If you know your customers then proving it can be very profitable, and social media has been a great boost for brands in recent years. The delivery of many-to-many messaging, using the 'power of the crowd' to share and achieve some degree of cohort-based segmentation, has changed brand engagement. But is it also good for the consumer, asks Russell Loarridge of Janrain.
Consumers are increasingly willing to share personal information in order to receive a better, more relevant experience. But where is that experience? Having Twitter followers and Facebook pages is great - but how many brands are linking Twitter/Facebook shared information to existing customer records or creating a single cross-media profile for their customer to approve and manage?
Customers want a personalised experience and are providing brands with the information required to achieve true one to one marketing on a massive scale.
"Social is no longer just about the media; it is about the data. The winners in the next generation of social strategy are already proving that using freely available customer data to achieve true personalisation completely transforms customer engagement," said Loarridge.
Organisations need to evolve social media strategies - and fast. What is the objective of your strategy? To be seen? To reinforce a brand? Or to exploit the extraordinary depth and breadth of consumer data now freely available to transform customer understanding and achieve true one to one personalisation?
"If the latter, then it is time to shape up. Today there is a growing disconnect between a customer's expectation of how a brand will use the information provided and the reality," warned Loarridge. In fact, according to the Direct Marketing Association (DMA), 76% of consumers will share their personal information with a brand they have a relationship with on the basis that the on-going experience and interaction will improve. They understand the value of a tailored experience that reflects likes & dislikes and builds on previous behaviour and social activity to reinforce the quality of brand interaction.
Now it is the brands turn to deliver on their side of the bargain. Today far too many online experiences are not just impersonal - they are badly personalised. At best, brands get the gender correct. Offers rarely reflect previous online activity, the content read or goods browsed; nor are brands geared up to respond in real time to a consumer's actual behaviour. A complaint via Twitter might generate a response - but will it reflect the fact that the complainant is actually a long term loyal customer? Unlikely.
A single identity
Organisations may have - only just - got a handle on delivering some degree of personalisation via traditional desktop web interactions. But they are sadly failing to join up the multiple instances of customer interaction that now prevail, from devices such as PC, tablet, mobile and games machine, to social such as Twitter and LinkedIn. Yet in a world dominated by social media, the opportunities for knitting together these interactions and gaining an unprecedented depth of customer information are significant - especially given the fact that consumers are also committed to improving their online experiences.
Research reveals that consumers are willing to share personal data - but only if they see some tangible value. For example, Channel 4 asks customers to share personal data not in order to transform the online experience but to enable the creation of better programming. The public service broadcaster openly says to customers: better audience understanding drives more effective advertising sales, generating more money for programming.
And that works. Consumers buy into that message - they understand the long term value to their own experiences. They also respond very positively when the experience becomes relevant. For example, recent Monetate research highlighted that 75% of consumers would be happy for retailers to use their personal information to improve the online shopping experience while organisations who personalise online services see a 19% increase in sales. And with a consumer base increasingly disenfranchised by poor, impersonal, indeed irrelevant online offers and information, getting it right drives both loyalty and advocacy.
Building an identity
This is really just the start. Consumers want more. They want the brand to recognise them as a top customer when they complain via Twitter, even if the Twitter handle bears no resemblance to the name used to place orders; they want a brand to reflect all interactions from mobile to Facebook in any offers; they want true real time personalisation.
To create a personal experience a brand has to be able to stitch these multiple identities together: it is identity that drives engagement. The ability to create a single view of each customer - a true customer profile - transforms a brand's ability to leverage the technology available to drive personalisation on a mass scale.
The steps are simple: acquire customer information, leverage technology to create the relevant, personal offers and do this in real time via a content management system to present offers and content that are not just personal but time sensitive. Taking this approach radically changes the consumer experience and quality of brand engagement.
For example, many retailers feel threatened by show rooming, with customers increasingly coming in store to view goods and then searching online - while in store - to check out different pricing options. Yet research from New York University reveals customers are as likely to check out that retailer's web site as any other. By recognising this consumer as she browses their.com site, the brand can capture that behaviour and use that information to deliver an offer or voucher that directly reflects the product being researched as well as the customer's previous behaviour, activity and social profile. The customer is in the store now: make the most of the opportunity.
So what now?
As more and more brands begin to get this right, consumer expectations continue to rise. And, in a world driven by social media, the speed with which user behaviour changes is phenomenal. A good, personalised experience will not only be valued by one consumer but shared with a broad social sphere. Get it right, and the response from consumers will be dramatic. Get it wrong, and brands will fast discover that many consumers have jumped ship to enjoy the experience offered by the competition. And just how will you win them back?
"The fact is that any organisation not actively considering how to exploit freely shared customer information to transform the way it engages with customers in store, online and via mobile is at risk of falling behind the competition," concluded Loarridge. "Consumers crave personalisation. They are prepared to share data to enable that personalisation. The technology is already in place to deliver a mass, one-to-one, highly personal experience."