As we develop relationships with friends, coworkers, and neighbors, we collect all kinds of information about the people in our lives. Favorite color, favorite food, favorite restaurant; names of kids and extended family members; birthdays, hobbies, books read—all such data forms a dense tapestry of meaning, defining the nature of the relationship, its ground rules, expectations, and trust.

The process isn't much different for the commerce marketer seeking to engage prospects and customers. We aim, as marketers, to gain the trust of customers and prospects. To do so, we must engage with the individual, building trust and understanding by asking for appropriate information, at the right time, and treating that information with care and respect. Building a profile of the customer guides our interactions. When managed properly, this approach increases customer loyalty and leads to greater customer lifetime value.

But building an effective customer profile isn't as simple as asking for a lot of information at signup. It requires focus to ask for only the information you intend to act on. Don't ask about birthdays unless you intend to send a birthday message; don't ask for merchandise preferences (e.g., dresses), if you aren't planning to create preference-based campaigns.

Often, commerce marketers start a new customer relationship by asking for first name (personalization), state or ZIP (geo-targeting), product category of interest (segmentation), birthday (automated trigger campaigns), anniversary (automated triggers), gender (segmentation), and email preference (online, in-store, or online and in-store). The key is to collect only information you intend to use. You're setting expectations in this step, forming the ground rules for engagement with the customer. Ask for too much and do too little, and you've missed the opportunity to engage your customer with relevant, targeted messages.

Managing preferences is fundamental, and it's a perfect opportunity to enlist the consumer's help, further building trust and engagement. With preferences data in hand, you can begin to plan campaigns that build on other data you have—recency, frequency, and monetary value (RFM) data that includes past purchase data: how often the consumer buys, what, and how much she spends. Combine RFM data with click stream data—what she browses, leaves in carts, what offers get him clicking, even how he or she enters your site. Studying this data will help you plan campaigns that turn clicks into sales while also growing customer lifetime value.

Remember, you're doing more than building a profile; you're building a conversation with the customer, with your creative as the narrative.

Don't Forget Social Engagement

Beyond the data from the explicit and implicit actions of customers lies social engagement, a valuable way to not only socialize your brand but also drive clicks and sales. Today's customer expects your brand to be available not only via email, in-store, online, and mobile but also through your brand's social presence on Facebook, Twitter, social shopping sites, and other online networks.

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image of Anna Pfeiffer

Anna Pfeiffer is a marketing strategist at Bronto Software, a provider of marketing automation for commerce. She creates strategies for clients to assist in their email marketing initiatives and to educate them on best-practices, with a focus on driving revenue.