The key to personalised communication

Big data. It’s the buzz phrase of the year. But what does it actually mean and, more importantly, how can companies cut through all the noise and understand their customers?

Big data requires a process – a way of managing the data sources you have and modelling it to allow you to create insight to apply to your activities. This can be used for the benefit of communications with your customers and your business.

Over the past year, the most common application of big data has been one-to-one marketing. Customers are increasingly being targeted in a personalised way, and they are increasingly expecting to be. However, whilst managing customers on this basis is proven to make a significant and material difference to business performance, it's not simple to do.

Personalisation is more than just a name; it demonstrates to the customer that you know them – that you know their size, their favourite products, their location, the time of day/week that they shop, or whatever else it may be. In fact, it allows you to demonstrate that you know them so well you can predict their next purchase.

Take a step back

In order to effectively target customers in a personalised way it is necessary to take a step back: brands must first understand their customers. Loyalty programmes are one of the most popular methods used to achieve this. Through the process of segmentation, modelling and targeting, companies are equipped to send personalised offers to customers as well as to predict the shopping habits of prospective customers. This activity will increase engagement and, ideally, spend.

Given the omni-channel nature of shopping, an integral part in understanding customers is having a rounded view of their shopping habits; understanding, for example, when and how often they use online compared with convenience stores and larger stores, allowing for truly personalised communication.

Marketing has become unrecognisable

Going back ten years, no-one would have placed good money on marketing evolving into what it is today; marketing was typically simplified down to mass marketing for awareness – such as TV ads and outdoor ads, and mass mail for engagement – direct mail. What has become our reality today – a world where companies text customers directly and target them with personalised online and TV ads seemed a long way off.

Now, achieving cut-through is a very real challenge for brands. Personalisation, done well, provides the answer to those seeking to stand out and prove to customers that they care. More than this, personalisation provides brands with the means to meet the ever-increasing bar set by customers.

Enter the new era of CRM

CRM is not new, but has never been more important; as communication between brands and customers is increasingly a two way dialogue, CRM has become pivotal to retaining customers. It has become a case of survival of the fittest. Brands that do not know what their customers want and deliver accordingly, demonstrating loyalty in the process, will be forgotten. CRM is integral to ensuring attainment of these objectives.

A CRM system should be a culmination of four things: data, strategy, technology and creativity, not to mention the ability to join the dots between them. A successful CRM system will not only result in huge cost savings, but will also act as a source of revenue for the business.

It ensures that the data is clean, in one place and, with careful planning, will deliver just the right level of targeted communications to customers – not so much that the customer feels bombarded, but enough that they feel loved.

CRM adds huge value to businesses in ways other than financial thanks to the data – and therefore insight – that it collects. It allows customers’ purchasing cycles to be tracked and, based on this, enables companies to speak to their customers in the most appropriate way.

> See also: Be transparent about 'personalised pricing,' OFT warns businesses

The common pitfalls

There are many points at which companies can fail when implementing a CRM system although, on the whole, these are easily avoided.

The most common trap companies fall into is the trap of taking a short term view – the fact that loyalty is a long term process is often overlooked. Rather than developing a one year plan, companies should be looking at a five year plan; they can’t expect a solid base of loyal customers to appear overnight – the first step is engagement, and loyalty will follow. Adopting realistic expectations and time frames is therefore key to avoiding this pitfall.

Failing to carry out sufficiently in-depth research or develop a comprehensive plan at the beginning of the process is another common error, as is forgetting to employ a joined up approach – making sure the different departments work together to ensure a holistic approach.

Omitting to keep the customer front of mind is, ironically, an oft-made error, as is remembering to continually seek their feedback – key to the success of CRM. Facilitating the means for customers to provide feedback on an on-going basis, and at a time that suits them, is particularly beneficial in order to strengthen relationships.

CRM systems are becoming more sophisticated all the time, allowing companies to manage relationships and interact with their customers in ground breaking ways. They are notoriously difficult systems to implement and, as a result, companies are increasingly turning to specialists to oversee their implementation and maintenance. The investment in time and cost is well worth it however, as returns will be delivered beyond expectations.

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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