Digital Marketing Insights

Moving Beyond Basic Personalization to Real-Time Marketing

Here's an article I wrote for ClickZ:

The constantly connected consumers of today are extremely savvy, using all available channels and devices to research, review, compare prices and ultimately purchase products. Basic personalization (such as name and account personalization and dynamic interest or product content) no longer serves consumers' demand for deeper levels of real-time personalized information. Increasingly, these savvy consumers are taking their business to companies that provide more than basic personalization and automated lifecycle campaigns. Customers now prefer brands that deliver individualized experiences that match their needs in the present moment.

Differing definitions of real-time marketing abound, but essentially it means "just-in-time" or "on-the-fly" marketing that leverages the most appropriate communications to deliver a personalized customer experience, based on time, place, and the most recent understanding of individual customer intent. Real-time marketing is one component of Present Tense Marketing, which focuses on methods of understanding customers' current context in order to deliver personalized customer experiences at scale.

So how can a company move from basic personalization to real-time marketing? Here are three primary requirements to get started:

  1. Understanding Your Customer or Prospects - Who are they? What are they interested in?
  2. Collecting Real-Time Customer Interaction Data - What are they doing right now? Where are they located?
  3. Optimizing Individual Customer Experiences - What is their current intent? What do they need at the present moment?


When you get these three things right, you can engage your customers in highly relevant and tailored ways. Providing a value-adding service or offer at the right time in the right channel will increase engagement and create a much more individualized and positive customer experience.

1. Understanding Your Customers and Prospects

Who are they? What are they interested in? To fully understand your customer or prospects requires a collection of multiple data points that can include demographic, purchase history, customer service requests, lifecycle stage, browse and cross-channel engagement behavior data. Analysis of this information can help identify product and brand affinities, individual preferences, channel engagement behavior, and offer and price sensitivities.

From the consumer perspective, they want companies to help them easily find what they are looking for when they want it, and are much more likely to do business with you if you provide this information and make the experience about them. This may seem obvioius, but many brands fail to achieve this customer-centric focus.

For example, some consumers will pay full price to get the item they want today (i.e.: immediate gratification) while others will never buy a product on the first visit no matter how good the current offer is. Some consumers refuse to make a purchase without receiving free shipping, and some are focused on loyalty programs and earning points for every purchase they make.

A company's failure to recognize a customer profile and understand their shopping preferences can easily outweigh brand loyalty. If customers do not receive what they are looking for from one company, it is very easy to purchase the same or similar product or service from a competitive brand.

2. Collecting Real-Time Customer Interaction Data

As we all know, a customer's profile and context changes from moment to moment. In order to develop and manage deep and current customer profiles, you must have real-time data collection. Historical purchase, engagement and demographic data, are all very important, however they only provide a potential or predictive view, based on the past.

It's far more beneficial to understand what your customers are doing now, where they are located, and how they are engaging with your brand (which channels and devices) - all of this data allows the marketer to understand their customer's current context and update their profile which in turn enables them to engage customers with hyper-personalized communications that fit their needs in the present moment.

What are they doing? Are your customers clicking through on your latest email campaign, browsing a specific product category on your site, looking at ratings and reviews or asking for product or service feedback and recommendations from their friends on Facebook?

Where are they located? Do your customers frequent their local brick-and-mortar storefront near their home address, or do they often travel to other locations?

How are they engaging with your brand? Did your customer open your latest email, download your app, purchase in-store or call your service center? What type of device are they using (laptop, tablet, smart phone, kiosk)?

Certainly, real-time browse and click behavior, mobile app use, shopping cart activity, keyword searches, social media engagement, interaction with call centers and ratings and reviews all provide valuable information for determining the most relevant interactions. However, in order to respond to the customer's current need, you must also be able to combine this real-time engagement information with existing profile data to identify their current state.

3. Optimizing the Individual Customer Experience

Many companies offer blanket discounts or promotions to everyone who has subscribed or previously made a purchase. Even if basic personalization is used in this messaging, it does not provide the individualized experience that today's consumers expect. Consumers want to feel as if they're being offered something unique, exclusive and directed at their specific desires.

What is their current intent? What do they need at the present moment? In order to determine the optimal customer experience, marketers must leverage a current customer profile combined with real-time interaction data (what, where and how that customer is engaging with the brand) to help determine need and intent, along with any external influences like weather, holidays or economic conditions that may impact the customer context. Bringing all of these factors to bear in marketing messaging can result in a truly individualized customer experience.

Real-time marketing is the ongoing cycle of engagement, data management, analytical insights and optimization - performed continuously and immediately. In other words, it's the streamlined management of data, transformed into actionable insight that is used to enhance your customer's experience.

Are you using your customer profile, real-time and external data to identify and delivery great customer experiences?

Posted by: Katrina Conn at 12:00 AM
Categories: real-time, real-time marketing, personalization, data

What Do Marketers and Acxiom’s Have in Common? Big Data Growing Pains.

Acxiom Corporation, a kingpin of the consumer database marketing industry, caused quite a stir this past month with their launch of  The website lets consumers view (and correct or suppress) some of the profile information that Acxiom collects and sells about them. Acxiom’s objective in launching this service appears to be two-fold:  first, to act proactively in the face of proposed legislation by the Federal Trade Commission that would require data brokers like Acxiom to give consumers access to information collected about them. Second, to provide an avenue for consumers to correct inaccuracies or holes in their records, thereby increasing the value of this data to marketers who purchase from Acxiom.   

