The proliferation of consumer devices means marketers must find ways to account for an ever more complex buyer journey. Columnist Josh Manion details the steps along the road to gaining a true picture of you customer.
With the holidays rapidly approaching, marketers are busy finalizing plans to engage buyers and capture share of market. But what happens when the best-laid plans go awry as the team attempts to optimize the customer journey without the ability to identify unique buyers across digital devices?
We talk glibly about stitching data across channels and devices to reveal the customer story at each touch point. As marketers, we want to launch campaigns and engage buyers from moment to moment as they click into digital ads, search our websites, open our mobile apps and otherwise respond to brands in the digital and in-store worlds.
Unfortunately, traditional ways of identifying users create a big hurdle to identifying them as they switch from one device or channel to another. With conventional data collection, a shopper with two devices becomes two different people, creating a disruption in how the marketing team orchestrates and analyzes campaigns across the marketing technology stack.
“50 First Dates” with your customer
It’s a little like the film comedy, “50 First Dates,” in which a young veterinarian courts a woman with short-term memory loss and each day must pursue her again as if they were meeting for the first time. Marketers suffer memory loss when users switch devices.
Why is this important? Knowing your customer as he or she interacts with your brand across a complex customer journey is not just a “nice-to-have,” but a “must -have” as the holiday season heats up in a competitive, high-stakes race. The National Retailer Federation forecasts a 3.6-percent increase in sales to $655.8 billion this US holiday season, with a boost of seven to 10 percent for online ($117 billion).
And regardless of whether a sale takes place on a mobile device, smartphones and tablets have inordinate impact. A Deloitte study estimated that mobile in the United States influences 28 percent of all in-store sales.
How does the marketing team solve for this problem of memory loss in cross-device identity? How does the team connect with users and provide relevant experiences that generate positive outcomes? Let’s look at the problem and the solution.
Cookies and cross-device IDs
High-performance marketing requires marketers to track and interact with buyers, subject to privacy requirements, across all touch points, optimizing the customer experience wherever possible. Indeed, the most effective marketing campaigns orchestrate actions in response to individuals, not just anonymous segments. Nonetheless, that worthy goal often breaks down in the cross-device realm.
Identifying the buyer traditionally relies on cookies, small files stored on a user’s computers. The cookie houses data specific to a client or website, including a user identification, as well as other information, such as browsing history. An ID system based on cookies, however, assigns a unique identifier to every device, regardless of who is using it.
Let’s say you use two different devices. You will be recognized as two different people. It gets worse. Let’s say someone clears their cookies or switches to a new browser. Even on the same device, that buyer becomes a new and anonymous user.
This kind of marketing amnesia is a big obstacle when it comes to true omnichannel marketing. The challenge is to market to people, not cookies.
Customer profiles and the buyer journey
These issues are not new, and marketers increasingly are seeking solutions that will enable them to stitch together data from the entire buyer journey, including identifying unique users as they switch devices. Indeed, these capabilities should be part of the broader support promised in a customer data platform.
At the most fundamental level, the marketer needs a solution that delivers accurate, scalable information while respecting privacy requirements; works seamlessly across all applications in the marketing stack to produce holistic actions; and enables the brand to own user profiles that identify unique users.
Here is a high-level look at the steps in that process:
- Data collection. The foundation for holistic views of a buyer journey begins with collecting and unifying first-party data from online sources (a brand’s owned digital properties), along with offline sources, which include third-party marketing vendors such as digital advertisers, online video, Internet of Things (IoT) and more.
- Persistent customer profiles. The next step is to combine data to create persistent known and anonymous customer profiles. These profiles are housed on a server, preserving a unique history that can be continuously updated. That’s the benefit of a persistent profile. If a consumer moves to a new device, the profile remains intact and accurate to one individual as long as some form of profile stitching is triggered.
- Profile stitching. Stitching data into a user profile typically requires use of a common “key” or set of unique identifiers. One of the most common ways to do this involves what is called a “deterministic model.” Some form of “hand-raising” event occurs when a user takes action. It might be registering for a newsletter, entering a sweepstakes, buying a product or other action that creates a way to identify the user. Profile stitching kicks in as that action is matched against a known set of data. Then groups of profiles on one individual can be collapsed into a single updated profile.
- Real-time profile distribution. Attributes contained in a user profile can be made available during a web event (on-site and off-site) as part of engaging with a user based on relevant, up-to-date information about their preferences and behaviors. That’s the case not just for desktop page loads, but for digital ads, marketing campaigns and other events.
- Enriching profiles. And finally, the data contained in offline systems provides valuable historic information about customers and needs to be integrated into these customer profiles. In this way, profiles make back-end databases, CRM systems and data warehouses actionable.
What’s the key takeaway? The proliferation of consumer devices means we must find ways to market to users and account for performance as the buyer journey gets more complex. That challenge is only going to loom larger as the number of devices expands with the Internet of Things (IoT).
We need to create the foundation for marketing in the moment to unique individuals across every channel and device, and there’s no time to waste with the holiday season almost upon us.
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.