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By Wayne Parslow, Executive Vice President at Validity International 

The pandemic has driven an unprecedented shift in consumer habits. While online shopping was not a new phenomenon for many, we have seen a widespread change in spending patterns throughout the last two years. Indeed, recent research has found that 67 per cent of consumers agree that their online purchasing has increased since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and 91 per cent say they’re likely to continue purchasing more items online in the future. In addition to this, further research suggests brand loyalty is not a priority for consumers, with 40 per cent reporting switching brands throughout the pandemic.

Many businesses struggled financially throughout the various lockdowns and these trends in consumer behaviours have further necessitated the need for brands to stand out from their competitors. In this ‘new normal’, businesses that recognise the need to fully engage with their customers and drive revenue growth must focus on their data. Only by targeting the right customers with relevant content, can brands ensure they engage with their target customers, and avoid overwhelming them by adding to inbox traffic.

With uncertainty surrounding the pandemic ongoing, albeit with tentative signs of recovery for many sectors, the coming months will present a unique set of challenges and opportunities for businesses and their email marketers. In this article, I will outline some of the key considerations for brands looking to effectively adapt their marketing strategy to suit their customers’ evolving requirements. 

The rise of ethical data management 

There is greater pressure than ever before for brands to be explicit about the way they collect, store, and manage personal information. We’re already seeing an increased focus on using ethical data, or ‘zero-party’ data, whereby customers intentionally and proactively share their information. Examples of this can include preference centre data, purchase intentions, personal context, and how the individual wants the brand to recognise them. Adoption is still relatively low – a recent report showed only 25 per cent of organisations have a preference centre in place and use it to collect additional information on their customers to support personalisation and messaging relevance. But going forward, we can expect greater focus around brands using ethically sourced data

By using ‘zero party data’, organisations are assured that their customers actively want to hear from them, which helps paint a clear picture with targeted advertising. In addition, brands do not have to infer preferences, as they can build direct and personal relationships with customers, which is both a long and short-term benefit.

The importance of personalisation and utilising the right technology 

Prioritising consumer preferences and creating seamless user experiences, which increasingly tech-savvy consumers have come to expect, are key to success. Therefore, obtaining and maintaining a complete picture of customers is essential for any brand. The rise of Customer Data Platforms (CDPs) is a testament to that, as the more a brand knows about its customers, the better it will be able to serve them.

CDPs collect data from various sources to create unified customer profiles. By identifying activity levels across channels, brands can more accurately segment and target their customers. CDPs are now evolving into Digital Experience Platforms (DXPs), using true omni-channel messaging to ensure customers receive their messaging in the way they most value and trust. Data is often collected based on the what, when and where of a customer’s purchase, or whether the customer is satisfied. For example, if an individual has not logged any complaints or support tickets, this can be used to target the customer with offers related to the products they have viewed or purchased. A customer success manager who has access to a customer’s orders, purchase history, support tickets, and renewal information through a CDP, is much more effective than one that does not. This results in higher levels of customer engagement, with the obvious benefits of increased revenue, and lower customer churn.

However, there is an ongoing challenge around how often customer data changes, as any system used to capture and manage that data requires constant maintenance. Although Customer Relationship Management systems (CRMs) and CDPs offer integration from many different sources, without constant updating, data can quickly become outdated. This is particularly true in a B2B context, where a unified view of customer data should not necessarily be limited to data held within the organisation. It is not so much about technical integration behind the scenes, as it is about the right processes and tools to manage and capture updates such as a job change on LinkedIn, a known customer using a new email address, or a company changing locations. CRM data is deteriorating at an alarming rate and being aware of this is key to delivering a good customer experience.

As technology evolves, real-time predictive analytics can significantly optimise processes. This enables brands to profile, segment, target, and streamline the process of purchase of potential customers. Executed well, this creates a good customer experience and minimises overheads. But it is important to remember that any process that involves analysis depends fundamentally on the quality of the data on which it is built.

By prioritising data management and ensuring only clean, consistent, and accurate data is utilised, all parties will benefit, and brands will be well placed to stand out in a competitive market in the coming months and beyond.  

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