Building and Leveraging a 360-degree View of Your Customer

360-degree-customer-view-puzzle-230Every brand has its own version of the perfect customer. For most, these are the brand advocates that purchase regularly and frequently, take advantage of promotions and special offers, and engage across channels. In short, they’re loyal customers.

For many brands and retailers, these loyal customers make up a smaller percentage of their overall customer base than they would prefer. Most marketers know that one loyal customer can be worth five times a newly acquired customer, but it’s often easier to attract that first-time buyer with generic messaging and offers. In order to bring someone back time and time again, marketers must craft meaningful and relevant experiences for the individual. So how can brands go about building loyalty for their businesses in 2015? Let’s start with what we know.

We all know that customers aren’t one-dimensional. They have thousands of interests, rely on hundreds of sources to make decisions, turn to multiple devices throughout the day and are much more complex than any audience model gives them credit for. It’s imperative for marketers to make knowing their customers a top priority, but it isn’t easy.

In the past, knowing a customer meant one of two things: you knew nothing about them or you knew whatever they chose to tell you. Think about it. Often in the brick and mortar world you would deal with a first-time customer about whom you knew next to nothing: age, gender and the rest was based on assumptions. Over time, a regular customer might become better understood. You’d see them come in with children, or they’d make the same purchase regularly.

Now, thanks to technology, you can know an incredible amount about your customers some might even say too much. Amassing data is one thing, but increasingly the challenge has become how to make sense of the data you already have to create a rich, accurate and actionable view of your customer — a 360-degree view, if you will.

Building and leveraging a 360-degree view of your customer is critical to helping you drive brand loyalty. Your customers need to be at the center of everything your business does. Their actions, intentions and preferences need to dictate your strategies, tactics and approach. They aren’t a faceless mass to whom something is done; they are a group of individuals that deserve personalized attention, offers and engagement. Your goal as a marketer is to make the marketing experience positive for your customers, which, in turn, will be positive for your business.

How can marketers go about establishing that 360-degree view and creating that positive customer relationship? It must be built on insights, but that doesn’t mean simply more data. In fact, more data can make it more difficult to come to a solid understanding of your customer. On top of that, it can also clearly raise privacy concerns. Marketers need to know how to make good inferences based on smart data.

Here is a breakdown of some key types of data and how they can be used:

First and most valuable is an organization’s own (“first-party”) data. This should be obvious, but the diversity of this data – past purchase history, loyalty program participation, etc. – can cause some potentially valuable information to be overlooked.

Next is the third-party data so readily available for purchase today. This can be useful for target new audiences or finding look-alikes of existing customers, but it often comes at a prohibitive price and with fewer guarantees of quality and freshness than first-party data.

Finally, there is real-time data about customers or prospects. While real-time data can, in theory, come from either a first- or third-party source, it functions differently than the historical data sources described above. Certainly it can be used to help shape a customer profile but in its raw form – in the moment – it acts as a targeting beacon for buying and personalizing impressions in the perfect instant.

How can you as a marketer use these three data types to come up with the most accurate view of your customer?

First, you need to understand the scope and diversity of your own data. There is valuable information lurking in all kinds of enterprise systems: CRM, merchandising, loyalty, revenue management, inventory and logistics and more. Be prepared to use data from a wide array of platforms, channels and devices.

From there, you can start answering questions about your customers. What are they saying about my products; when are they thinking about purchasing a product from me (or a competitor); how frequently have they have done business with me; how much do they spend?  The faster and more fully I can answer these questions, the more prepared I am to connect with my customer in the moment.

Integrating and analyzing all of this information in a single manageable view is the next challenge for marketers, allowing them to recognize, rationalize and react to the fantastic complexity that exists within their data. Doing this is no small task, but a holistic view will enable marketers to differentiate meaningful insights from the noise.

The bottom line is that customers want brand experiences that are relevant and engaging, and offers that are custom-tailored for them — not for someone an awful lot like them. This is exactly what the 360-degree approach is designed to make possible: highly personalized, perfectly-timed offers that can be delivered efficiently and at scale.

In order to deliver those experiences, marketers must think about customer engagement from the 360-degree perspective, in which every touch-point informs the others. This cannot be achieved with a hodgepodge of disconnected data. It can only be achieved when all of the resources available – insights, technology and creative – are working together in perfect harmony. Over time, personalized customer experiences drive long-term loyalty for brands and retailers, ultimately creating even more of those “perfect” customers.

JB Brokaw is President, North America at Sociomantic Labs.

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