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The importance of using customer data for personalisation in 2016

Our interview with Jim Conning, the head of Data Services at Royal Mail

I spoke to Jim Conning, Managing Director of Data Services at Royal Mail about how marketers need to master the use of customer data to deliver the right message at the right time

Q. Personalised messaging based around customer’s life events is a great way to cut through the noise and reach customers in a way that is meaningful to them. Can you give some idea of what capabilities marketers need in place to be able to achieve this kind of messaging?Jim Conning

First and foremost, marketers need to understand the value of their customers’ life events, and what life events are relevant for your business and products. For example, moving home represents a major opportunity for the utilities providers because around 65% of consumers switch suppliers when they move. Once the life events have been identified businesses need to act on this insight by combining the science of data analysis with the art of relevant, meaningful communication.

To do this, they need direct access to up-to-date, accurate and permissioned customer life-event data from trusted third-party providers.But if they are to take full advantage of this information, businesses need agile systems, processes and technologies in place that enable them to dynamically act on customer life events as they happen. And have the sturdy data protection policies in place to ensure it can happen. In addition, they should have the capability, resources and tools to conduct ‘closed-loop’ marketing. This is where the ROI and effectiveness of their life event-specific campaigns is constantly measured and insights from this are applied to future actions.

Q. Only one-third of marketers realise that a life event increases the chances of a customer switching to a new company, and thus presenting a business with new customer acquisition opportunities. Why do you think it is such a low proportion of marketers that realise this?

This is symptomatic of an over-reliance on static customer data. Such data generalises and looks at consumers historically rather than at what’s currently happening in their lives as individuals. Most marketers simply aren’t aware of how to tap into and exploit customer life events and struggle to keep pace with consumers’ fickle purchasing behaviours.

However, a significant proportion of marketers are now looking for better ways to use customer data. But they need help understanding how to correlate internally held customer data with third-party life-events data such as moving home. There needs to be more education and promotion of the value of such customer-centric, data-driven marketing strategies and techniques, because those organisations that are conducting life-event marketing are witnessing significant increases in their response and conversion rates.

Q. Marketers ranked quality of contact data as the single most important factor in delivering marketing effectiveness, far higher than creative design or the timing of campaigns. Why do you think data quality is so critical?

Data quality is the absolute bedrock on which any successful marketing campaign is built. There’s no point doing great creative, data segmentation, analytics or personalised marketing unless the contact data you’re using is as accurate and clean as you can make it. All the smart stuff won’t make a difference if the base information you’re working from is inaccurate.

Q. If data quality is so critical to marketing success, what are some key things organisations can do to improve the quality of their data collection?

Organisations need to be able to automatically validate and check contact and address data at the point of capture, whether that’s online, in-store, or over the phone. But it’s vital that the validation process doesn’t just stop here – companies need to ensure they have systems and processes in place to ensure customer data is cleaned and updated on a continuous, automated basis rather than as a one-off job, which currently tends to be the case. It’s also essential, when collecting customer data, to make sure that the correct permissions are attached to individual records.

Q. Marketers see change of an email address as more important than having children. Can you explain why this is?

Over the past 10 years, email has become a popular marketing channel for many marketers, with companies relying on it as a low-cost way to reach customers and prospects. So a change of email address means potentially losing that route to send messages to a customer. However, marketers are increasingly realising that email is not the answer to all their acquisitions or CRM challenges. In fact, our recent research report shows that 67 per cent of marketers consider postal address data as the most important type of data to be collected for marketing purposes. This is no surprise – after all, it’s impossible to deliver a new sofa to an email address!

Q. Some companies focus on collecting data from their own channels, whilst others partner with third party providers. Which do you think is the better approach, or is the best way some combination of the two?

For true marketing effectiveness, companies have to mine their own customer data for insight and then combine this with information and intelligence from third-party providers. Internally held, first-party details such as email addresses and purchase histories can get you so far, but third-party data – all subject to obtaining the relevant permissions – form a much more powerful version of this by providing the why, when and how elements.

Companies also have to consider how willing a customer may be to share personal information with them. For example, if you’re buying a new piece of furniture, you’re happy to share your name, address, email, and mobile number. Often this decision relies on the value exchange and what customers get in return.

Q. Collecting data and drawing insights from that data that can lead to actionable steps are two very different kettles of fish. What do you recommend companies do to make sure their data will be actionable?

The first step is always to ensure that customer data is up-to-date, accurate, correctly permissioned and complete – if your data fails to meet any of these criteria, then any actions taken based on it won’t be wholly successful. Once you have ‘action-ready’ data, you need in place the agile systems and processes necessary to perform ‘just-in-time’, fully permissioned marketing. You also need to assess how third-party data can help existing data to become more actionable.”

Q. Only 15% of marketers think data-privacy is an obstacle to data-driven marketing, and only 7% think data security is an obstacle. Do you think they are underestimating the size of the issue, or are the legal directives on this issue fairly easy to become compliant with?

Marketers aren’t underestimating the size of the issue. But they don’t consider it an obstacle either because, for the most part, they recognise the need to ensure their data collection, use and management procedures adhere to new regulations. In other words, they view compliance as a given, not an obstacle. However, as our research report shows, technology remains the principle barrier to the adoption of data-driven marketing.

Q. Do you think permission marketing becoming a legal requirement with be beneficial for the industry overall?

Any new legislation also presents new opportunities. So yes, this is a positive for the industry and it should already go without saying that marketers need to be appropriate, relevant and meaningful in how they operate if they want to deliver a successful customer experience. This legislation should help marketers to refocus and think more in terms of ‘What is it that my customers want or need from me and how do they want me to engage?’ rather than ‘What is it that I have to sell to them?

Q. Can you sum up the importance of data to marketers in a single sentence?

If you could increase the return on your marketing investment by reaching people at the exact time when they’re actively in the market for your products and services, would you ignore the opportunity?

Report: Why Marketers need data

We're grateful to Jim for taking the time to speak to us and give marketers some really great pointers when it comes to utilising customer data and life events. If you think Jim makes a good point and you want more insights into delivering personalised messages during customer life events, then you can download the full report on customer life events.

By Robert Allen

I am the Editor of Smart Insights. I manage the Smart Insights blog and write on a range of subjects- Marketing Technology trends and latest tech developments are a regular focus, as well as exploring key marketing concepts. You can get in touch with me on Twitter and connect with me on LinkedIn.

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