Tuesday 8 May 2012

Balancing big data with a big voice

Back in the day, loyalty communications were pretty simple.

You got a Welcome Pack when you joined and then periodic points statements after that.  The statements may have contained some offers, and if you were really lucky, these may have been personalised in some way.  Some people really pushed the boat out and sent individual mailings with specific offers, normally in response to a lack of behaviour, trying to get you back in-store.

Then email arrived and it became much cheaper to be relevant - or so we thought.  In practice it just became much cheaper.  Emails were sent, even if there wasn't anything particularly relevant to say and if you didn't like it... well you could always opt-out.  So what happened to that dream of 1-2-1 marketing?

Quite simply, it's actually pretty hard to be relevant all the time.

Sure you can use analytical techniques to target customers who you think have a propensity to do something.  Or you can respond to customers with trigger marketing based on their behaviours (i.e. not purchased in a little while) and send an email to encourage them back.  However, for regular communications it's much harder to create customised content for each member based on their exhibited behaviours - for many programmes it's just too hard (or costly) to be relevant.

But there is a simpler way - just ask the customer what they'd like through the use of a preference centre.

With an increasing number of channels and ways of interacting with customers, a simple opt-in/out marketing permission doesn't really cut it any more.  Customers are being trained by social networks like Facebook that allow them to manage who can access their data and for what purpose.

For example, with a simple Facebook wall post I can choose whether to hide that post or not, increase or decrease further posts from that friend, unsubscribe from further communications from that friend or unfriend them completely.  With apps, I get further choices - deciding whether that app/partner can for example access my personal information, access my friends or post on my wall.

LinkedIn go one better and intelligently look to help you control preference.  If you subscribe to a group on LinkedIn and opt in to receive updates via email, LinkedIn will proactively dial-down the frequency of communications if you haven't visited the group for a while.
Linkedin email

Preference centres essentially help to manage this by giving customers control over what communications they want to receive, about what topics, over what channels and at what frequency.  Email marketing specialist Adestra reports that preference centres can have a real impact on unsubscribe rates, suggesting that giving customers choice keeps them engaged.  Digital marketing specialists Smart Insights provide some advice on the use of preference centres suggesting that you don't offer what you can't deliver.  If you provide choice in terms of topic or frequency, make sure you have the content and capability to manage this.
If you google preference centres however, they seem to be a feature of email marketing but, little else.  This is I think needs to change.

Preference centres need to become a key feature of loyalty programmes to control preferences for all aspects of the programme and to help manage some of the innovations that are just around the corner.
  • For gamification features, members are going to want control about what achievements are posted to which social channels and when.  This  "social currency" is where the key value is within gamification, but that value will only work if the member feels in control.  
  • Vendor Relationship Management (VRM) functions will allow members to manage their loyalty data and which partners and/or applications can access this on their behalf.  Like Facebook, members will expect to be able to control both who has access to the data and what data is shared.  They'll also want to able to terminate these relationships at will.
  • The "Internet of Things" will bring a host of interactions that can be recognised and rewarded, but members will want to be able to control what can be seen (and recorded) and what can't.  Just because my toothbrush can tweet it's usage, doesn't mean I want it to.
With an increased focus on "Big Data" and the headlong trend to get more and more data from more and more sources it can sometimes be easy to forget that there is a customer at the heart of that data and they'd actually like to be heard.

Sure, we can use the data to work out when someone might be pregnant based on their purchase patterns, and this can be really useful to both the retailer and the customer.

We could also just provide the customer with an easy way to tell us and to give them a big voice...