.

Applying contextual relevance to digital customer experiences is often overlooked by marketers, yet it can make all the difference in delivering value propositions that get to the heart of a customer's buying criteria. The key—and often the challenge—is harnessing situational data in real time to deliver shopping experiences at the most appropriate engagement points throughout the customer lifecycle.

Personalized Shopping From Clicks to Bricks

Though Big Data is captured online, it doesn't mean the insights cannot be used in support of brick and mortar stores. A strategic imperative for many retailers today is bridging the gap between in-store and online shopping experiences, and e-commerce brands can use customer-profile, historical, and situational data to engage consumers within both channels.

If a visitor is researching electronics online and comparing prices on pure-play websites, a big box retailer can use that behavioral information to deliver a targeted, personalized advertising experience that uses store data, including the nearest physical location and available inventory, with a message such as, "buy now and pick up in-store."

In addition, if a retailer's goal is to generate foot traffic, using retail store data, such as in-store promotions or upcoming Black Friday sale dates, can drive the customer to purchase in the nearest retail location, too. Word to the wise, though: the ability to use Big Data here in real time is key. If store location, sale dates, promotions, or inventory information is inaccurate, the result is a negative customer experience and a lost conversion.

For the showrooming customer—that is, one who browses products in-store to later buy online for less—retailers can deliver a digital ad experience directly to the customer's mobile device based on the store's location and featuring the last product he or she viewed online, where to find it in the store, and how to buy it in-store with special pricing, existing rewards points, or free shipping.

Takeaway tip 1: Apply data attributes across devices and channels to deliver highly targeted, personalized, and contextually relevant advertising experiences to every consumer in real time.

Retargeting Is Personal, Video Is Compelling

Retargeted marketing is fundamentally personalized because it features a product or service in which the customer previously expressed some level of interest. Unfortunately, banner displays and emails are no longer engaging enough to drive a site abandoner back to make a purchase. Online video—the most compelling, visually rich medium today—can enhance retargeting and drive deeper customer engagement.

E-commerce marketers have the ability to create retargeted video campaigns at scale the way they've done for years with display and email campaigns, and they can use real-time data attributes to truly drive personal relevance and value.

For instance, a 15-second video ad repurposed with a one-to-many message based on a one-minute TV spot and delivered repeatedly may have a marginal brand impact, but will the consumer pull the trigger? Retargeted video ads delivered in real time can change the ad's content to a message that is relevant to the customer based on his or her situation.

If the customer looked only at the product page, maybe he needs an ad with customer ratings and reviews, or a category-level ad showing more variety. Or if a shopper added a product to her cart, maybe she needs a holiday promotion to come back to make the purchase. Changing the content of a pre-roll ad to better reflect the customer's buying stage at the moment drives increases the likelihood of return visitors, conversions, and revenue per visitor.

Takeaway tip 2: Retarget site abandoners with video ads that are truly relevant, not repetitive.

Keep Customers Into the New Year

Retailers need to think beyond the use of Big Data solely for mass customer acquisition: The cross-sell and upsell opportunities that arise after acquiring a new customer are often more valuable and they will certainly retain new customers long after the holiday season.

The outcome of new customer acquisition initiatives should set a solid expectation and value proposition for the customer, as many times there can be a gap between the purchase decision and the delivery or use of the product. Engaging customers post-purchase in a personally relevant manner strengthens a customer relationship and builds long-term loyalty.

For instance, personalized communication with an offer for loyalty program enrollment, or a tailored credit card promotion that allows for free overnight shipping and advance previews of upcoming sales, can have a favorable impact on an early-lifecycle customer, combating any potential buyer remorse and potentially influencing future repeat purchases.

Often, during the holiday gift-giving season, the buyer is not the end consumer. Be sure to deliver personalized activation instructions to the end consumer once the product or service account is set up. Include value-added services, persona- or segment-specific offers and tips, and promotions on related products and accessories to capture upsell opportunities.

Takeaway tip 3: Deliver welcome and onboarding experiences to new customers to re-affirm the customer's decision, explain specifics of the product, and highlight value-added opportunities the customer may not be aware of.

* * *

No matter how rich a structured data set may be, or how a brand uses it for holiday e-commerce, the most critical component of creating personalized experiences is how success is defined. Brand marketers should set performance criteria for each initiative. For advertising programs, target a specific return on ad spend or cost per acquisition. For customer nurturing and retention programs, e-commerce marketers often strive for a desired lift in Net Promoter Score to benchmark customer satisfaction and loyalty.

No matter the desired outcome, value and performance should be measured via a control group analysis, to truly understand the incremental impact of personalized and contextual engagement initiatives.

By enlisting a cross-section of rich, real-time data sets—from customer profile and historical to situational—brands can deliver shopping experiences that are personal, timely, and relevant, and that effectively reflect an understanding of consumer needs and expectations this holiday season.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kelly Ford is vice-president of marketing at SundaySky, creator of the SmartVideo technology and provider of an enterprise-scale software-as-a-service (SaaS) video platform. Kelly sets and executes strategies that build presence and pipeline for SundaySky.