4 Steps to Shopper Identification Nirvana
Everyone is unique, so why do many marketing initiatives treat everyone the same? The answer lies with identification. When retailers can’t identify shoppers, they have no choice but to lump them together in one undifferentiated group. Often, the issue is not that a retailer can’t identify site visitors, it's that its approach to identification isn’t part of a top-down strategy.
A typical retailer can identify about 5 percent to 10 percent of its site visitors — usually loyal customers who are logged in. Yes, connecting customer data to site activity will help, but it’s still not enough. Past customers make up a small percentage of total site visitors. A good identification strategy has mechanisms in place to identify more — more than the logged in loyalists, more than past customers. Literally everyone!
1. Rally the troops around identification.
Identification first needs to be added as a top-level key performance indicator that flows through each team’s activity. CRM, e-commerce, email marketing, everyone needs to be aligned on the real “identification rate” across digital properties. The reason is that identification isn't a one-and-done metric. Just like other performance metrics, the goal is to get better and better, and that requires constant monitoring to understand identification by source and device and testing to determine what improves identification rate.
A CMO at a home goods retailer was dealing with a typical scenario. The CRM team was telling her that they had a 100 percent customer ID rate. They were right — any good CRM data file should be a list where every customer is identified. However, the e-commerce team was only identifying 7 percent of visitors that came to the site — not even the entire group of customers in the CRM — just the ones that were logged in. Since the e-commerce team had always seen the same rate, they never brought it up to anyone.
It wasn’t until the CMO started asking about personalization and targeting that she started to realize that the “ID rate” meant different things to different teams. She implemented a new “ID rate” metric that was based on the 7 percent rate on the website and rallied her teams around a goal to steadily improve the rate over time by identifying people who weren’t logged in, customers and new visitors.
2. Assess technical readiness.
Identifying more people requires some technical capabilities that most midsized and large retailers likely already have in place. Retailers need to:
- Collect signal data — i.e., information about visitors that will help identify them and understand their behavior better.
- Have a large enough product catalog that they will benefit from personalizing offers. If a company only has one product and one type of customer, it might not have enough variety.
- Have marketing technology in place to A/B test, optimize email, and deliver targeted online offers and personalize campaigns based on identification data.
- Institute a measurement processes to analyze the results and feed back into the beginning again.
3. Start listening.
Having the ability to gather identification data is the first part of the battle. The next part is about coverage — picking up on every possible signal from shoppers to build a dynamic picture of who each individual shopper is and what they care about. This ongoing process is all about unearthing which signals or behaviors are most valuable to use for triggers, personalization and other customer experiences.
Every retailer will find different signals that matter most to them. For home goods brands with high-consideration products, there could be a very long purchase cycle. Understanding where a shopper is in that cycle is an incredibly valuable element of determining how to nurture that shopper to a purchase. A health and beauty brand might care about what search terms someone used when researching skincare ingredients or the ratings and reviews they looked at.
For an apparel retailer that has a large product catalog, identifying someone’s category preference would be valuable so that they can be sent relevant product recommendations. And for a luxury retailer that very rarely discounts, understanding which shoppers have a price sensitivity could help determine who to share discounts with and who will purchase without one.
Knowing all of these nuances requires data gathering — i.e., collecting information from the website and connecting it to customer information, using third parties to identify more visitors, and being diligent about covering the entire site to capture as much insight as possible.
4. Put identification into action.
Identification is part of the bigger marketing machine. It's the point of entry for driving messaging, cadence, product recommendations, discounts, channel choice and a bunch of other decisions. To make the best use of identification, marketers need to put in place a new campaign strategy, including full funnel triggers, nurture campaigns, and information capture opportunities across e-commerce, email and other channels. All of these different tactics will be most successful if they’re implemented with a “test and learn” approach that marketers use to improve over time.
At this point, it’s clear that identification is more than just a number. It’s really a guiding principle that will elevate retail marketing. In fact, combining activation and identification is the true jackpot of retail marketing. Improving upon identification and activation is an ongoing process, and one feeds into the other. Every new action provides new insight that can be fed back into the identification process, which in turn has the potential to improve the outcomes of the activations, creating a positive cycle that can dramatically increase retail marketing effectiveness.
Sherene Hilal is the chief product officer at Bluecore, the personalization solution of choice for the world's fastest-growing retailers.
Sherene Hilal is the Chief Product Officer at Bluecore, the personalization solution of choice for the world's fastest growing retailers. Hilal most recently served as Bluecore’s SVP of Product Marketing & Business Operations.
Hilal joined Bluecore in 2018 from Oracle Data Cloud. Now, as Chief Product Officer, she is leading Bluecore’s transformation from product suite to shopper-first platform. Hilal is building Bluecore's performance-driven approach to DTC retail growth directly into the platform by putting first-party shopper and product data at the core.
Previously, Sherene was the vice president of product marketing at Curalate, a content intelligence platform that makes images shoppable. Prior to Curalate, she served as the senior director of outbound product management for BlueKai (and later Oracle, following the company’s acquisition), where she defined and developed the “Data as a Service” category. Sherene holds a Master’s Degree in Applied Math and Systems from Columbia University and a B.S. in Applied Math from Cornell University.