Technology, data and new consumer behaviours have created seismic change for all businesses across the globe. Subsequently, leaders are overwhelmed by the volumes of data available and lack the skillset to unlock it. Add into the mix a world pandemic and it would be fair to say we are in uncharted waters.
While many of us are facing unprecedented new challenges both personally and professionally, as an industry we continue to also face more of what we’ve already had to confront before: building a smart-data strategy to talk to the right customer, with the right message, in the right moment. It’s rule 101 of data marketing, yet it has shown visible signs of crumbling when placed in the heart of a world crisis.
The immediate challenge
Customers’ inboxes the world over are currently inundated with emails from brands explaining what measures they’re putting in place in the face of the coronavirus crisis. And while it’s good practice for businesses to reassure their customers about their internal policies and loyalty, it is crucial that brands aren’t simply using the pandemic as an unscrupulous re-engagement opportunity.
The first question businesses should be asking themselves, then, is: what is the purpose of this communication? This should then guide the next: who am I targeting? These two questions are at the heart of any smart-data strategy and have become increasingly important in the crisis; but, crucially, the third key question has often been left out in the examples we’ve seen: am I being sensitive or am I coming off as opportunistic?
Companies that are able to do this well are standing out from the pack – short-lets giant Airbnb is a brilliant example.
Proactive outreach = positive sentiment
Airbnb has been proactively contacting customers that have bookings in the next two to three months with advice, recommendations and support. Its site has been regularly updated, so consumers clearly understand the next steps on how to claim back money or reschedule bookings. This type of proactivity from the brand creates a great customer experience, bringing all the relevant information to the customer instead of expecting them to hunt for it.
However, many of Airbnb’s rivals haven’t been as proactive, often expecting people to call overworked customer-service teams to get any clarity on their situation. As a result, they’ve seen a surge in disgruntled customers, soaring call-centre costs and, ultimately, damaged brand reputation. All of this could easily have been avoided by working out exactly who their active customers were and sending out well-thought-out, helpful advice.
The right communication to the right person
Email is, of course, an effective way to keep in contact with your customer base. However, when businesses overuse individual marketing channels, this can easily impact brand perception. While reaching out to consumers who are still subscribed to a mailing list is a compliant data practice, it’s not necessarily the best use of data marketing – especially if someone on a mailing list is no longer an active customer.
Data should also be used for creativity, not just to convey an important notice. Being in tune with your audiences will allow you to better provide services and react to external changes. Another great example of this is Kew Gardens, which has created virtual tours of its open spaces, providing subscribers with digital experiences that both drive customer engagement but also offers some positivity during these somewhat clouded times.
Data is more than just another asset; it is both the intelligence to support your outbound communications and the insight to help drive creativity. Applying data and technology to deliver the right message in the right context, ultimately reaching the right person in the right moment, is what every business should strive for.
Orchestration is key
At a time of growing pressure and budget cuts, measurement is everything. Chief marketing officers are increasingly needing granular insight into which segments are working and which aren’t, while ROI of data platforms is under intense scrutiny across the board. If businesses want to be effectively communicating, they need to start with an integrated data strategy – one that can look at the big picture and be adjusted according to what’s working. For instance, if people are visiting local council sites to see what is happening about bin clearing, the councils could take this data insight and use it to drive a proactive consented email campaign, informing residents about bin collection.
However, this kind of fast-paced, reactive data strategy relies on strong customer journey orchestration and customer management systems – part of a long-term holistic approach to data. And many businesses may not have this architecture in place yet.
If brands want to weather the economic storm brought on by the coronavirus, I would advise taking some steps towards building a smart, robust data strategy. It doesn’t have to be daunting; and it’s better to make a start today than be left treading water until we are back to some version of a new normal.
Ian James is chief executive of Silverbullet
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