Establishing a Dynamic and Scalable Data-Driven Engagement Strategy

Shenan Reed, President of Digital, North America, MEC
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The evolution from CRM to CEM has given us scale and speed, allowing us to reach more people, better and faster. In the days of CRM, our targeting methods were raw and unrefined. You were a customer or not, you visited a store or you didn’t. Now, we know more about who you are, where you are, what you like, and what other things you are interested in than most consumers realize.

 â€‹Real consumer relationships should be platform or medium agnostic and must be about the interaction, not the channel  

But with that knowledge, comes a responsibility for privacy and decency. Cookies have given way to device IDs and login information. Because of the devices consumers carry, we can not only track them, but can both deterministically and probabilistically identify detailed characteristics, preferences, and desires. The scope and speed with which we now gather and process consumer data is astounding and keeps growing. Our capabilities lie way beyond simply collecting and storing customer data because we can layer, stack, and update that data so quickly and accurately that our ability to accurately predict consumer behavior is limited only to the extent someone actively exercises extreme personal digital privacy. Few are the folks who don’t leave a digital breadcrumb trail by using browsers, devices, wearables, credit cards and loyalty cards as they travel through their online and offline daily lives.

There are differences and nuances between the ways we now manage CEM versus how we used to manage CRM. It’s no longer about attention and relationship. It’s about engagement. We don’t just try to get a customer’s e-mail address so we can continually bombard them with messages. Instead, we want to create a real relationship. This relationship should not just exist in merely one or two channels, such as email or direct mail. We have so many places we can communicate and talk to you. Real personal relationships are multimodal in that you interact with friends, family, co-workers verbally, in writing, through gestures, and physically. What matters is not the manner of communication, but the message. Likewise, real consumer relationships should be platform or medium agnostic and must be about the interaction, not the channel.

To establish a dynamic and scalable data-driven customer engagement mechanism, companies must both take into account—the technology available and the consumer state of mind. Just because we understand that a user visited a site with content about getting pregnant, doesn’t mean she wants you serving her ad units about fertility treatments or prenatal vitamins. Simply because you know I just got off a flight to Italy doesn’t mean I want you asking me how my trip was when I check into the hotel. That’s just creepy. When using knowledge about me and my desires, finding that balance between marketing and stalking without crossing a line that feels invasive is the challenge companies face. This is not something that can be solved by an algorithm. It is something that still needs to have a human touch because of the deep complexities involved in anticipating a person’s emotional response to a certain message in a specific location through a particular medium at an exact time. However, this is a place where AI may be able to begin to play a role in the future. If we can develop intelligent systems that can understand the difference between an appropriate and inappropriate use of customer information, then the power of CEM data will be vastly increased for both customer engagement and marketing.

Time is the one thing we cannot create more of for our customers. How we value and use their time sets the tone for the relationship we have with them. There is no simple answer to this challenge. If you have a customer who is not interested in engaging with you, then no amount of messaging will seem valuable to him. Likewise, if you reach a core customer that is truly engaged and receptive, but your messaging is poor (too long, wrong medium, not actionable, poorly timed) you are wasting her time as well. The question of how you gauge whether you are amplifying or detracting from a customer’s time is not a simple answer. It’s not just a measure of frequency, but a matrix of many things: quality of content, personal relevance, time of day or place of messaging, the medium of communication and length of messaging. When done well, your messaging should provide a valued service to the customer you are engaging with. If done exceptionally well, the customer will reward you not just with an order, but with amplification to friends and family in social channels.

The biggest changes I’ve seen in the last three years have been in the ability of brands to merge online and offline records at speed and scale and the influx of second and third party data sets. By pulling together our offline and online data records into one master customer database, we gain a fuller understanding of what our customers like and at what stage they are in the purchase journey to best serve them relevant content and messaging. Additionally, because we are continually bringing in new sources of information, our customer profiles are not static and our understanding of the customer is continually evolving in almost real time. By layering in second and third party data sets, we develop an even more robust view of the customer that enhances how and when we communicate. We can understand that you are traveling to Italy next week, that it is likely to rain, and that you might want to pack an umbrella. When we reach out to you via email to remind you of a packing list, we can include weather specific recommendations.

As the industry continues to evolve, new technologies emerge, and more data becomes available, there are a few recommendations and warnings for upcoming industry leaders.

1. Always look for new ways to merge and compile customer information that allows for speed and cleanliness of data;
2. Handle with care, customer information is a privilege to handle, bad behavior will create a backlash for everyone;
3. Provide value—think before you engage or send and ensure that you are really going to help this person.

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