Understanding the multichannel consumer journey is crucial to any marketer's content and commercial strategies. For the most advanced brands, focus is on tracking the various media touch points a consumer can take before and after reaching their website with the view to understanding how to convert that data insight into additional revenues.
Technologies have evolved to the stage where digital marketers can choose from a sea of web analytics packages from companies including Adobe, Webtrends, Qubit, Google, and more. But never has it been more crucial for marketers to use a mix of tools and methods.
Retailers are throwing their weight behind multichannel strategies with the view to tying together on and offline marketing. For some, this involves working to unite disparate data sets to provide a single customer view across channels. They can then use insight on behavioural data to help shape more personalised content targeting, as well as boost their attribution modelling.
Moneysupermarket is among the most prominent innovators in this space. The price comparison site is overhauling its data platform, uniting customer and behavioural data to provide a single customer view which it can then use to evolve its attribution modelling, drive cross-selling capabilities, while personalising ad and content targeting on and off the site.
Andy Mihalop, head of digital at Moneysupermarket, says one of the biggest challenges is understanding and optimising the complex customer journey in real time and across devices. “We want to use this single customer view to drive end-to-end optimisation.
“The key thing is to identify the customer and track their journey to the site via multiple touch points, whether it be a paid search or display ad, an email or a Facebook ad, and then delve into the web analytics once they are on the site. The panacea is being able to target a consumer when they are on site with personalised content based on their viewing history across the web,” he says.
However, Mihalop stresses the need for brands to recognise the importance of owning their own data, rather than relying solely on agencies. “Data ownership is a massive issue and it is the brands that understand they must be closer to and protect first-party, proprietary data and use it to promote a value exchange for the consumers that will be in the best position. Data is liquid gold when it comes to driving marketing programmes and how comfortable should a brand be putting all that information through an agency trading desk?” he says.
Renault UK is also actively pursuing a data-driven strategy to connect its on and offline marketing. Matthew Lamprell, manager, brand communications, digital, reckons finding the time to sift through the huge volumes of data is a challenge. "There's never time to analyse it all in minute detail, so we need to focus on extracting the most valuable data we can learn from and use to enhance our future activity," he says.
Renault is working hard to join up its channels from attribution across search, social and display through to its offline media. “It’s great watching the results of a TV campaign having an impact on site traffic real time. We’ve also been able to learn a lot from our activity in social – particularly recently in relation to our new-to-the-UK brand Dacia, and what makes our audience tick. It’s about much more than just the big number – and we’ve moved beyond ‘just’ using an analytics package,” he adds.
Insight into cross-channel customer behaviour can be used to better target contextually relevant advertising and marketing communications. But Adobe’s industry marketing director Michael Plimsoll reckons the likelihood of this content leading to a conversion revolves around the speed at which it can be delivered.
“In today’s fast-moving world, this window of opportunity only exists for a short period of time. Any delay for that behavioural data to be analysed and ‘actioned’ renders it obsolete,” he says.
The volume of big data can be off-putting for marketers but it is not an area they can afford to ignore, says Plimsoll. “With the right tools, retailers can track a customer journey across multiple channels, both off and online, and bringing this information into a single customer view is much simpler to do. It can be done in real time so the insight gained can be actioned in real time too, and by virtually anyone in the business – without specialist analytical skills.”
Jon Myers, head of commercial, EMEA, Marin Software, believes having an analytics package is only the first step. “No analytics package on its own is enough to satisfy the needs of innovative marketers in today’s digital businesses. Having an analytics package, and knowing where customers are coming from, and what they are doing is a good first step.
“However, turning this data and knowledge into actions which optimise revenue outcomes is the next level of analytics technology. Ideally technologies which turn your data into actions will integrate with your existing analytics technology so that you don’t have to reengineer your entire infrastructure to take it to this next level,” he says.
The retail industry is particularly advanced when it comes to observing consumer data. Matthew Ridout, head of SEO at luxury clothes brand Farfetch.com, believes having a single customer view is vital for businesses as it leads to a richer and rewarding customer experience that improves perception of a brand but delivers more sought- after content and products. It can also help provide more insight around cross-platform attribution.
“Cross-platform attribution is again one of those areas that still isn’t quite there, it certainly needs to integrate with more unconventional detailed customer data before it becomes more accurate but I’m sure the likes of Amazon are close.”
eBay, which has 17.7 million monthly unique visitors, uses shopper behavioural data to target consumers more accurately, based on observed, rather than inferred, behaviour, according to Phuong Nguyen, UK head of eBay Advertising. “For example, we know what time of day a mum is most likely to make a purchase or when holiday-goers are in the market for travel insurance.”
