We recently visited some family friends who moved from New York City, where they lived for 35 years, to a village in rural Vermont. Knowing the business that I’m in, my friend complained about how the rugs she bought on SundanceCatalog.com follow her around the internet, as did the dish rack she purchased on Food52.com, via a Facebook ad. She finally requested Facebook to suppress that ad as it was no longer relevant.
Naturally our conversation centered on the trials and tribulations of their life-changing move — selecting a new internet provider, planning the kitchen remodel, and a thousand other details that must be resolved. As the night wore on, I kept asking them, "do you really only see ads for items you already purchased?"
From a digital ad-tech perspective, this is a couple that was sending off signals. They looked at houses on Zillow.com; researched, compared and applied for a mortgage online; and searched for ISP providers and bank branches available in the village where they planned to move. We all know this family represented a golden opportunity for a range of brands, as such moves upend long-held shopping and banking behaviors. Yet no brand seized that opportunity.
It’s hard not to see this as an indictment against our industry. For at least 20 years, ad-tech and mar-tech providers have promised brands that their tech stack will allow them to deliver a unified customer experience. And the truth is, brands do have a vast array of technology at their disposal — only it’s not delivering on that promise. This isn’t news, of course. We regularly see press stories where the author complains that the internet still thinks she’s pregnant, misidentifies a consumer’s gender or continues to show consumers ads for items they already bought.
It’s high time we got things right. We’re doing neither the brands nor their customers any favors with all of this last-click targeting, which if we’re honest, is all that we’re doing. If we're to break out of this rut, we need to achieve some unity.
United Front Needed
First and foremost, we need to commit, not simply pay lip service, to a unified customer experience. If a person spends a lot of time researching ovens and looking at kitchen remodeling ideas, it’s a clear sign he or she is rethinking the kitchen and in the market for new appliances. Therefore, the first step is to unify all of the data concerning those interactions into a single location, preferably the brand’s data lake. This will allow a brand to determine if consumers are simply looking to replace an outdated appliance or upgrading their entire kitchen.
Next, we need to help brands unify the insights across all of its engagement points so they don’t miss life-changing opportunities. This, in my opinion, means applying strategic decision making within the enterprise’s data lake to unlock insights, rather than applying it solely on the execution level, which is essentially what we have today. Everybody builds data lakes, but nobody has built a boat to sail through them. By applying artificial intelligence (AI) directly to first-party data housed in a data lake, insights will be become scalable and usable across all engagement points, whether that’s social, online, offline, in-store, etc.
Finally, we need to unify strategies so that every customer touchpoint is reading from the same page. Consumers who purchase an item should never see ads for that item again. Rather, the brand should look at all of the data points available and make smart engagement decisions based on customer touchpoint behavior. Rather than present the consumer with an ad for something he has already purchased, why not offer unified insight that allows the enterprise to deliver the best customer experience across every touchpoint? The point is to ensure all departments access and act upon the same insights. Therefore, they’ll understand how to carry out their part of the execution.
The challenge we face today is that data is still siloed, which creates siloed insights, which creates siloed strategies, which creates siloed execution, which ultimately creates siloed customer experiences. This is why consumers roll their eyes and say “the internet” — as we’re collectively known — is a weird combination of nosey marketers who mind their business, but don’t have a clue as to what they want.
Tim Burke is CEO of Affinio, a marketing strategy platform that leverages the interest graph to understand today’s consumers.