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Improving customer engagement with Big Data

Author's avatar By Expert commentator 28 Aug, 2013
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Using Big Data to optimise engagement with your customers 

How to use big data to create better relationships with your customers as individuals instead of as a generic demographic

Enhancing consumer engagement and promoting loyalty is one of marketing’s key goals. But as technology advances, processes are changing. To boost engagement and loyalty, brands must use data to understand how multichannel consumers choose to engage; learn who your consumers are and what they want, and you can adapt to match.

Most organisations are well aware of this data advantage. But data analysis is not simple. The increasing availability of options from channels to devices means opportunities for consumer engagement are expanding, leading to an incredible increase in data generation.

This volume and velocity can be difficult for organisations to manage in house initially so they invest in data experts to develop a solution to collate, curate and utilise data in the right way.

Advantages of a data strategy include enhanced engagement and custom, seamless consumer experiences (through better targeted marketing and loyalty schemes etc.) plus reduced marketing wastage.

Optimising Engagement with consumers

Abundant technology means individual consumers are more confident, outspoken, and expect more than ever before from their relationships with brands. The data gathered from customer interactions is of course valuable to brands, providing insight into preferences, purchasing motivators, likes and dislikes etc.

Organisations with well-managed data strategies are best placed to use this information to their advantage, especially once it’s integrated with other, offline marketing information to create complete 360 degree pictures of consumers as individuals, rather than as broad demographics.

This enhances engagement in two ways.

  • Firstly, it allows brands to react quickly to customers; better aligning them by building trust, and connecting with them at the exact right moment via the right marketing touch point, (for example loyalty schemes can be better adjusted to reward particular forms of consumer engagement in precise ways).
  • Secondly it gives the consumer a sense of control. Control in this context means the marketing consumers receive is streamlined to 'their' terms - i.e. it's timely, relevant and arrives via their indicated channel of preference. Get that contact wrong by delivering the wrong messages at the wrong time, and marketers risk alienating customers. But get it right, streamlined interactions will better consumer experiences and improve revenue.

So big data is the key to optimising customer engagement. With the right insight data and effective analysis, organisations can truly understand what marketing actions consumers will respond to best.

Engagement case study: American Express airline loyalty scheme

A great example of how data use can be beneficial to consumer engagement is in air miles loyalty schemes, specifically the collaborative scheme established between American Express and its airline partner.

Facilitated and managed by Acxiom, the scheme drove revenue, boosted brand presence and of course encouraged loyalty for all involved. American Express first joined as an airline partner in 1997, and together the two companies created an air miles loyalty scheme, to give customers points that could eventually be used to purchase flights, each time they used their American Express card.

Innovative air miles customer loyalty schemes such as this require the intricate management of a lot of consumer information from many sources, so must be robust, secure, well supported and well maintained. Initially American Express planned to implement the loyalty scheme itself, in-house, however it became clear quickly that the company’s IT services were not sufficient to develop or support the complex infrastructure necessary.

Seeking experienced data providers Acxiom to develop and supply the right technology to address the challenge in a quick, flexible and responsive manner, a robust points calculation engine with intelligent reporting functionality was implemented.

Speed and security were two key data concerns for both American Express and the airline, but were easily resolved through collaboration with Acxiom:

  • Regarding speed, points calculation is often very time sensitive, more so when linked to specific marketing campaigns, so it was important this was implemented quickly and correctly.
  • Regarding security, because the loyalty scheme related to American Express, much of the data to be processed was financial, so maintaining high security levels was also a priority.

Early introduction of the solution paved the way for later loyalty card schemes, causing all companies involved to achieve well competitively. And in addition to generally increasing card transactions and encouraging airline loyalty, more than a decade on the scheme is still successful. An internal, rather than outsourced solution has since been developed, which went live in 2011. Acxiom still advise and service other sections of American Express however.

One of the reasons this particular loyalty scheme is so successful is that both American Express and its airline partner recognise their clients as unique consumers.

Both know that the type of consumer likely to become a frequent flyer (who would find an air miles points scheme relevant and appealing), and know that those types of people are also likely to favour American Express cards. By using their data to understand their consumer’s habits and lifestyles, the two brands were able to partner successfully, using their similarities to promote a well matched, engaging loyalty programme.

Using Data to enhance your own engagement

What can other brands do to learn from this example and boost their own engagement? Whether collaborating with knowledgeable data providers, refining solutions in-house or adopting the management of a pre-established data management platform, those aiming to use data for marketing campaign advantages should:

  • Keep databases current. Consumer data has a short actionable shelf life meaning databases are easily out dated. Data must be recent to keep track of consumers (i.e. so you know when their basic details change). Otherwise you wont be able to correctly contact your audience, personalise consumer experiences, and will repel rather than engage consumers.
  • Monitor your marketing touch points. Technology allows customers to state their contact preferences - frequency and channel (or opt out). Adhering to these wishes cements brand uniformity, and prevents marketing schizophrenia. For example if you’re informing a card user that they can collect air miles points, be sure to do it once only, and via their preferred channel, rather than inundating them with the same message everywhere – they may not be interested. 
  • Create a singular customer view. Knowing that the consumer who registered via your website is the same consumer who booked a flight via mobile, or just called customer services to ask about their points is difficult. But if you correctly curate your data to form a unified database of individual customers across all channels, you'll be much better placed to engage them.
  • Stress a secure focus. Trust in security is important for all brands, but especially for financial providers. Data motives must be made clear to consumers in privacy policies, and any marketing scheme must ensure data is shared with responsible parties only, while adhering to the most current data regulations. (This is where professional data management can help engagement strategies shine).

So to secure engagement and advance competitively, brands and marketers must embrace structured plans to better understand their consumers, then develop cohesive data management platforms to actively engage with those consumers, and promote loyalty in the right way.

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By Expert commentator

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