Most marketers know by now that customer data—collecting and applying it—is central to generating positive results for the business.
As always, though, the devil is in the details: It's not enough to collect data, put it into a database, and hire some data scientists (if you can find them) to make some sense of it.
Recent research in the Harvard Business Review enumerated some of the misconceptions about customer data. The authors noted some hidden challenges:
- Having beautiful databases on customer purchases and online browsing behavior isn't optimal if they can't be cross-referenced to show whether certain browsing behavior was predictive of sales.
- And, experimentation, not big data analytics, is what really helps marketers move from showing correlations to making reliable predictions of customer behavior.
The point is this: Customer-data strategies require deep thinking, multiple strategies, and patience. Even if the latest, greatest analytics system was on your wish list, you'd only just be dipping a toe in the water.
For 2017, you should consider the following tactics to get more value from the customer data you are collecting.
1. Reconcile the data
Increasingly, companies don't suffer from a problem of having too little data. The greater challenge is how to qualify and simplify the right data and then make it actionable.
Companies have many systems housing customer data, all with different structures, functions, and owners. At some point down the line, someone created an Excel file (or 20) about customers, dumping in data sets from different systems, such as CRM, customer service, and order management. Although Excel is useful as a band-aid for integrating data, it's completely inadequate to support real-time marketing campaigns.
Keep the Excel file, by all means, but look for a modern data management platform that allows your company to provide easy access to data and reporting by different stakeholders and channels. The platform should allow you to easily merge new data and automatically assign standard data fields and structure, rather than force you to reconcile to a unique structure in every system. Such a platform will bring you much closer to a single version of the truth, and you can use it for segmenting users and launching campaigns with a high degree of accuracy and quality.
2. Rethink user experience
The phrase "user experience" has long been associated with software design and navigation. But now our notion of user experience is expanding to include a personalized and highly relevant experience on a website or mobile app—or any digital interaction with a company.
The more recent customer data a company has, the better user experience it can deliver. Case in point: boutique eyewear provider Raen Optics. It has invested considerable resources into developing a beautifully designed website, but once the company began to add customer data to the mix, the website became even more effective. Now, as visitors click through the site, they see eyeglass frame recommendations and personalized calls to action that build on visitors' very recent actions.
3. Get IT on your side
Marketing and IT people have much to learn from each other—full stop. Marketers don't like what they perceive as the tendency of IT to act conservatively and control everything related to data and systems. After all, marketers are expected to be technologists today. But marketers, unwittingly, can threaten IT with urgent requests for new technology and unsanctioned decisions (otherwise known as shadow IT); understandably, tension arises if it appears that your job isn't worth as much in the company as it once had been.
By adopting a different perspective, however, marketing and IT managers can benefit from collaboration:
- IT brings valuable expertise and tools for monitoring the performance of all the marketing channels and optimizing infrastructure to reliably support users and programs.
- IT can provide objective advice and procedures on areas of critical business importance, such as customer privacy. Marketers need to cede IT expertise in high-risk areas and be patient when the wheels are not moving as fast as they'd like; conversely, marketers can help IT understand their business goals and why they need certain infrastructure and data access to reach marketing goals.
- Another area for collaboration between these two groups is integration projects. Marketing tools operating narrowly are considerably less effective than when they are plugged into other systems outside of their purview, such as e-commerce and inventory. IT is the expert at integrating systems and data to minimize data loss and technical issues that break systems or make for insufferable user experiences.
4. Measure behavior, not clicks
If your company professes to be committed to customer-centric strategies, it's time to move to customer-centric metrics. Pageviews and visits tell only one part of the story, and it's highly skewed toward a channel-based assessment of performance, not a customer-experience one. High clicks on a page could mean that customers are inadvertently being pushed to areas of the site where they don't want to be.
Instead, measure performance by individual user behavior: where a customer went on the site, how they got there, and what they did while there. Look at the attributes of the people who reach a certain stage of engagement, not just that they hit a milestone. Don't be content with just bounce-rate metrics and instead discover attributes about the visitors who bounced. That extra insight will improve your tactics going forward.
5. Fuse your email and Web marketing
In my experience working with customers across various sectors, tightly weaving email marketing and Web marketing strategy pays off.
A compelling early use case is to recognize an email subscriber when she comes to your site; for example, don't hit a visitor with a popup asking her to subscribe when she came from an email you sent. Instead, give a personalized or premium offer not available to others and acknowledge that you know her. Based on what the customer recently viewed on your website, deliver content through email.
It's important to take baby steps with new visitors. Don't hit them over the head with a request for their email address the first time they visit your site—especially not on the first page. Do so after you know something about them, such as their interest in a particular topic. Then, serve up a personalized offer or incentive in exchange for their email address.
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Starting a new year with an enormous goal for overhauling customer data management tactics can be overwhelming. Break down your strategy into small, measurable goals.
Also, don't get sidetracked by the temptation to get more data; rather, it's about having the right data to fill in your knowledge gaps and connect insights to supercharge your marketing in 2017 and beyond.