By 2020, an estimated 40 zettabytes of data will be flowing across the globe, according to a recent IDC study. That astonishing estimate is the result of our digital lifestyle—the booming Internet of Things, social media, streaming videos, Web searches, online transactions, and more.

Every single touchpoint contributes to our individual digital footprint.

The abundance of data should be an advantage to brands wanting to interact better with their customers. Many marketers, however, are missing the mark and still lacking critical insights into who their customers are and how best to communicate with them.

Customers drop clues about what they want every day through the actions they take while they surf and scroll on their smartphones, tablets, and laptops. The majority of companies are not picking up on customers' clues, though. In fact, only 2% of consumers believe that the brands they patronize know them extremely well.

The Marketing Conundrum

Many marketers still rely on old-school strategies, such as investing in only broad-based campaigns that aren't personalized.

So, marketers are spamming millions of consumers with irrelevant offers and driving potential customers to competitors with contextual, one-to-one personalized marketing programs.

Even worse, those spamming marketers are wasting their time in using ineffective tactics like fake personalization (i.e., "customized" offers and communications using only basic identifiers or broad demographic information). We've all received emails with our name awkwardly inserted in the subject line.

The desired effect of personalization then results in exactly the opposite. The personalization feels impersonal to customers.

More than 50% of consumers say three out of four sales offers received are irrelevant to their needs and preferences. The senders of those emails will most likely have their messages permanently banished to junk folders.

Brands need to step up their game—now.

The Single Source of Truth (SSOT) Approach

The digital age means more opportunities for data collection. Consumers leave digital footprints across every brand interaction.

Connecting those dots across all data channels—creating a 360-degree view of each customer—is at the heart of the data disconnect. Customer information suffers from the silo effect; different departments of an organization collect data on customers through different systems.

For example, Marketing may collect information (via its automation tool) based on how a prospect interacts with the website, and Sales may document notes from sales conversions in the company CRM. Customer Service may use a different platform to log calls. If all those systems don't talk to one another, brands can't see the whole customer nor unlock the power of the data available.

Companies must adopt a SSOT approach and ensure data contributes to a single customer view.

That approach means breaking down data silos and creating one source of customer information that every department uses.

When all the data from transaction systems, sales interactions, Web and mobile behavior (including abandoned carts, searches, and visits), email data, and customer service are in the same place, greater customer intelligence through a 360-degree view of every customer occurs.

Context and Relevance

A SSOT approach supports better decision making about each customer, but marketers need to take it a step further to support meaningful interactions.

Consumers are not fixed in their needs. What they want can change depending on where they are and what they're doing.

To offer highly personalized and relevant offers to your customers, you must understand the context of a situation. You need to layer transactional and behavioral data together and consider each individual situation to make the right offers at the right time.

The result is that your offers are comprehensive and provide options that add value to what your customers do or plan to do.

For example, say an airline customer is searching for trips to Orlando. The airline knows (from previous transactions) that this customer has booked a family vacation for five every March for the past several years. The airline creates offers that include discount tickets to Disney World for that customer. However, if the same customer seeks trips to Florida in June, prior experience may indicate that the trip is for an annual work conference. The airline then could offer WiFi deals or a discount package with a car service.

* * *

Though creating a SSOT approach requires an investment of time and money, gaining deep insights into your customers is priceless.

Marketers who play the Big Data game can better predict customers' next moves and take immediate action to engage them meaningfully. Doing so is surefire way to lift conversions, attract new customers, bring back old ones, and increase revenue.

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image of Dave O'Flanagan

Dave O'Flanagan is CEO of Boxever, a Dublin-based predictive marketing and customer intelligence company for travel retailers.

LinkedIn: Dave O'Flanagan