So far the site's beta launch has been plagued with technical issues.  Many visitors have been unable to log in or have found significant inaccuracies in their profile data. According to Scott Howe, Acxiom’s CEO, these challenges stem from the fact that the company’s consumer profiles are generated by gathering and integrating data from a number of disparate sources.  Further complicating matters, some customers were unable to view their full profiles due to connection failures between and the disparate sources that the website pulls consumer data points from (a technical complication that was likened to dealing with a clogged water pipe).   

The fields of big data, analytics, decision sciences and the technologies supporting them are costly, complicated and new – the kinks are still getting worked out. Acxiom’s launch of has shone the media spotlight on the technical big data challenges that marketers have been dealing with for a while now.

For example, it’s common across industries for customer data to reside in disparate, disconnected sources, often resulting in data that contains duplicate and/or inaccurate information. Enterprises have invested millions of dollars in building enterprise data warehouses and implementing CRM and marketing automation systems. Despite massive investments and promises of integrated, real-time cross-channel marketing campaigns, industry analysts concede that marketers have largely been unable to progress beyond single-channel solutions.  This is due in part to inadequate technologies that make marketers dependent on IT resources and technical staff to gain access to the data and extract the insights hidden within - which can be a slow and cumbersome process, as anyone who has used such systems knows.  By the time marketers get the desired customer data from IT, it’s likely that the opportunity to execute timely customer engagements based on those interest, trend or life event insights will have already passed.

So is big data really the key to the holy grail of modern marketing – the ability to engage customers based on a real-time understanding of their individual interests and needs? The short answer is yes. One main reason is that big data offers marketers access to a new and dynamic source of customer data: customer interactions (think web searches, email opens, Facebook likes, etc.).  Customer interactions can be used to enhance static profile data consisting mostly of demographic attributes to create a more state-aware profile of the customer.  However, this requires profile and interaction data to be brought together, reconciled and analyzed.  Which again brings us to the same sort of “clogged water pipe” technical challenges that has been facing. 

So what are today’s marketers to do? How can they keep up with customers who are constantly connected, channel agnostic, demand instant gratification and have ever-increasing expectations from their favorite companies? (Other than continue to shoot arrows in the dark and hope that some of them find their target).

Stay tuned to find out.  In my next post, I'll share the attributes of an effective analytics platform that marketers can use to overcome these shortcomings and get closer than ever to that holy grail of real-time marketing. 

Posted by: Syed Mahmood at 2:14 PM
Categories: Big_Data Data_Analytics Industry_News Digital_Marketing, real-time marketing, real time, right-time email marketing

Email Marketing & Its Critical Role in The Evolution Towards Real-Time Marketing

SAP and Unica both held their annual user conferences last week in the same city – Orlando. Both events highlighted a fundamental shift that’s underway in the world of B2C marketing. Corporations are moving from near-time to real-time marketing communications, where they can immediately serve up personalized experiences to consumers interacting with their brand across multiple channels. This might sound next to impossible, but for companies that use multichannel campaign management (MCCM) solutions like those offered by SAP and Unica, there is a real opportunity to reap the benefits of real-time marketing – and email marketing is one of the most effective channels for executing on that strategy.

MCCM solutions make it possible for companies to capture customer information across multiple touch points and then make that data readily available to drive campaigns. The advent of social media has forced companies to start looking at customer experience holistically, rather than continuing to operate in disparate marketing silos. Loyal customers expect a brand to know who they are and what they like, regardless of what channel they choose to interact with the brand through. Real-time marketing enables companies to achieve a new level of relevancy that meets customer expectations and drive significantly higher response rates and revenue per customer. Companies that chose to embark on such a significant undertaking will have a critical competitive differentiator in the coming years.

Email marketing is fast emerging as the common thread that links all of these customer interactions together. It is the hub of all digital marketing conversations and the unique identifier in many customer databases. A cutting-edge example of real-time marketing comes from Unica marketing excellence award honoree Intercontinental Hotels Group (IHG). When someone books a room online at one of IHG's 4,400 global properties, they automatically receive a confirmation email that is tailored to the individual based on their loyalty status, the hotel location, their purchase history and specified preferences. No two confirmation emails are alike. At the time of booking, IHG's online reservation system communicates with StrongView and Unica Interact to deliver a unique, targeted email to that individual in less than 2 seconds. Soon this real-time personalization will be extended to the web, providing a seamless customer experience between channels.

Brands are quickly realizing that the days of batch and blast are over. Not only are they becoming increasingly ineffective, they are also alienating customers who expect companies to send messages that reflect their relationship with the brand. Campaign management systems like Unica and SAP CRM are making real-time marketing possible, and tight integrations with email marketing, web, mobile and social media channels are necessary for delivering these unique experiences to the consumer.

Smart marketers know that one-to-one marketing is the best way to generate revenue and customer satisfaction, and StrongView works with leading campaign management vendors to put true one-to-one marketing within your reach. For more information on using email marketing and CRM together to deliver targeted, personalized messages, you can view our on-demand webinar "Email Marketing with SAP CRM: Achieving Relevance, Deliverability and Scale."

Posted by: Kristin Hersant at 2:41 PM
Categories: email marketing, integration, intercontinental hotels group, mccm, multi-channel campaign management, real-time marketing, sap crm, unica