How well are marketers integrating on and offline?
Aug 13 2012:
Thanks to the increasing pressure being heaped onto marketers’ shoulders by the need to deal with ‘Big Data’, it has never been more important to have a strategy to integrate offline and online data. To find out how well the industry is meeting that challenge, Callcredit Information Group and Database Marketing recently conducted a research programme. The results make for very interesting reading.
By Paul Kennedy
Keeping up with the fast pace of technological change and the rapid growth in Big Data can be a challenge for many businesses, particularly given the sheer range of digital channels, applications, and media that are constantly evolving – and the scale of infrastructure investment that may be required. The challenges include how to take advantage of awkward and disparate datasets (which accounts for approximately 90% of all data according to IBM) together with structured data found in traditional relational databases as well as being able to process and interperate the data. Using Big Data assets like Callcredit’s Define can enable a more holistic view of the consumer.
Many UK consumer brands have done their best to respond to these challenges by developing an integrated approach to marketing and customer engagement across multiple channels. However, few would deny that there is still scope to increase channel integration – and ultimately improve customer experience.
Callcredit Information Group and Database Marketing recently carried out research with a number of brands across a wide range of sectors, including financial services, utilities and retail, to explore further how brands are currently integrating their digital marketing initiatives with non-digital marketing such as in-store, phone and direct mail – and how they plan to extend this in the future. We were also interested to discover what perceived benefits channel integration can have.
It goes without saying that the more developed an integration strategy, the more value it brings. Brands that have not yet started any channel integration – in other words, their online and offline operations are kept completely separate, with no customer data-sharing in place – can expect to see significantly lower returns than those that have fully joined-up their operations, with all possible connections between online and offline operations being made and individual, personalised, multi-channel campaigns with a single customer view being carried out.
Our survey results suggest that most brands recognise this. When asked to rank the most important benefits associated with integrating online and offline, the most popular choice (34%) was the ability to link past online activity and purchase intent together, regardless of the way the consumer touches the brand. A further 18% of respondents recognised being able to link shop-based transactions with internet or mobile-based transactions and intents as being the most important benefit, while 17% opted for the ability to link a web surfer’s activity to their full contact details and consumer profile.
However, while it is clear that many brands do appreciate the benefits of integration, the survey also found that a third of respondents have currently undertaken no integration at all, while only 8% described their marketing strategy as fully integrated. The vast majority of respondents (62%) claimed to have carried out ‘some’ integration – in other words, they have made some progress with data-sharing and building links, but there are further opportunities to be exploited in joining up their online and offline strategies.
Despite this, the picture is a little more positive when looking at brands’ future plans, with 38% aiming for full integration within the next two years, and 55% aiming for some integration – leaving a small minority, 7%, expecting to have not carried out any integration at all. Perhaps this suggests that brands are growing increasingly confident as they get to grips with the new opportunities available to them.
A keystone of integrating online and offline is the building of a single database for customer marketing across channels and, encouragingly, the vast majority of brands have either completed or are well underway with building this. Other aspects of channel integration are perhaps less well-adopted, however, with less than half of businesses profiling their customers who follow their brand socially or who use mobile devices to engage with the brand, and only 35% having a mobile-optimised web presence.
We also noted clear trends by sector, with businesses that scored highly for overall channel integration tending to be in the technology, agency and retail sectors. Those in travel / leisure, financial services and media / publishing were much lower down the scale, suggesting that much more can be done in these sectors to boost integration. However, there were interesting anomalies within the sectors – for instance, retail organisations were more likely than average to have a single database for managing online and offline activity, but they were below average in their ability to profile online and social media customers. Similarly, although travel and leisure businesses had a low overall integration score, they were among the highest for having mobile-optimised web presence, and for profiling customers who engage via mobile.
With these findings in mind, what positive steps can businesses from all sectors take to improve their integration strategies? Of course, some aspects of integration may require significant investment in technology infrastructure, which in these difficult economic times may not be viable for some. However, there are a number of more straightforward, and less costly, options that can be adopted relatively easily – for example, undertaking social profiling in order to develop an understanding of how your customers use social media; looking for opportunities to generate personalised emails based on your web visitors’ browsing behaviours; trying out the new generation of personalised online advertising that has recently emerged; and ensuring that sites are mobile-optimised for both smartphone and tablet. Such changes, however small, can ensure your business reaps the rewards in the long term.
Staying ahead means embracing technology, data assets, people and partnerships with the expertise, ability, investment to make on and off-line integration a reality. The rise of the professional consumer over recent years makes an integrated approach to customer interaction is no longer optional.
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