In 2012, Gartner rather famously predicted that CMOs would spend more on IT than CIOs by 2017. While it remains to be seen whether that will happen, 25% of IT budgets were spent on digital marketing in 2014 with all signs pointing to increasing velocity in that growth. Marketing is transitioning quickly to a metrics-driven activity that can be automated and measured.
In the B2B space, marketing automation is routinely used to customize messaging and campaigns, shepherding prospects through the sales pipeline largely on autopilot. At the same time, B2C marketing capabilities have kept pace and solutions are available today that use similar advancements in customer behavior intelligence advised by data.
And the market is responding positively: Millennials, in particular, are largely immune to mass messages involving celebrity spokespeople or hyped up blowout sales. Highly targeted and customized messaging resonates strongly with them, but this type of outreach is best driven by detailed data and behavior analytics because it must feel authentic to work well.
What exactly does marketing automation for retailers look like?
Decisions driven by data
Many retailers have no idea the repository of intelligence that is hiding in the data they gather on their customers. Some don’t realize just how much data they have, but any retailer that conducts business online or uses a modern integrated POS platform has data on its customers that is minable and actionable. The more omnichannel the retailer, the richer the data.
Navigating all that information can seem overwhelming, and for good reason. Finding patterns in the chaos isn’t easy, which is why the job market for data scientists is so great these days. You don’t have to be a data scientist to find meaning in retail customer data, although it does help to work with someone who has an intimate understanding of how it is structured.
That’s why the market is seeing more and more retail platform developers offering marketing automation services for client retailers. It is often difficult for a third party solution to integrate seamlessly with collected data without the support of an expert to bridge the gap.
Listen to what the data tells you
There are numerous best practices on when to send a reminder email to customers who have abandoned carts, which preference updates should trigger a message or when to ask for a review after a purchase. These are great benchmarks, but each customer base is unique. Implementing strategies designed by someone else for different audiences will only get you so far, fine-tuning falls squarely into your court.
Time is your friend in this endeavor because data accelerates at an exponential pace, with every action yielding more data, providing more opportunities to gather better intelligence. Each customer behavior that triggers an action can be measured against the success of desired next steps and continuous monitoring of this data is the key to optimizing marketing campaigns.
Automation is the tool, but make sure that you have a person to analyze and interpret what the data is actually saying and make appropriate adjustments based on results and conditions.
Get personal to build successful relationships
Almost all people can tell when an e-mail is automatically generated, and most of them filter them out and pay closer attention to authentic, personal messages. There are also many circumstances where personal outreach doesn’t matter as much. Your job is figuring out how to communicate with customers, and that really comes down to having a fundamental understanding of what drives their behaviors.
When someone abandons a cart, almost nobody minds an automatic email that says something along the lines of “We noticed you didn’t complete your purchase of X item.” There is no expectation that someone would actually compose a note like that. But if a customer buys an item and receives a note that says, “We saw you bought X and thought you may also like Y,” that can go multiple ways. Maybe other purchases the customer made strongly indicate that she would never be interested in Y, and you’re busted for not truly understanding her.
Crafting automated messages and promotions is a tricky business, but effective balance is found through analyzing results and understanding the actions that led to them. Marketing automation gives you the tools to do so and there are solutions available for any retailer of any size serving any target market. To get started, reach out to your retail management platform vendor and start a conversation.
Zeke Hamdani is Director of Web Services for Celerant Technology, where he is responsible for the development of E-commerce modules that seamlessly integrate with the Celerant Command retail software platform.