Know your customer at every stage of interaction


iMedia Connection

When it comes to integrated campaigns, the real challenge isn’t breaking down the silos, it’s keeping track of your customers.

One of my favorite Bill Murray movies is “Groundhog Day,” a 1993 film directed by Harold Ramis. In the movie the character played by Bill Murray is forced to re-live the same day and the same events over and over again, while everyone else is completely oblivious to his plight. The rest of the characters in the movie keep living out the day for the very first time, driving Bill Murray’s character to the brink of insanity as he sees the same things happening over and over again and realizes he is the only one who is aware that they’ve all been there and done that before.

There has been much written (surprisingly!) about the true meaning of the movie, and I don’t mean to trivialize its broader message of redemption, but it also reminds me a lot of the current state of integrated marketing communications on the web. Most companies, which should recognize a customer and know something about him or her from previous engagements, treat every interaction with this returning customer as if they have never met before. In a typical real-life version of “Groundhog Day,” on Monday our heroine buys $24.99 worth of merchandise and Company XYZ thanks her; Tuesday she comes back to buy something for her sister and Company XYZ says, “And you are????”

This realization led me with high hopes to attend a recent conference devoted to the topic of integrated marketing communications. I was anxious to hear the top-notch roster of speakers share their challenges and learnings in regards to the subject matter. But I must confess, I was a little disappointed by what I heard. Most of the speakers focused on the challenge of eliminating silos in client marketing organizations and agency partners in order to deliver a consistent branding message across all channels in the offline and online world — from television to direct mail to display advertising to email to websites, etc. While I don’t minimize the inherent challenge in removing silos, I don’t believe that getting marketing professionals to work towards a common goal is the hard part in an integrated marketing program. The real challenge is recognizing customers or prospects across these various channels, and knowing what you have already told them and/or sold them. On the most basic level, it doesn’t do a marketer any good to deliver the same message to prospects as to loyal customers, does it? Nor does it make sense to deliver a branding message to a prospect who is already in the consideration stage, choosing among the company’s products and services.

A real integrated marketing program doesn’t simply strive to deliver a consistent message, it also attempts to evolve and learn from each exposure to, and interaction with, a consumer so that the probability of a sale increases at each point. In doing so, the efficiency of each dollar spent on that communication is maximized. So, if today you are declaring success because you can deliver a consistent message, your definition of success is too low. As a leader of your company’s marketing efforts, you need to change that!

The two keys to actually pulling this off are the ability to recognize customers and prospects at the point of interaction — at every point of interaction — and the ability to decide in real-time the best message to deliver based on that person’s previous exposure to messages and his or her transaction history (if any). So it all comes down to your ability to capture and use customer and prospect data.

Customer recognition poses a challenge in just about every interactive medium. Obviously, senders of email and mobile messages have an address or mobile number, but how many senders can correlate those addresses and numbers to actual customers or prospects? Similarly, websites may recognize previous visitors through cookies; but, again, do those cookies describe or predict all they can for actual customers?

With a little investment, a marketer can match cookies, email addresses and mobile numbers to customers. This investment may be literal, in the sense of offering an incentive to register personal information (name, physical address) with an e-address. At best, however, the pay-off to the customer comes in the form of an enhanced experience. I always like to give the example of a clothing store I visit near my home in Connecticut — Mitchell’s. Mitchell’s knows what kinds of suits and ties I prefer. The store knows how I like the cuffs on my pants. Why? Because not only did Mitchell’s ask me my preferences at one point, and note what I purchased on prior occasions, but the store also associates this information with my phone number. I am happy to give Mitchell’s my phone number when I come in because I know that doing so will result in a better shopping experience for me. When you, the marketer, know how to place the relevant, meaningful offers and incentives in front of the right consumers you’d be surprised at how comfortable and pleased they are to further that relationship with you.

How many websites offer the kind of recognition that Mitchell’s does? How many email campaigns? If more of them did, more consumers would be happy to supply relevant personal information. Some sites already offer this kind of personalization. Many car parts websites, for instance, allow site visitors to register the vehicles they own so that they can winnow down the hundreds of thousands of parts available into the few that will work with their vehicles.

Now, for that second part — real-time messaging. This tactic requires an even greater investment, but it also promises a vastly greater reward. Several marketing software vendors, including my employer, Acxiom, offer applications that learn about individual customers’ interests and either provide them with relevant offers when they visit the website or send them emails. Basically, these applications compare browsing and purchasing habits and predict what people will buy based on the behavior of people similar to them.

Every targeting software vendor has met substantial success with its platform because these applications depend on the old adage of “birds of a feather flock together.” Implementing these packages is not cheap, but the packages definitely succeed in driving greater interaction, conversion and sales. Even better, these recommendation engines can drive virtually any communication, although very few marketers have attempted to implement them on this scale. I guess they’re hoping to break the “Groundhog Day”-cycle through some Hollywood ending.

Think of it — website, email, SMS, direct mail — all recognizing the customer and delivering relevant, meaningful offers.

As I recall, Bill Murray got the girl in the end, so a happy ending is in sight for marketers willing to move forward.


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