4 data themes that should be part of your 2016 planning

This post is contributed by Kelly Nickerson, Senior Director, Strategic Consulting and Advanced Analytics at Epsilon. To connect with Kelly click here. 

Recently I’ve been meeting with clients to discuss strategy and planning for 2016 and data (not surprisingly) keeps coming up in conversation.  Data plays a starring role in surfacing new opportunities for retailers every day and with the growing amount of data and information, it should be a key theme of your 2016 planning discussion.  As you start thinking about the year ahead let these four themes lead your discussion.

1. Individualization

Cracking the code on delivering that seamless customer experience resulting in purchase conversion is a hot topic. If you view personalization as greeting someone by first name with a product offer that complements a recent purchase, then bringing a total knowledge of her life-stage, lifestyle, interests and real-time interactions to the party is individualization. With a million combinations of price, products, offer, editorial, content, channel and media that can be served to a customer at any one time in any given context, optimization can certainly seem daunting. To be successful you must leverage the network effect of behavior and interests across all channels to inform these ‘moments that matter.’  You must be equipped to customize the experience for consumers whether they are a truly  ‘anonymous’ visitor (they were referred from somewhere and right now look like others we know, right?), first-time visitors (with rich online profiles from activities and purchases across the web to inform their experience) and previously identified customers with time-tested engagement templates to boot.

Data is more useful when energized with insight. To amplify your data you must use analytics not only to find predictive patterns and meaning behind the data, but also to create new data insights that further inform what’s already been learned

2. Measurement

The path to purchase is no longer a funnel but rather one big game of multichannel marketing Foosball, making cause-and-effect measurement hard. Really hard. Planning for, testing and understanding which types and combinations of touches and interactions provide incremental benefit (vs. their cost) are critical to delivering long term financial success. Optimizing marketing budget within the ecosystem is always a work in progress. It’s like a tree falling in the forest; if you can’t measure it, it didn’t happen. To be successful you need to continually try new and better methods.

3. Keeping the brand promise

Customers offer information in return for something, be it deeper discounts, being treated like an insider or just to make it easier to buy. But once the initial handshake and introduction is made, customers almost demand to be recognized for the implicit (or explicit) agreement they perceive you’ve made with them. By failing to acknowledge them accordingly, or failing to act on the specific information received, brands are breaking their customer promise and the prize of true loyalty remains elusive. For example, one marketer I work with now asks fewer questions in their online preference center so only data that can be actioned upon is collected…and they always send a birthday greeting, without fail.

Customers tell us their preferences in so many ways; by what, where, when and how they browse and buy; by what they tell us; and by what we infer about them across everything we know. And in today’s world it’s easy to ask for more at any point in the customer journey (bearing in mind ‘Keep The Brand Promise’ above). Now where we store all this data, how we use it to deliver a better customer experience, what should we do next based on the results of the last interaction and what we do next after that continues to evolve. The ongoing capture of customer preferences, both inferred and explicit, should be a critical piece of every CRM roadmap and align to your brand promise.

4. Loyalty

Loyalty means something different for every brand. You need to ask the right questions to develop an understanding of the promise you want and need to make. Questions to consider include: What does customer loyalty mean to your brand (and to key organizational stakeholders)? What is the best way to develop it? What do customers want – and how does their actual observed behavior factor in? How are competitors attacking it? Should it be an overt program with hard promotional currency or an email subscription model with soft benefits? How does credit and financing play into it? What can we deliver on today and offer tomorrow given current channels, operational considerations and IT’s roadmap? Is a separate loyalty effort needed to engage sales associates in the program as well?

A loyalty program may be an evolution of your CRM strategy, but it can be a scary step. As you plan for 2016 you need to develop thoughtful, informed, financial viable answers to all of the many questions that loyalty invokes.

To thrive in 2016 foster a culture of methodical ‘test-and-learn’ that delivers ongoing strategic intelligence. Isolate strategic opportunities with each campaign readout that carry forward from past learnings. And practice patience; the quest for creating emotional customer connections is most definitely not a sprint.

One part marketer, one part psychiatrist and one part mad scientist could be a recipe for success in the New Year.