The bar has been raised on customer engagement, and it’s incredibly easy to fall short. Consumers have shown with their dollars that they will flock to those brands that deliver personalized experiences. Driving true customer engagement through personalization is a complex challenge for all organizations. And it’s not just a matter of resources, brands big and small are struggling to overcome this challenge.
In order to reap the rewards of true customer engagement, marketers need to get their proverbial house in order by focusing on the prerequisite for success. Once marketers address that requirement, there are five priorities they need to focus on to truly achieve their goals.
First, Get Your Prerequisites Right
Everything starts here: You must be capable of accurately identifying customers and their behaviors in real or near-real time. If you don’t know what your customers and prospects are doing right now – in all channels – you’ll struggle with customer personalization. And that means you’ll struggle with engagement.
People are constantly interacting with brands across a variety of channels, and if your engagement system isn’t aware of their latest actions, your messaging will likely be irrelevant. (We’ve all received recommendations for products we’ve just bought. Someone obviously didn’t notice and in doing so likely missed a potential cross-sell opportunity.) Today, the wrong message stands out like a sore thumb: hammering people with wrong messages is the surest way to disqualify yourself from a meaningful conversation.
To ensure this doesn’t happen, you need to unify all your data in a consistent and up-to-the-second golden record. These days, a customer data platform (CDP) is often the best way to achieve this goal and operationalize your customer view. But whatever you call it, you need infrastructure to maintain accurate, complete, and current customer data in a cost-effective and scalable way.
Then, Focus on These Five Priorities
With the right infrastructure in place, many new options open to you. But you must set priorities. While every company is different, these recommendations may help you focus your efforts for maximum value:
- Abandon segments. For years, companies have used segmentation strategies as a proxy for personalization, because they didn’t have the technology to do better. Now that the technology exists, companies are moving to true 1:1 personalization based on each customer’s behavior. Consumers have noticed, and if you’re still treating them as part of a cohort, there’s a good chance they’ll recognize that your messages aren’t up-to-date or aren’t really for them. Segments emerged from the catalog world. They were based on point-in-time snapshots for inclusion in custom offers that were delivered at a far slower cadence. At one time, they provided great lift and a basis for performance measurement that did not exist with other targeting methodologies. Because of this early success, segmentation naturally extended into email. As channels continue to proliferate and the speed of customer interaction ever increases, segmentation grows ever more obsolete, in part because it is impossible to execute a segmentation strategy at the current speed of the customer. Once you have a unified, up-to-date, and actionable customer platform, it’s time to consider letting segments go.
- Identify and respect channel preferences. Encourage customers to tell you how they prefer to engage. But even if they don’t, when you have complete customer information, you can typically infer this accurately. As you do so, focus your engagement through the channels they’ve shown they like.
- Add more channels. Your customers may have flocked to channels where you don’t engage at all. Look for opportunities to add channels, even if you need to gradually expand your channel presence over time. For example, if you’ve typically engaged through direct mail and email, consider addressing the customer as an individual at point-of-sale, through social media, custom mobile applications, or on your website.
- Unify messaging across channels. Companies often treat channels independently when it comes to cadence and content. This compromises the consistency and value of your messages, and as a result, the effectiveness. Sometimes the problem arises from point technologies that are specific to a single channel (such as email) and haven’t been fully integrated in real time with other systems. It can also arise from an organizational structure where siloed teams are responsible for messaging in each channel. As you integrate your infrastructure to make omnichannel marketing technically possible, also build connections between or even consolidate channel-centric teams. You must address both technology and people because modern automated systems are needed to execute omnichannel marketing at scale at today’s customer velocity.
- Bring more sophistication to attribution. Many companies still measure marketing performance by attempting to identify the specific communication that caused a customer to buy. The problem with this approach is that customer experience and engagement is holistic. Attributing a sale to a specific email or direct mail, or even a simple combination thereof, is misleading and potentially counterproductive. Given this, how do you measure? Use machine learning technology to identify subtle combinations of cadence and message that deliver the best results. As you discover these patterns, use champion-challenger testing to see where they meaningfully outproduce previous methods and then switch to them. Or, better yet, let machine learning determine what combination of channels, cadence, and messaging perform best based on an established goal – for example, more visits or more loyalty registrations.
It’s easy to see how all five of these steps rely on a unified and up-to-date view of the customer. It’s also easy to see why they’re essential for driving customer engagement in an era where customers demand to be known and respected as individuals. Brands that achieve this goal stand to benefit dramatically from improvements in customer engagement and retention, which will ultimately driver higher ROI for the brand.