Marketing Systems Make Personalization Happen

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Marketers now can rely on technology to meet consumers' expectations from the Web experience. And not only can they use technology to meet expectations, they can exceed them -- they can anticipate customer needs, make recommendations and offer guidance.


Consumers are flocking to the Web because it's convenient, it gives them control and it gives them choices. You can surpass their high expectations by making sure offers and marketing messages are highly targeted, relevant and timely. The more you use technology to give customers what they want, the more they'll see you as a trusted source of information. To achieve this, you need information. You need to know what kind of offers will be relevant to the customer, at the moment of the transaction.


Here are some tips on how to use technology to make great customer relationships happen:


* Generate loyalty offers and retention offers. Don't just make product recommendations -- offer special discounts and freebies that can be used immediately. When I buy books from my favorite online bookstore, they surprise me with free shipping for my order, right then and there. They're giving me something of value right at the checkout line. A coupon for a discount on my next book purchase? That's not giving me instant gratification.


* Create an intimate and personalized Web experience for the customer by making use of all available data sources. Don't stop at customer databases -- fold in clickstream data, surveys and marketing data from outside sources. Create or import predictive models. The more data you can draw on, the more targeted your offers will be. That means providing recommendations based on more than just past purchases. Your marketing system should be more intelligent than that, and it should access all the customer profiling information at your company's disposal. For instance, what do the customer's demographics suggest about his buying choices? When I'm browsing for music CDs online, I want to see suggestions for new releases that will interest me. If I'm going to take a buying suggestion seriously, it had better have some personal relevance to my life.


* Deliver recommendations in real time to take advantage of the here-and-now interaction with the customer. Make offers based on the contextual data you've gathered from many sources -- and when you make those offers, do it when the customer is engaged. You can't make these decisions offline. If I'm online with my bank to track down information about mortgage rates, I'll react to a customized message about a great rate at that moment. If the bank sends me an e-mail three weeks later about a new loan package, I most likely won't care.


* Continuously learn about your customer. Your marketing system needs to learn from experience. What offers are customers accepting? What offers do they turn down? All of this information allows you to refine targeting for future campaigns. For instance, a bank's analysis of a customer's clickstream data might indicate that he's been viewing information on student loans. Via a pop-up window within the browser, the bank can ask the customer, "We've noticed you've been looking for information about student loans. Is someone in your family going to college, and would you like to learn more about products that can help finance that education?"


* Use an integrated cross-channel marketing approach. Personalize all of your customer interactions on all channels -- not just the Web. Use customer information to deliver a consistent personalized experience on every channel, including telephone and e-mail. Why? Many e-commerce transactions begin on the Web and end in the call center.


* Ensure that customer data is protected. Effective personalization is dependent on customer knowledge. When you gather personal information, you must assure customers that the data is never shared -- they need to know that you request personal data to provide better service. When customers see the benefit of handing over personal information, they're comfortable with the idea. When you don't make them aware of these benefits, they distrust your motives.


The big wedding-planning sites on the Web ask for a tremendous amount of personal detail before making recommendations on invitations, honeymoons and flower arrangements. The customers are willing to reveal all in return for leads on wedding bargains. They also trust the site not to sell that information.


The technology available to today's marketers means that selling and service are one and the same. It's a win-win situation: By giving consumers what they expect (and love) within the online environment, marketing systems learn more about consumer needs -- which of course makes you a better marketer.


Gayle Crowell is president/CEO of direct marketing software firm RightPoint Software Inc., San Mateo, CA. Her e-mail address is gayle.crowell@rightpoint.com.

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