The company is opening up its consumer insights for the marketing and advertising industry, having launched an advertising barometer to provide a monthly update on emerging trends.
Nguyen believes analytics are crucial to understanding shoppers’ interests and purchasing behaviour, letting digital retailers provide more tailored experiences and increasing advertising and marketing opportunities.
“When it comes to understanding shopper behaviour, digital retailers are in a league of their own. In addition to transactional data, they have accurate insight into what consumers are interested in, what they are browsing and what stage of the purchase journey they are at”, he says.
Carl Fernandes, head of conversions and web analytics at iProspect says retailers are leading the way in terms of developing a single view of a customer, but not without significant investment in internal resource and technology. He advises businesses to adopt a consistent approach to ad serving and web analytics, using one ad-serving platform, such as Doubleclick, to manage all online media campaigns. This means insight into what digital touchpoints a customer has been exposed to can be logged efficiently, according to Fernandes.
“Companies that use ‘big data’ effectively will typically combine ad-server data as well as other data sources in a proprietary data warehouse where data can be manipulated and queried by analysts.
“I have also worked with a number of businesses in the last year that have tried to link web analytics data to CRM data. This connection would allow you to realise that ‘John Smith from Swindon’ visited the website on a certain day and viewed five pages before eventually purchasing a product.”
Although this insight is valuable, there are some privacy concerns, says Fernandes. “Many web analytics solutions will not allow you to store personally identifiable data on their platforms, but there are workarounds such as tagging each visitor to the website with a unique ID that can be referenced against a separate customer database at a later date.”
However, analytics may come under increasing pressure due to the trend towards browsers withholding data in the interest of consumer privacy. Google, Mozilla and Microsoft’s Internet Explorer are all implementing security-driven changes, which could have a detrimental effect on brands.
Google started encrypting natural searches in the UK last year, using Secure Sockets Layer (SSL), which encrypts the keyword referrals by default from searches made when a user is logged-in to a Google account such as Google+ or Gmail. Not-for-profit browser maker Mozilla followed suit a few months later, encrypting Google natural searches by default on all Firefox browsers.
However, the issue is set to snowball further following the search giant’s announcement this January that it will begin to encrypt natural searches made by non-logged-in users on Chrome omnibox. Andrew Girdwood, head of media innovation at LBi says although Google’s introduction of SSL to Chrome’s omnibox has privacy and security benefits, it comes at a cost to brands. “It isn’t just brands’ ability to analysis natural search traffic that is at risk with the SSL rollout. Brands are less able to determine how customers naturally refer to their products and services because they’re now less able to look through the long tail of search terms. Brands may find usability and conversion testing more of a challenge in an SSL world,” he says.
Farfetch.com’s Ridout agrees the ‘not provided’ data is an issue for digital marketers. “It is a problem, without it we’re just not able to see the true value of the effort put into the organic channel or to react to real-time changes in trends that could be harmful to performance.
The rise of both mobile and social channels are forcing a change in the way businesses approach tracking and raises fresh analytics challenges. Social reporting is gradually becoming more robust although is some way off having a standardised metric. Facebook in particular is working to make more data available to advertisers and planners.
This January it rolled out a conversion tracking tool globally, which counts off-Facebook actions generated from ads including e-commerce site check-outs and registrations, while also letting advertisers use optimised CPM bidding to show ads to people more likely to convert on a business’ site.
iProspect’s Fernandes says the “holy grail” of web analytics is to understand website usage across multiple devices. Did a customer visit on both their iPhone and laptop before purchasing? Questions like this are incredibly tough to answer with today’s web analytics solutions – but not impossible.
“We saw in the latter stage of 2012 Google’s launch of Universal Analytics, a measurement platform that will allow for a visitors to be tagged with a unique ID that can be used to analyse website usage across multiple devices. Innovations like this will be used increasingly in 2013/2014 to help optimise across the complex browsing behaviour today’s web users have adopted.”
There is no doubt the increasingly complex digital ecosystem is bringing about a revolution in analytics, as companies grapple with the rise of multiple channels and address how to best use their data to provide insight that can ultimately rewards customers and drive conversions. Yet the growing trend towards browsers withholding data in the interest of consumer privacy, will have a serious influence on marketers, and suggests the biggest analytics challenge is yet to come.
This article originally appeared in The Drum magazine in a section sponsored by Decibel Analytics.