By Stephen H. Yu, 07/24/2017
No one is really an online person, though some marketers often insist categorizing their customers that way. In fact, I find it almost offensive. So, if a shopper neglects to uncheck the pre-checked check-box that says “You will hear from us from time to time” at the end of the check-out process, she is now a fair target for daily emails? How one-dimensional.
What if I receive an email offer from some merchant, Google it to a point of exhaustion, and then show up at a store to have instant gratification? Does that make me an offline person now? Sorry to break channel-oriented marketing minds somewhere, but hey, I am just a guy. I am neither an online person nor an offline person; which, by the way, happens to be a dirty word in some pretentious marketing circles (as in “Eew, you’re in the offline space?!”).
Marketers often forget to recognize that all this data and analytics stuff and channel management tools are just tools to reach their customers and prospects more effectively. In the age of so-called Big Data, it shouldn’t be so hard to know “a lot” about a person and tailor the messages and offers for that person. Then why is it that I get irrelevant (often amusing) offers all the time?
The sad and short answer to these bad calls is that nothing really matters if the users of such data still think only in terms of her division, his channel assignment, and only through to the very next campaign. And such mindsets may even alter the structure of the marketing database, where everything is organized by division, product or channel. That is how one becomes an online person, who might as well be invisible when it comes to his offline activities.
What is the right answer, then?
Both database and users of such databases should be “buyer-centric” at the core. In a well-designed marketing database, every variable should be a descriptor for an individual, regardless of the data source or channel through which she happens to have navigated to end up as an entry.
There, what she has been buying, her typical spending level, her pricing threshold, channels that she uses to listen, channels that she employs to make purchases or to express herself, stores she visited, lapsed time since her last activities by each channel, contact/response history, her demographic profile, etc. should all be nicely lined up as “her” personal record.
That is how modern marketing databases should be structured. Just stringing up various legacy datasets in one place isn’t going to cut it, even if some individual ID is assigned to everyone in every table (too often, that is not the case). Through some fancy Big Data tools, you may be able to store and retrieve records for every transaction for the past 10 years, but such records describe transactions, not people. Again, the game of modern marketing is all about people.
Why should marketing databases be “buyer-centric”?
(1) Nobody is one-dimensional, locked into one channel or division of some marketer and (2) Individualized targeting and messaging can only be actualized through buyer-centric – commonly known as 360-degree customer view – data platforms.
Want to use advanced statistical models? You would need an individualized structure because the main goal of any model for marketing is to rank people and put the most relevant product and offer in front of them in terms of target’s susceptibility to them. If an individual’s information is scattered all over the database, requiring lots of joins and manipulations, then that database simply isn’t model-ready. Furthermore, when I look into the future, I see the world where one-click check out is the norm, even in the offline world.
The technology to identify ourselves and to make payment will be smaller and more ubiquitous. Today, when we go to a drug store, we need to bring out the membership card, coupons, and our credit card to finish the transaction. Why couldn’t that be just one step? If I identify myself with an ID card or with some futuristic device that I would wear in the form of a phone, glasses or a wristwatch, shouldn’t that be enough to finish the deal and let me out of the store?
When that kind of future becomes a reality (in the not-too-distant future), will marketers still think and behave within that channel-centric box? Will we even attempt to link what just happened at the store to other activities the person engaged in online or offline? Not if a marketer is in charge of that “one” new channel, no matter how fancy that department title would be.
I have been saying this all along, but let me say it again. The future of online is offline. The distinction of such things would be as meaningless as debating if interactive TV of the future should be called a TV or a computer. Is an iPhone a phone or mobile computer? My answer? Who cares? We should be concentrating our efforts on talking to the person who is looking at the device, whether it is through a computer screen, mobile screen or TV screen.
That is the first step toward the buyer-centric mindset; that it is and always has been about people, not channel or devices that would come and go. And it is certainly not about some marketing department that may handle just one channel or one product at a time.
The past, present, and future of data play are about the people. The only difference the new wave of technologies brings is the amount of data that we all need to deal with and the speed in which we need to operate. Soon, marketers should be able to do things in less than a second that used to take weeks, probably with an ample amount of help from self-learning machines.
Displaying an individually customized real-time offer built with past and present data and fancy algorithms via hologram won’t be just a scene in a science fiction movie (remember the department store scene in the movie “Minority Report”?). But if marketing databases are not built in a buyer-centric structure, someone – or some algorithmic process – along the line will waste valuable time just to understand what the target individual is all about (and ultimately to avoid looking stupid with irrelevant offers).
Being irrelevant to the target audience could have been occasionally alright in the last century, but not in the age of abundant and ubiquitous data. And the beginning point of that fundamental shift is in the mindset of the marketers, not cool-sounding technologies.
Through this blog series, I am planning to share more ideas and details about buyer-centric database marketing. I will cover data and analytics best practices for complete personalization, into which the Big Data movement is flowing. Staying relevant to every customer at all times through every channel isn’t by any means easy, but not so difficult if we take a phased approach. So, allow me to share good and bad experiences that I have gathered by being a bridge person between marketing and technology world for over 30 years through this blog. It will be a fun ride to the future of marketing, philosophically and practically.
About the Author:
Stephen H. Yu is the Practice Head, Advanced Analytics & Insights for eClerx. He is a world-class database marketer with a proven track record in comprehensive strategic planning and complete tactical execution, from data modelling to targeting and personalization based on advanced analytics.