Recently, we hosted over 25 CEOs and senior business leaders from top Fortune 500 global businesses operating across Asia. We came together over dinner to discuss digital transformation and what they and their businesses are doing to come to terms with those challenges and realise the opportunities those present. Today, business has moved from a “distribution economy” to a “disruption economy”. Previously, companies could make it big by herding people in an orderly path to purchase. Customers based their purchase decisions on habit and brand loyalty, and could generally do little to air their grievances when unsatisfied.
During our dinner, leaders from major brands discussed how relatively new technologies such as social media and the latest ecommerce tools have necessitated a different approach. Consumers now communicate their likes or dislikes immediately, and directly at brands. Beyond this, mobile and wireless connectivity has created a world of choice for consumers. This explosion has given consumers the ability to procure transport, accommodation, consumer goods, even manage financial products regardless of time and place.
Trading personal data for more
Of course, nothing comes without a price. For consumers today, the price is essentially the data they provide. It’s an open secret, consumers will willingly provide personal data in return for convenience. The caveat, then, is for brands to meet their expectations. The idea is simple: the more data they give, the better the service and brand experience must become.
Brands that want and do keep customer loyalty are those that can interact with customers in a truly digital way – making the process completely personalised and omni-channel. Our leaders agreed that the process to achieving this is a continually evolving one, not to mention an inherently iterative and innovative journey.
Creating a single, unified view of the customer
Traditionally, brands would engage with external market research agencies to identify and effectively engage with their customer segments. Today, every business has access to a wealth of first-party data from their own internal systems, including data from their financial, operational, and existing Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems. This provides an ideal foundation from which to start, without the need for expensive and timely research projects. By streamlining this first-party user data and combining it with the rich third-party data that has now become more widely available, brands can create lookalike audiences to optimise the outreach of their campaigns. Something that was unanimous among all our attendees at the dinner is the importance for businesses today to combine their internal and external data sources to create a single customer view.
However, to achieve this, there needs to be a bridge that brings IT, data and marketing teams together. Much of the data collected today is stored under specific IT infrastructures, alongside data teams that may not have the marketing background to understand how the data can best be deployed. Brands need to bridge that gap by connecting marketers with their data teams in order to maximise and make sense of what they have, and so it can be put to good use.
Filtering data sets
Digital marketers know that it’s not easy to come up with a comprehensive data set that tells the full story. Furthermore, customer data can sometimes be a harsh reality check that might not align with previous held assumptions about customers. The first step is for businesses to accept the story being told by the data. Then they can move on to the second part – applying that data to the right channels.
Marketers need to know how to filter the data, and apply the right modelling and segmentation tools to ensure the right communications are received through the right channels, at the right time. This is especially true when looking at retargeting. As consumers knowingly provide data, retargeting needs to be done flawlessly to avoid them writing off a brand due to a badly written algorithm. Managed correctly, having the right data can bring marketers closer to the consumer as it enables them to truly personalise content to reach people with differing backgrounds and interests.
Going for the long-run
In a programmatically data-enabled world, personalisation needs to be long-term if brands want to see the value of customer engagement. Marketers need to remember that they are engaging with savvy consumers that may not immediately give them what they want. This then disqualifies marketing models that focus on short-term results, as a relationships need to be built first in order to gain loyalty.
The final insight from our guests, was that in order for businesses to demonstrate that they really understand their customers, they should not be afraid to venture into new territories. Today’s consumers seek and expect personalisation – they want communications that are relevant to them as an individual. Marketers that are able to micro-segment their customer base are the ones who will enjoy the most positive results.
So what was the most useful advice our CEOs felt they could offer to others looking to tackle the challenges of digital transformation and exploit its opportunities? As a first step, marketers must look at their company’s existing internal data sources and CRM systems. Start by consolidation the information to give a single view of the customer, and then, as with all marketing, test and learn. Start by running pilot projects with sample groups to find out what works and what doesn’t. In the end, you are merely looking to connect with customers using the data that they themselves have so willingly given – something that will undoubtedly reap a huge reward if done right.