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Why are marketers across all industries zealously collecting as much information as possible on their customers? Because in a world of commoditized products and services, they hope to differentiate themselves from the competition by engaging more effectively with customers.

But what does that really mean?

"Engaging more effectively" is shorthand for achieving that deeper level of personalization that makes customers feel as if you know them. Whether they purchase products or services online, walk into a shop or pick up the phone, you remember their preferences and behaviors. That's the elusive 360-degree view—you know what they buy, how they browse, and what kind of communications and offers ring their bells.

Marketers apply this information throughout the customer journey to provide relevant offers, improve communications, and increase engagement. In other words, they want to get their customers to do something.

Getting to Know Your Customers

But what if you don't have a profile to work from? Stitching together fragments of data collected from Web visits, coupon redemption, loyalty points, purchases, and abandoned carts is challenging.

Most organizations only know a small fraction of their customers. Which makes implementing personalization initiatives a stretch. If you don't know them, how can you convince them you do?

Certain popular online travel agents (OTAs) have the right idea. They use what they can see about visitors (no matter how little) and analytically compare that to what happened with other guests who looked or behaved like that. By tracking search behavior and clicks, a picture begins to form of what they might be looking for, and maybe a bit about how to approach them.

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image of Kelly McGuire

Kelly McGuire, Ph.D., is executive director, Travel Practice, at SAS, an independent vendor in the business intelligence market.

LinkedIn: Kelly McGuire