Jessica Davies takes a look at how big data is transforming electronic customer relationship management by enabling marketers to understand the omnichannel journey.
Big data is playing a key role in the transformation of electronic customer relationship management (eCRM), allowing marketers to drive multichannel communications with consumers.Email has long been seen as the backbone of eCRM, and with good reason. After all, most B2C communications on the web require an email address to get started. Yet the importance of email has been overshadowed in the last few years, regarded by many marketers as the unsexy sister of social media. Similarly to search marketing, it is the close integration of email with digital channels such as social media and mobile that is redefining its role in the marketing mix. Research from the Direct Marketing Association (DMA)’s 2012 Benchmarking report showed email is increasingly regarded as more than a direct response workhorse, having matured into a durable, versatile channel that has a vital role within eCRM. The majority (89 per cent) of senior B2B and B2C marketers questioned in the DMA Email Marketing Council 2013 National Client Email Report classed email as “very important”, with over half of those planning to spend more on the channel, which delivered an average ROI of £21.48 for every £1 spent last year, according to the same report. The evolution of email rests on how marketers extract value from big data. By integrating previously siloed databases and using mobile to tie together the in-store customer experience, retailers are joining up the dots of the multichannel, or what some now refer to as omnichannel, customer journey and honing how they communicate as a result. John Lewis was one of the first retailers to recognise the value of uniting online and offline customer profiles to create a unified view, and in doing so ensure a more sophisticated understanding of customers while rendering its communication with them more personally relevant. Emma McLaughlin, head of online at John Lewis, says leveraging big volumes of data is crucial to understanding the omnichannel consumer journey. “There are now so many more dynamic ways to understand customers at a more personal level and that represents one of the most exciting areas of development in the market,” she says. Marketers can now overlay additional data sets to existing, more standard ones such as demographics and postcodes to map the customer journey. “Data such as postcodes are still valid, it’s just we can now build richer data on top, such as whether a person has bought a house; if they are starting a family; the kind of books they read and movies they watch; to what social circles they keep and what their professional life is like,” says McLaughlin. Drilling down into the data to provide more personalised communication experiences with customers, while monitoring online behavioural patterns to inform attribution modelling, are all helping evolve eCRM, according to McLaughlin. However, it is connecting a customer’s on and offline experiences in a seamless way that is the holy grail for brands. This is something John Lewis is currently developing, building what it knows about a customer’s in-store behaviour into its email and communications campaigns. “For example, a person may decide they want to try on a clothes item in-store before purchasing, but they may have researched it online, or there could be a customer that prefers to visit the in-store beauty counter to buy such products but may then buy all their electrical items online. If we didn’t have these links we would have put these people in the wrong tribes, or segments, but with the links we can make the experience more relevant to the individual’s omnichannel journey,” she says. Other brands including Debenhams and Thomas Pink are also working to unite on and offline customer profiles to help provide more relevant content targeting and create one-to-one customer experiences. In a world where consumer privacy issues are rife, the need for absolute transparency regarding how and why customer data is mined is crucial to sustaining brand trust and loyalty. One of the brands to triumph in this area is Channel 4 with its Viewer Promise initiative kicked off last year with a campaign fronted by Alan Carr. The initiative is aimed at increasing transparency with registered users regarding how it is using data to enrich viewing experiences while delivering more targeted advertising. It involves regularly informing registered users of how their data is being used and what additional, exclusive content they will receive in return. It has generated a 6.5 million-strong database of registered users, all of which have agreed to provide more personal data in return for additional, exclusive and more personally relevant content and ad targeting experiences. Steve Forde, head of viewer engagement at the broadcaster, says it has shifted away from block emails to ones that cater to the specific tastes of its registered viewer base. It has begun with single-segment emails, informing people of forthcoming programmes based on genre preference and demographics. This has doubled response rates compared to non-segmented viewers, according to Forde. “We are also going beyond the weekly newsletter into much more targeted response email comms which will let users set up and manage their own alerts relating to programmes on Channel 4, 4oD and other user experience-based comms and triggers. In future we will look at their being able to create and manage their own comms from us,” he says. “We believe the viewer owns the data so being transparent with them over the use of it is fundamental to us. We are very clear in our Viewer Promise – that is what really garners trust with people. One of the main things we saw when researching was that people don’t want to be bombarded with emails and hate having their inboxes overloaded,” he says.This article was first published as part of The Drum's eCRM feature, sponsored by target360.The second instalment will look at the role of responsive design in shaping eCRM strategies.
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