Five ways data is holding back personalised, one-on-one marketing (the first five really, because there are loads…)


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Unless they’ve been on extended leave or in serious dereliction of their duties, senior executives across the country are likely to have heard little else about the future of marketing than how putting customer relationships at the heart of their businesses will be vital in the coming years.

The digital world has forced a series of new challenges on business, and high on that list of challenges is the shift in customer behaviour bought about by the adoption of new technologies and communication through social media.

Firms keen to embrace this behaviour shift – and understand how consumers want to connect digital channels – need to think about how to gather data and then what to do with it.

In recent weeks we have looked at ideas around meaningful real-time marketing and examined how data can speed the desire to move towards sequential marketing – where campaigns can play out messages in chronological order, leaping betweens devices as the user does and never repeating previous promotional steps – but we haven’t, as yet, examined what the stumbling blocks might be as we moves closer to more personalised, one-on-one marketing.

A recent report from Forrester, called Advanced Practices in Real-Time Marketing, sought to examine progress toward delivering more targeted, relevant communications and look at the key challenges that would be faced on this journey.

By speaking to senior marketers in North America, Europe and Asia Pacific, Forrester concluded they were ready for a world of personalised, one-on-on interactions in as close to real time as possible.

The report determined that marketers were now moving beyond a ‘transactional’ mindset and focusing more on enhancing customer relationships as they take concrete actions to make one-on-one marketing happen. Key to these developments is the availability of plentiful customer data and getting people into data jobs.

But while data may offer a vision of the future, it also brings significant issues. First amongst the challenges (and therefore currently most significant) is grouping together disparate data sets, connecting them to existing systems, and making it all make sense.

Forrester identified five basic challenges:

  • Bridging silos – it isn’t that businesses lack data, it’s that data is all over the place, in different databases held by business units with often competing aims – the first difficulty is bringing it together into a central system.
  • Connecting data – once the data in centralised, the real problems begin. How do you match different types and sources to individuals? How do you match online and offline sources?
  • What is meaningful? – the report said such large volumes of data left its sources struggling to find critical data that will lead to valuable insights. This lead to differing approaches. Should you use analytics to survey all your data or focus on keeping just certain data that can easily be understood?
  • What’s the value of Social? – the depth and personalised nature of data from social media makes it incredibly rich, but how do you work with volumes and formats that make it hard to quantify?
  • New kinds of data – to serve customers in a personalised way, firms are increasingly looking for new data sets around which they can build products and services. But just what sets are available? How can they be turned into something useful?

Not doubt, the move away from mass marketing to a more nuanced approach will take time. But when these data issues are overcome, once it’s more or less possible to perform quick, easy, and widespread segmentation while retaining the ability to talk at scale to potential customers; once that is in place, a whole new and different set of question arise:

  • How far down that road do marketers want to travel?
  • How near to one-on-one marketing is too near?
  • When does it start to get creepy and invasive?

It’s the step from what is technically achievable to what is ethically permissible that will ultimately govern how far marketers will be able to engage customers and prospects on a one-to-one basis.