How to build more-complete customer profiles

Marketers are always seeking out the next innovation that sparks a new idea, lifts a key metric, and improves the customer experience. Those lofty criteria are met by direct digital marketing, a digital marketing method that delivers relevant communications that are addressable to a specific individual with an email address, a web browser cookie, or a mobile phone number. The traditional digital marketing landscape is fragmented with an email provider handling all email communications, a content management system serving up online content, and a mobile marketing provider executing all mobile programs. Direct digital marketing brings the vital digital communications channels together into one software platform, streamlining marketing processes and providing a completely new perspective on data.

Superficially, it makes sense to bring together the primary communications channels. But, the real value to direct digital marketing is found in its power cell -- a universal profile management system. Like the specialization and provider fragmentation found in the digital marketing landscape today, web analytics platforms and the myriad customer databases that correspond to each specialized provider are scattered throughout the divisions of a modern marketing organization. Universal profile management exists to bring together those disparate databases.

Universal profile management is conceptually easy. The system combines the power of storing known customer attributes while also capturing online behavioral information. For example, a universal profile management system uses a web service API to bring in and store enterprise customer data, past purchase history data, and any unique preferences customers communicate when they complete online forms. The system also uses a tracking snippet (just like web analytics software) to capture online behavioral data like the keyword a website visitor searched, which banner ad they clicked on to enter the website, or any website, email, or mobile marketing activity. Bringing the most actionable data points together into one system provides marketers with four significant benefits.

Benefit 1: Completing the customer picture
The traditional approach to online marketing -- a collection of specialists working separately -- has naturally evolved over the past 10 plus years, but that structure does not provide a complete picture of a customer. A universal profile management system, however, allows a marketer to build a segment around a repeat monthly customer who also subscribes to the email newsletter, who has seen new product creative on the website's homepage, and has opted in to receive marketing communications on a mobile device. The system enables marketers to get a quick count of how many loyal, multi-channel customers they have who have also made a recent purchase. Traditionally, building a unique segment requires a meeting with three agencies or software providers and three different department heads. Building a unique segment with universal profile management requires about two minutes.

Benefit 2: Creating a great customer experience
Web analytics packages serve an important function in the online marketing ecosystem, but they also have a lot of complex bells and whistles and data points that are not needed to execute great direct digital marketing. Universal profile management captures and stores only the data points necessary to build effective marketing campaigns. Ideally the same software that contains the universal profile management system is also used to deliver content, enabling relevant multi-channel customer communications. Better, more meaningful communications prevent marketers from wasting customers' time with the kind of the irrelevant, out-of-touch marketing messages they hate.

Benefit 3: Connecting the multi-channel dots
Universal profile management helps marketers avoid the perils of message fatigue and redundancy. If customers have opted in to receive both email and mobile communications, they should not receive the exact same message in an email and a text message within minutes of each other; that is a sure-fire way to secure an opt-out and angry feedback. Universal profile management allows for smart segmentation that easily showcases the business value for a multi-channel direct digital marketing strategy that delivers complementary messages through different channels to the same customer. For example, an email recipient who does not act on an email call-to-action to purchase may simply need a different incentive delivered through a different channel.

Benefit 4: Improving message relevance
The traditional marketing doctrine of frequency is still valuable in some channels where the objective is to satisfy big brand objectives like awareness. Online shoppers, however, demand relevance and originality from their content. Universal profile management helps deliver both by enabling marketers to create unique, multi-channel segments to which they can target their content. Statistics show that the more relevant a marketing message is to customers or prospects, the more likely they are to act on it. Universal profile management makes relevance easy through multiple channels, transforming disorganized communications into marketing that is as efficient as it is effective.

Currently most marketing organizations treat one customer as if they were three different customers. The email group has email data and conclusions about Customer X, the website group has different data and different conclusions about Customer X, and the mobile group also has its own unique data and conclusions about Customer X. Rather than experiencing a connected, relevant customer experience with business intelligence, Customer X is treated like three different people. Over time, Customer X will grow weary of redundant messages through different channels and take action by opting out of mobile communications, visiting the website less, and ignoring emails (hopefully instead of hitting the "spam" button). Universal profile management solves this problem.

Marketing must always innovate because the customer is always innovating. Many marketing organizations are fragmented, containing internal silos that erode customer satisfaction and encourage attrition. Modern direct digital marketing is not about the old guard of dividing and conquering -- it is about understanding and adapting.

Universal profile management is an exciting trend gaining momentum because it is easily scalable, offers improved customer insight, and enables more effective and efficient marketing communications. Most importantly, it demonstrates value to the marketer, the customer, and the prospect.

Josh Gordon is editor-in-chief of the popular direct digital marketing blog The Lunch Pail and director of marketing at Knotice.

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