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Customer Personalisation – look first…but then do leap

September11/ 2014

Marketers have unprecedented access to customer information and data. Yet many remain, understandably, frozen, unsure as to how to turn the data deluge into the required one to one customer experience. Constrained by a lack of skills, the company’s digital marketing maturity – or just budget, for many the route from big data to data-driven personalisation simply appears too complex and too unobtainable.


The reality is very different – there is no single set route to improving the customer digital experience. Companies can opt for traditional data-warehousing and database marketing, or they can jump straight into data discovery and advanced customer analytics or aim straight for real-time personalisation via decisioning engines. The choice is yours – there is no “you must do it this way” dictate, and trying one approach does not preclude embarking upon another. Either way, the brand will gain fabulous customer insight, improve personalisation and transform the digital customer experience – and fast.


Katharine Hulls, VP Marketing, Celebrus Technologies, insists, don’t get overwhelmed by the enormity of the personalisation challenge – jump in  and begin to make a real difference to the quality of each customer’s personal experience today.


Customer Engagement

There is a perception that it is becoming ever harder to get real engagement with the consumer due to the noise in the market and the increasing amount of ways consumers choose to interact with brands. But is it really that hard to reach the customer and build meaningful connections? Is that one-to-one marketing nirvana still so far away?


With the wealth of customer data now available, marketing teams have never had it so good – in theory. The reality is that marketing is struggling just as much as the rest of the business to know just how to proceed in the face of this customer data deluge: according to Gartner, through 2015 85% of Fortune 500 organisations will be unable to exploit big data for competitive advantage.


One of the problems is that there has, traditionally, been a very clear path to follow to exploit customer insight to drive personalisation: build a data-warehouse and exploit analytics tools to improve segmentation and evolve, slowly, towards a one-to-one model. Yet many companies, especially retailers and mid-sized organisations, lack either the technical or database marketing skills to make this strategy viable.


This ‘one route to personalisation’ rule no longer applies. With the rapid evolution of Big Data enabling technologies, marketers now have a number of ways to exploit this data – from real-time decisioning engines to data discovery.


Database Marketing

The creation of a data-warehouse is a tried, tested and proven approach to exploiting in depth customer data to improve understanding before applying excellent database marketing principles such as segmentation and profiling to deliver relevant, targeted customer offers. Organisations that have done this well, most notably those from a catalogue background, have effectively combined in depth on and offline data sources to build a complete customer view, using micro-segmentation to increase the quality of the offer.


The key to success with this approach is a robust data-warehouse model to create a depth of customer information and expertise in database marketing to exploit segmentation and personalisation – such as the use of one-to-one, dynamically populated emails based on individual customers’ browsing and basket behaviours.


Data Discovery

For those organisations without a heavyweight data-warehouse in place today, however, there is no need to wait – web based customer data can be exploited now using data discovery and big data analytics to reveal extraordinary insight into customer behaviour. From uncovering the golden path to purchase, to identifying previously unconsidered product affinities, data discovery tools are transforming organisations’ understanding of customer behaviour and attitudes.  For one media company, for example, using data discovery to improve customer insight and boost the value of its mailing list uncovered not only the potentially predictable – people with cats like knitting, but also that dog owners enjoy swimming.  Whilst this might seem insignificant, that type of uncovered insight can have a big impact on cross- and up-selling results.


These tools require a degree of data confidence as well as data analytic skills. Indeed, even if such skills are not available within marketing they may be available elsewhere in the business. Telcos, for example, are already confident in analysing vast quantities of operational data, while retailers have data scientists operating within inventory control and merchandising. So why not look to reassign these skills to customer data?


Real-Time Personalisation

Of course, many organisations simply do not have the skills in house to embark upon effective data-warehouse development, database marketing or complex data discovery exercises. So what are the options? Spend years building up the skills and making the investment in order to finally derive some benefit from the fast expanding customer data deluge? Maybe not.  There is a real opportunity now to short-cut the route to real-time personalisation by exploiting real-time decisioning engines to present online content and offers based on an individual customer’s current and previous activity on the web site.


This approach is gaining strong traction within the Financial Services market, as companies leverage a very strong background of CRM and sophisticated technology experience to present the most appropriate offer to each individual customer on the website in real-time. This is particularly valuable in Financial Services due to the highly regulated nature of the sector.


Strategic v Tactical

Is there a downside to taking a fast track route to real-time personalisation and side-stepping the more traditional, more time consuming aspects of improving customer insight?  To be frank, not really. Yes, the quality of the personal experience and relevance of the offer might be perhaps just 80% as good as that achieved in tandem with deeper customer understanding. But, on the plus side, the business has not had to wait for many months, if not years, for the data-warehouse to be built and analytics teams developed.


Looking ahead, however, relying solely on automated decisioning engines is not going to drive absolutely optimal results. In the short term these solutions deliver effective real-time personalisation that drives up conversion and improves the customer experience. However, this is a somewhat tactical solution. In the longer term, organisations that want to be at the top of their customer experience game will most likely also be: centralising and operationalising all of their customer data in a warehouse, and undertaking deep customer analytics in a data discovery tool, in harmony with driving real-time one-to-one personalisation with a decisioning engine.  This combination of a complete, multi-channel single customer view with deep customer insight will not only improve the quality and sophistication of personalisation but also drive strategic direction.



So while marketers may feel somewhat overwhelmed by the volume of customer data and the many, many ways now available to engage and interact with these customers, they should not let this freeze them in fear.  The reality is that there is no longer one fixed way to approach the customer experience.  Every organisation now has the chance to build a strategy that reflects existing skill sets, data history, market sector and available budget.


So don’t wait: don’t get overwhelmed by the enormity of the personalisation challenge. There is no single path to customer enlightenment but any number of routes, so just jump in and get started.


As VP Marketing for Celebrus Technologies, Katharine is responsible for global marketing and PR, both direct to end-users and via a worldwide network of partners. This responsibility includes the development and execution of joint marketing activities with key partners, messaging and campaign creation, product marketing, digital marketing, PR and analyst relations. Katharine has 20 years’ marketing management experience with a strong focus on data and analytics software and service providers. Before joining Celebrus in July 2011, Katharine was Head of Marketing, EMEA for Experian Marketing Services which encompasses brands such as CheetahMail, QAS, Hitwise and Mosaic. Earlier during her tenure at Experian, Katharine was also Head of Marketing for CheetahMail across EMEA and UK/Ireland. Prior to her three years at Experian, Katharine worked for predictive analytics software vendor SPSS, before their acquisition by IBM, where she led and reshaped the UK Marketing team and was part of the EMEA Marketing Management group. Previous to that, Katharine was responsible for marketing communications across EMEA and APAC for web security company Websense, and before that she held a variety of global and EMEA marketing management roles at industry analyst Gartner.