Online marketers need to make not just fast sub-100 millisecond decisions, but intelligent ones which use the best data available. Here are key steps to take to achieve this goal.

Roger Luxton, senior solutions consultant, Alterian

Roger Luxton, senior solutions consultant, Alterian

When marketers get together these days, a big recurring theme is the need for companies to respond and react to their customers in real-time. At a high level this makes perfect sense, after all, as a consumer I expect companies I engage with to respond rapidly to my behavior. But speed isn’t everything—making a lousy decision fast can potentially do more harm to a brand. Success will be increasingly about the ability to respond fast, but doing so intelligently.  It will be about adaptive marketing.

For example, imagine an anonymous user is visiting your website and pops a few items in their basket. They continue to browse, and you suspect they might be about to leave your site. You might just trigger a reminder offer to go back and buy. You might even offer a discount. Sounds great, but imagine if rather than browsing they’ve just completed the purchase by phoning into your call center. If they’ve just bought at full price, only to look back and see they could have got a discount—suddenly you’ve got a disgruntled customer.

Today’s marketers need to strive for making not just fast sub-100 millisecond decisions, but intelligent ones which use the very best data available. Here are some key steps that companies need to take to achieve this goal.

1. It’s about the opportunity, not the technology. Don’t focus on the technology, focus on the opportunity or decision—the ROI objective you are looking to reach.  Map out the channels and touchpoints you’d like to consider and work through how consumers will interact with them; what offer you could make and the objective you wish to satisfy.  Even at this initial stage, it pays to recognize that not all customers are the same, and you are going to want different messages and offers to different segments of customers.

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2. It’s about prioritizing those opportunities. Most marketers are never short of ideas, and very quickly you can end up with lots of potential opportunities.  That is where you need to think about which to tackle first.  Consider two factors up front—the size of the opportunity and ease of implementation.  You may sometimes want to focus on those with the best ROI, but it can often also make sense to achieve some quick wins which have a lower ROI.  Don’t get paralyzed by analysis here. Better to do a quick evaluation, then focus your efforts on setting them up.

3, It’s about using all your data. It’s easy to think about using real-time data in your decisions, like just using the products a customer has put in their basket, purchased in your store, or has initially asked about in your call center. That ‘fast’ data will impact the decision, but isn’t the only data to use. Most companies have plenty of ‘slow’ data available, for instance recording past value, past purchases and past engagement. By combining ‘fast’ and ‘slow’ data you can make a better decision. After all, if we think back to an abandoned basket program, then you might be less keen to offer a 10% discount to every customer if you already know that 40% of them would buy without a discount.

4. It’s about the decision, not the channel. As you start planning out your opportunity and decisions, it’s easy to start getting focused on a single channel.  That might be right for true single-channel businesses, but how many are like that now?  Most of us operate across multiple channels, and customers increasingly expect companies to respond through whichever channel they use.  It might be easier to set up a real-time program in one channel, but do we as marketers really think this is what the customer wants?  Yes, it might be faster to make your decisions in one channel, but ultimately you should be thinking of making decisions centrally, so they can be used across any channel.

5. It’s about measuring for success. We are all judged on results, and if you want to be judged positively you need to prove the value of your real-time opportunity programs.  As well as recording your investment, you ideally also want to test the uplift they give you against non-real-time approaches. That’s a useful starting point where you can prove how much return you get for every pound, dollar or Euro invested.  Very quickly though, as you add extra channels and use more data, you want to prove this extra sophistication is worthwhile.  Using test and control groups give you clear proof, and will help you win extra investment.

6. It’s about starting small. Finally, don’t try to do everything immediately. Better to pick one of your simpler opportunities that you have faith will succeed. Set it up fast, measure it well, and then built out from there. Either extend the channels, data or steps in this opportunity or move onto the next one. It’s tempting to try and boil the ocean, but in my experience, it’s better to be seen delivering and delivering quickly.

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There is no doubt that real-time decisions can make a difference to your bottom line. But, enter this space with your eyes wide open as an adaptive marketer. Don’t get seduced by technology; focus on your business goals so you don’t just make faster decisions, you make smarter ones.

Alterian provides campaign management and email marketing technology.