I watched Minority Report again the other week. Though made more than a decade ago, it has always stood as a reference for the near future that we’re all convinced will arrive soon - if it hasn’t already. And it’s true, to an extent. As a marketer, one scene particularly stands out. It’s where Tom Cruise walks into a Gap store, is identified by cameras, and is shown a personalised greeting and product recommendations.
We're some distance from that, but with iBeacons and other in store technologies we have reached a point where Mr Cruise’s Gap experience is now a potential reality: we're already at a stage where we can use data to offer customers a personalised experience, whatever kind of marketing channel they're on or device they're using.
Avoiding information overload
In digital and direct marketing, one big problem can be 'information overload'. Through traditional and digital channels, consumers can often be bombarded with noise and notifications they can't ignore without completely cutting themselves off from family, friends and work.
Personalisation can solve this. Through the intelligent and careful use of data, online marketers can provide a unique and singular experience that suits each customer, instead of hitting them with messages they don't want or need.
And that's the kicker – it's the data which is key. There's been a lot of talk around big data in the last few years. We're awash with it. But what we really need to think about is how we analyse and make the best use of data, big or otherwise.
Real-time data analysis
In the retail industry for example, retailers are already collecting, processing and acting on data in real-time. The best ones are providing an 'omnichannel experience' for consumers, using information from in-store and e-commerce purchases to inform personalised marketing and recommendations.
Customers can shop on their own terms, whether they're shopping physically at a store, surfing at home on a web browser or playing around with their mobile or tablet device on-the-go.
Retailers are using cloud-based tools to analyse and store the massive amounts of data available from multiple channels. They are taking information from old-fashioned sources like vouchers and in-store loyalty cards to digital data from smartphones and QR codes.
And unlike most businesses, forward-thinking companies aren't splitting customer data across marketing silos. They have a single view of data from records plucked from, for example, CRM systems, store data, call centres and web analytics. It's the only way true personalisation can work.
Predicting the future
Because there's so much of it around, it's crucial to analyse data and make the best possible use of it. And firms around the world have already scored big advantages through predicting the future with information from the past. It’s as if Marty McFly has become a marketer.
A forward-thinking business like Amazon has been using predictive analytics for years, most obviously with its recommendation engine, suggesting new purchases based on data it already holds about the customer.
For any company, predictive analytics offers a host of possibilities – think of using current and historical data to understand what customers are more likely to buy and even what products to target. It can forecast future sales, and identify risks and opportunities to a company. This type of information can make a big difference to a business in the face of tough competition.
Omnichannel and data analytics – a powerful combo
Think of a business which can market effectively on all channels, as well as use data to manage what its next moves are in the future. It sounds like a powerful combination. And it is.
But recognise that getting this in tandem is extremely difficult. After all, if it was easy, all businesses would be doing it. The amount of data you can gather has never been the issue – it's always been about the issues of getting a business to integrate that data.
But the sheer difficulty of multi-channel personalisation is also what makes it a competitive game-changer for the companies that get it right. Whether your business should be on this journey is a question only you can answer, but it's a conversation that needs to start sooner rather than later.
By Matthew Kelleher, Chief Commercial Officer at RedEye.
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