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For years, everyone talked about big data, and the marketplace put many mechanisms in place to collect piles and piles of data to better push consumers through the sales funnel. Today, it’s no longer enough for marketers to use data to just sell. A brand must use data to have “individual” conversations with customers and help them, and it must take a stance on those customers’ values.
Consumers choose a brand for a myriad of reasons. But with ubiquitous access to e-commerce and new products popping up daily, the options are overwhelming. To stand out, brands need to think beyond products and services, looking to consumers’ needs and developing a relationship that extends beyond a single purchase.
A new generation of consumers wants to have meaningful brand relationships, not transactional ones. A recent study of Gen Z consumers found this demographic “falls in love with a brand when they feel like they’re a part of something bigger than just a product.” (Source: Her Campus GENZOLOGY April 2020). With the COVID-19 crisis, economic uncertainty, Black Lives Matter Movement and more, it has never been more important for brands to move beyond selling towards building strong, meaningful relationships.
Unique Customer Journeys
As each consumer’s journey is unique and rarely linear, is a funnel the best way to view a customer’s journey? By better-utilizing data, brands can better understand these unique customer journeys, allowing them to more effectively customize marketing efforts to offer services and support in real-time.
For example, digital coupons aren’t new. ACME Market has gone beyond the norm by delivering a real-time individualized experience. ACME Loyalty members often receive exclusive, personalized offers or free items based on their previous ACME purchases or location. This approach integrates real-time data into a customized customer journey.
Rather than a funnel, the customer journey can be better conceptualized as existing in a larger universe where each brand is a star. Instead of following a linear journey, the question becomes whether a customer is currently being drawn toward your brand, the strength of the gravitational pull and what factors are bringing the customer closer into orbit. Each touchpoint with your brand can be thought of as a gravitational pulse – an opportunity to increase the strength of the connection.
The customer will move closer to or further away from a particular brand based on various criteria such as price, quality, value offering, marketing, and even corporate social mission/efforts. A brand will never have the capital or expertise to offer everything its customers need, so partnering with external experts can go a long way toward identifying where, how and with whom to make the most impact.
Great media agencies go beyond “where,” diving deeper into the “how,” “when” and “who.” For example, a furnishing brand can partner with publishers like Good Homes or Pinterest. Through the use of rich data such as an individual’s Pinterest pins, the agency can help the brand better identify users’ tastes to align them with offers and products best suited through targeted videos or interior design inspiration. Dynamic creative advertising is a great way to accomplish this with a generally light lift, custom tailoring messages to the individual consumer.
Different Ways of Harnessing Data’s Power
Applying AI to data can help marketers identify issues that exist for customers, further enabling them to offer diverse solutions to various problems in real-time. For instance, chatbots now allow individuals to raise their hands and get information by engaging directly with the brand on a “one-to-one level” with immediate solutions.
Customer’s “feedback” is some of the richest data a brand can utilize for improvements. Last year, the Jenny Craig team noticed people were skipping appointments with weight-loss coaches, and competitors were gaining market share. Through data analysis, Jenny Craig noticed new and old clients’ daily activity tracking was declining, so it updated its app to make it more user-friendly, making clients’ lives easier. This change resulted in more sign-ups, more 1:1 coach scheduling, returning users and greater use of product offerings.
In addition to direct brand engagement, signals such as purchase history and location data can be indicators of change in a customers’ current or future needs. If an airline sees that a flyer has a trip coming up, they can proactively offer value by providing helpful articles/information in advance of their trip. Notes such as 10 most visited locations in the surrounding area of your destination, a packing checklist, or maybe notifications to alert your bank you are traveling so they don’t block your card. This kind of interaction helps keep a brand’s gravitational connection with customers strong by continuing to add relevance and value. These actions help build an affinity for a brand and strengthen the connection over time.
Capital One is a great example of how improving customer service can strengthen brand connection and improve business. It turned its branches into coffee shops, offering customers beverages or snacks while they wait. This gave customers a better experience, but it also offered Capital One additional brand touchpoints with its customers and data collection opportunities. Furthermore, Capital One used data to benefit customers directly, with no end point-of-sale or action required. By monitoring credit card purchases juxtaposed with routines and habit changes, it was able to offer value in the form of spending alerts or savings suggestions. With more accuracy and care, it was able to flag items like “strange” payments, free trial expirations and monthly bill increases (just to name a few). What consumer doesn’t love a company that can offer value like without having to pay a cent?
Looking at these examples, one can imagine the volume of data and levers involved to get to a point where a brand can speak to individuals in meaningful ways across their unique customer journeys. For a brand to dive deeper into customer engagement and touchpoints, engineers and creatives must have a fluid dialogue. Engineers can share insights gleaned from the data, and the marketing teams can figure out how to implement those insights. Insights can be found in the type of content being consumed by specific purchase groups, site functions being frequented or underutilized, customer feedback and offline behaviour to name a few. This information can help marketing or sales teams focus on more effective efforts.
The Bottom Line
Funnel targeting is generally based on grouping consumers into large audiences, which is a great way to find potential customers. However, this just scratches the surface, and it isn’t enough to establish a true connection, limiting the ability to be more impactful. Truly creative uses of data make consumers’ lives better and demonstrate how the brand is ultimately using their data for the good of the consumer, not just to push them through the funnel. To win more customers and strengthen relationships with current ones, create a clear ecosystem that provides a positive experience without feeling intrusive. In today’s environment, this approach to data-driven marketing is not just necessary but welcomed. Ultimately, understanding your universe through consumers’ data will identify where you need to go next.