DTC marketing: Direct-to-consumer retailers can see massive gains in e-commerce revenue via real-time engagement benefits.
In a marketplace where consumers are now trained to ignore advertising, tune out direct marketing, or quickly get distracted with a click of a mouse or a swipe of a finger, it’s never been more important to find ways of reaching customers with the right message at the right time, using contextual, timely messaging, and relevant content.
Communication that’s pertinent and tuned to the customer offers marketers the chance to build deeper relationships with consumers, but they will become frustrated by messaging that interrupts, is irrelevant, or makes assumptions that are either untrue or out of date.
Increasing conversions involves finding the balance between learning enough about consumers to make marketing that’s right for them, without seeming to target them in intrusive ways, or violate their data privacy.
Here, Brian Walker, who leads strategy, marketing and ecosystem at SAP Hybris, examines how best to use online channels to drive deeper consumer engagement.
The right message at the right time: How to deliver
Greg Williams: Are we getting nearer to understanding consumers in real-time?
Brian Walker: The short answer is yes, but first, I think we need to focus on where we are today. Today’s marketing is far from being a responsive or a live system. More often than not, marketers are defining segments based on crude audience data they buy from third parties and combining that with data derived from behaviors that are months old.
This means that the marketing I receive has little chance to be actually relevant to what I am trying to do or am interested in right now. Marketing survives on volume, with low returns, and this leads to two bad outcomes. First, the customer gets turned off because it is not relevant, and second much of the marketing spend is wasted.
For example, if I have an item in a shopping cart on a website, you should not send me a marketing message. Why? Because the conversion rate drops as you’re likely to send me some place else. I might say, “Oh, I was going to buy that sweater, but now there’s a sale on pants so maybe I’ll look at pants but before I decide, maybe I better look at that other brand.” And so you’ll lose me because I’ll click away.
We’re now working towards trying to build what’s essentially a live marketing capability that benefits both marketers – who will receive more conversions – and consumers who will receive more relevant contextual experiences and messages.
This type of capability is what we are focused on, and it is built on what we call a ‘live profile’ that can be used across all marketing and communication and digitally enabled experiences.
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GW: So the message should be strengthened rather than act as a distraction?
BW: With the data we have today we can make sure marketing is contextual. That way we reinforce what the consumer has already demonstrated they’re interested in, rather than sending a marketing message that’s completely unrelated to what they’re actually shopping for.
Similarly, if the customer has a customer service issue, is making a time-related purchase, or is inside the window where an order is being delivered and you can provide a contextualised message, the customer is much more likely to open it and engage with it.
A great example of this is something like an order status email, which could contain marketing for accessory items.
Today’s consumers are very good at tuning out marketing, so it’s critical for marketers to focus on creating a high degree of relevance and use context to provide something more meaningful to the customer that will ultimately drive engagement.
GW: And is that all about understanding consumers on a granular level, so that messaging can be personalized?
BW: I tend not to use the word “personalization,” because I don’t believe that online marketing is truly personalized – it’s marketers pushing a specific product or offer based on demographic segments and audience data they think defines some type of consumer affinity. The algorithm assumes that you’re going to be interested because you possess some demographic characteristic or there’s a relationship between products you’ve purchased in the past. Sometimes it works quite well, but it’s not truly personalized. It is just slightly better targeting. There is a difference.
GW: Can the attempt to personalize messaging come across as a little creepy?
BW: As consumers, we all get creeped out when we’ve shopped for something and we’re online in a completely different context and start seeing ads presented for the products we were searching for minutes or hours ago. That happens because the system serving those marketing messages isn’t smart enough to realise that it has presented that message to the consumer before and they’ve haven’t engaged with it, or worse that they’ve already bought that item or removed it from a cart in-favor of another item.
This may sound counterintuitive, but the way we can reduce the creepiness factor is to increase transparency.
When you see on a website “customers who browsed X also browsed Y,” or “customers who bought X also bought Y’” you have a very different opinion about that than when you get a message that clearly lets a customer know that they’ve been targeted with a specific offer or product, even though it’s essentially the same thing.
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GW: However you present marketing to consumers, isn’t developing a fully rounded view of the consumer the key to making a sale?
BW: If you work on creating a transparent, live system, then the third aspect you need to work on is linking all the disparate point solutions marketers are using today. When you talk to marketers, you might be shocked to learn that the average number of marketing point solutions they work with is 25. Each one of those marketing solutions has its own pool of customer data that’s recording clicks and interactions, but they’re completely unlinked.
Ultimately marketers need to create a single view of the customer. Today, consumers have an expectation that everything works together – certainly from a transactional or shopping perspective. But marketers are still not able to really listen to and derive context and meaning from all of these different point solutions, because each one of them has its own view of that customer interaction and they’re not linked – the customer interactions appear to have nothing to do with each other.
The reason I get identified as wanting, say, a particular hat, is because I engaged with it on another website and dropped a cookie which flags the interaction and some batch process that’s about three weeks old put me in a cookie pool to serve an ad to me for that product, right?
The trouble is that it’s often weeks behind and not linked to the interactions customers are having in total with a business or brand.
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GW: Where are we with building technology platforms to help with some of these challenges?
BW: We’re launching a solution at SAP Hybris in a few months that enables that single view of customer. And it has a back door for customers to manage their own information – you can tell it ‘do not track me’, or ‘do not forget me’ so it’s EU Data Privacy compliant. Ultimately, our clients will decide how they want to enable that kind of transparency or access.
For marketers, the value is enabling that context and relevancy. We could call it personalisation, but as I mentioned earlier, I just think that term is not particularly meaningful today. We need to think beyond it and make it relevant for the customer. Today, it’s a very one-sided relationship, which is why I think many consumers aren’t happy with it, but I’m really excited about the opportunities because we know that customers are very willing to share information if they get a better experience in return and are in-control. If we can deliver that, then everybody wins.