Use tools that predict conversations before they happen — then leverage the information to create meaningful conversations
It’s becoming clear that the future of marketing will be built around conversations. Technology, after all, has made everything somewhat social. But with the all-powerful consumer controlling conversations, how do brands get a word in edgewise?
The answer can be summed up in one word: analytics.
There’s an expectation that your brand, like every other brand, has gathered enough information about your customers that you not only know who they are and what they need but also how to speak to them — and in a way, they like to be spoken to, no less.
But many brands miss the mark. Instead of using analytics to learn, experiment, and develop all aspects of business, they get wrapped up in measuring the minutiae. They view analytics as just a means to discuss performance, which can cause them to lose sight of their consumers.
In other words, if you don’t make the most of your analytics, you’re cutting yourself off at the knees in the realm of engagement. And chances are good that a competitor will swoop in, taking up your position in the marketplace — perhaps permanently.
Crafting Effective Conversations
When it comes to using analytics to engage in conversations, the strongest system will use tools that predict conversations before they happen — a bit like playing out a discussion in your head before it ever takes place.
Let’s say you’re running a promotion. Insights from data should tell you who might be interested in the offer. But those same insights can also help you craft a message that you know will resonate with your target audience.
It sounds manipulative, no doubt. But what you’re really doing is creating a moment — one that will hopefully lead to others, creating a thoughtful conversation between you and your customer.
Think of it as a form of storytelling, in which you deliver actionable messages based on individual needs and preferences. You understand where someone is along the buying journey, and you know what content will get both of you to the next stage. Each message, video, or article adds one more layer to your relationship, deepening the connection.
The whole experience is built on a cycle of conversations with clear benefits for all participants. As long as you know what drives customers’ decisions, you can move them in the right direction.
Predicting Customer Actions
Now that you know how to use data to engage consumers in a meaningful conversation with your brand, it’s time to consider how to leverage information so it will benefit your brand in the future. Enter predictive analytics.
Trying to predict what a consumer will do next is nothing new. Marketers have been at it for years — with mixed results, of course. Marketing automation moved the needle further, helping score leads according to their propensity to buy. But the introduction of predictive analytics allowed brands to get a clear picture of what was possible going forward.
Predictive analytics takes chunks of data and breaks them down, allowing marketers to better predict future events. Analytics should no longer be viewed as a "backward-looking dashboard." Instead of focusing only on past results, brands can use those statistics to predict what customers will likely do and make adjustments accordingly.
All you need to begin is baseline data from your marketing and sales organization, and many of the tools available to make sense of this data will work easily in tandem with your marketing stack.
In fact, within two years of starting a predictive marketing initiative, you could see an increased ROI — that’s what happened for 86 percent of companies surveyed by Forbes.
Making the Most of Your Analytics
It’s clear that gathering information on customers’ habits and tastes is beneficial for brands, but how exactly do brands go about gaining consumer insights through data analytics to improve engagement? Start with these four tips:
1. Develop a strategic vision.
Collecting data is often compared to collecting dots. You can collect as many as you want, but if you never bother to connect them, each dot is equal to the next — and what’s the point in that?
Instead of focusing on how much data you’ve collected, look for ways to quantify the value of that information by tying it back to what you want to accomplish. That often means scoring data points beyond their ability to target a particular demographic.
If you want to build a more engaging customer experience, data can clue you in on an individual’s personal tastes. These can then be used to personalize all interactions going forward and strengthen the customer’s bond with your brand.
2. Plan out your next steps.
Timing, as they say, is everything in business. You can craft a spot-on message, but if it doesn’t reach the right person at the right time, it won’t create any effect.
Take on a more forward-thinking view of data points. Look at them in terms of where the customer is in the buyer’s journey and what will motivate him or her to make a purchase. It’s about ensuring each interaction is relevant to the individual.
But don’t think all strategies must be actionable at this time — some can be aspirational. Just make sure you always keep data in mind when planning your next steps in the communication process.
4. Refrain from looking at data in isolation.
It’s easy to get drawn into the minutiae, but the bigger picture should always focus on the combination of elements within a data set. That’s where the impact will be the largest.
To ensure you collect the most relevant, actionable data from customers, be deliberate with your interactions from the start. Lead them to give you the information you need, not just what you want.
If you want to uncover more about customer preference, for example, let each customer choose his or her own offers. Those choices could provide you the information you need to later engage with them on a deeper level by personalizing your communications.
4. Allow room for failure.
Failure can feed your innovation machine. After all, innovation often comes from learning, and you can’t learn — or iterate and adapt, for that matter — without taking risks.
Give your team room to fail at their endeavors. It’s possible one of your employees might take on a risky project and find something in your data that no one else sees, leading to a new way for your brand to communicate with customers.
If, however, employees don’t understand how to find the value in data sets, you’ve got a bigger problem. Hire a specialist to train your staff.
Done right, analytics can help you track and scale everything from products to packaging as a way of improving engagement with your customer base. It all starts with a strategic vision that focuses on the big picture and informs your next steps in customer communication. If you keep your interactions authentic and use data to target your messages, you’ll find yourself on a path to success.
SVP, Experience Analytics, RAPP
LA, is a seasoned expert in data-driven strategy and marketing analytics. With various leadership roles in technical consulting, marketing and business development, she provides a wide understanding and experience applying analytics-generated insights to achieve growth in startups and big-name brands. She is a graduate with dual MBA from University of Wisconsin-Whitewater and an MS – Predictive Analytics from Northwestern University.