Opinion by Peter Anson

The benefits of data and personalisation are no secret. Eighty (80) per cent of marketing dollars are spent going after new customers even though marketers can save up to 45 per cent of that cost by nurturing existing customers to spend more . Most marketers know full well that using real-time insights from what you capture about your customers to personalise the customer experience across your marketing touch points is crucial to achieving loyalty. 

Yet, a surprising number of marketers are still not using data to drive relationship marketing and get closer to their customers. Relationship marketing is about building strong relations with your customers through a heightened awareness and application of your customer knowledge: their needs, how they feel about your brand and how they want to engage with you. This knowledge needs to be available, accessible and accurate for you to improve how you interact with customers across different channels, and achieve the advocacy you need to win in today’s market. 

So what’s holding marketers back? Not knowing where to start.

The sheer mass of information available about consumers and the fear around “big data” is overwhelming. For some, it’s driven by a lack of understanding of how to use the data properly. For others, it’s the overwhelming amount of internal restructuring and/or lack of expertise to ensure the data is acquired, utilised and stored correctly. But for those brave enough to confront and harness data in their relationship marketing, there are huge rewards.

It isn’t big scary data; it’s simply data, which should be embraced as a business’ natural resource to survive in the market. More than ever, companies have the opportunity to capture data from all areas of the business. Website stats, contact centre calls, social network posts, and loyalty card data – both structured and unstructured – presents an opportunity to listen and understand what customers want to tell us. 

In the past, we would look to data to reveal who our customers are and create target audiences around demographics. Now, it is much deeper than that. We can discover that each individual customer interacts with our messages, products and services and brand differently, no matter what demographic segment they belong to. Data provides us a snippet into the customer’s lives, making us walk in their shoes; to think, see and do from their perspective.  By aggregating and analysing data we are empowered to take action immediately so that we address that customer’s need at the most opportune time. 

You must be focused on what objectives you are trying to achieve and what you want to get out of the data. Rather than trying to make use of every single piece of information, and collate all the information you can, focus instead on getting actionable insights and only collecting what is relevant to your business needs. Start with the end in mind, work backwards and test some of these insights before you delve deeper. 

Then look inwardly into the business to determine the capability and requirements to deliver the objectives. Too many companies are missing these opportunities because of a lack of internal data management expertise. A simple solution could be to partner with third party vendors who can help you through the process, utilise their expertise and experience and lead you to the Holy Grail of relationship marketing: a Single Customer View. 

Knowing a customer’s name and using it in email marketing and direct mail is all well and good, but it’s not a differentiator (everyone else is doing it). Consumers expect more and will simply no longer buy from an organisation that does not take into account their channel preference, purchasing history and other personal information. 

Take ecommerce, for example: research shows a huge 60 per cent of customers prefer it if an online store remembers their contact details and purchase information . 

According to Havas Media’s 2013 Meaningful brands research, 73 per cent of brands could disappear and consumers wouldn’t care. You shouldn’t be afraid of getting too close, you should be afraid of not getting close enough. And like any mate that you have – you can be helpful with making recommendations with other products that might be of interest – in a way that’s not intrusive but complimentary to a customer’s research cycle. This is where you start to add true value. 

While you should let go of your fears, don’t be careless. Collecting and using data comes with responsibilities. Companies must be aware of the Privacy Act and best practices in handling data. Make it clear to consumers that the reason you’re capturing their information is to ensure the experiences delivered back and offers made to them are more relevant and in line with their needs and expectations. 

In 2014 you probably have just six or seven seconds to grab someone’s attention. It’s becoming ever more important to know exactly who your target audience is, build a trusting relationship with them, and to provide valuable personalised content. This is only achievable through a deep knowledge of your customers and what it is that makes them tick. Don’t let the fear hold you back, the crucial thing is to act now! Use data intelligently to get closer to the customer, and the rest will follow.

Peter Anson is the CEO of Salmat Consumer Marketing Solutions.

An earlier version of this story contained an incorrect attribution. It is now correct.