How the Best Retail Marketers Make it Personal
To describe the job of today’s digital marketer as competitive would be a major understatement. Standing out in the noisy crowd is a challenge that never ends — and actually connecting with your audience makes that task seem positively Herculean.
Yet that’s what the top retail marketers do every day. They not only stand out, but they do so precisely because of how they connect with their audiences. They make it personal. When a customer receives a marketing message, it feels like it was created just for them at that moment. When customers engage — whether online, in an app, or in-store — it seems like the brand knows them from the outset. And they’re more likely to buy from the brand, time after time, as a result.
Personalized marketing is fundamental to creating transformative customer experiences, but too many marketers are still delivering static, siloed messages — e.g., emails that become outdated by time the recipient opens them, disconnected messaging and offers across different channels, and so forth. This becomes an extension of their brand: one-dimensional and out of touch.
So how do the best retail marketers do it? Here are four technologies and tactics they leverage to make it personal — and drive tangible results.
1. Render-on-Open Technology
Email marketing remains a mainstay in the digital marketer’s toolbox, but brands don’t control when a recipient opens the message. This has the potential to lead to poor experiences because of expired offers, sold-out products, or simply outdated content.
Render-on-open technology enables brands to deliver emails that populate messages and content as they’re opened and read. So while you still can’t control when someone opens an email, render-on-open means you do control what appears when they open it. An email opened at 1 p.m. on Tuesday may be different from the “same” email (i.e., the same campaign) opened at 9 a.m. on Thursday. Essentially, render-on-open works by sending out an API call at open and then delivering a message based on the available data at that moment.
That means your emails reflect reality at that point in time rather than being frozen at the time you sent the message. This is incredibly useful for managing things like pricing and inventory, a sale countdown clock, event-driven messaging, etc. — and avoiding stale, impersonal content that frustrates rather than delights. If an item sells out, you can dynamically cycle another product in. No more clicking on an item and seeing a “sold out” message or a different, higher price than advertised in the email. A brand’s messages become inherently more relevant and personalized, which leads to better customer experiences.
2. Geolocation-Based Experiences
While not new, geolocation data is opening new doors — literally, in the case of a brick-and-mortar store — for engaging with customers in a more personal, dynamic manner across physical and digital channels. By using mobile geolocation data, brands can know when a customer is entering or even simply near a store and deliver personalized messages via their app and other channels. (And while mobile is the primary geolocation channel, it should be noted that similar opportunities are possible via web-/email-based on IP address or other data.)
A sophisticated marketing program could not only send a person a 20 percent discount offer, for example, but do so for a product they know the person has browsed previously online — and even give the person directions on where to find it in the store when they arrive.
Geolocation becomes the basis for an entire realm of possibilities for highly personalized marketing based on a consumer’s behavior in, near or even leaving a store. If a brand’s marketing data renders quickly (in or near real time), it can send offers based on in-store behavior like a price check, or a personalized recommendation — with a corresponding offer to buy it later online — as they’re leaving, based on their purchases.
3. Identity Resolution
This is one of the biggest gaps when it comes to connecting with consumers in highly personalized, relevant ways. A brand may be doing lots of good things toward this goal in terms of its data, its campaign development, and so on, but then it fails to connect that data and the consumer experiences it generates across different channels.
The brand effectively treats its customer as if they were a different person when they open its app vs. when they walk into a physical retail location and again when they engage on social media or the web, creating conflicting or confusing messages, offers for products they’ve already purchased,, and other disjointed experiences.
The best retail marketers leverage identity resolution technologies to ensure that their personalization efforts connect with the person — not several or more versions of that person — no matter the channel, whether push/SMS, email, web, or in-store.
In order to build a holistic view of the customer and really understand who you’re talking to, and why you’re talking to them, you must unify your experiences and treat the individual customer as one person, no matter how, when or where they engage with you. Identity resolution is key to making this happen.
4. Contextual Images
Marketers understand well the power of an image. But what consumer wants more generic images in their inbox or on their phone?
Smart retail marketers personalize not just their copy, but their visuals too when the opportunity presents itself. The use of context-specific images based on your customer data creates another layer of personalized, tailored experiences — e.g., an email image based on recent browsing history or a recommendation based on a recent purchase.
A furniture retailer that knows a customer recently bought a set of chairs might send a follow-up email recommending a set of cushions that pair perfectly with their purchase. That message becomes instantly more personal when it shows those specific cushions, not just tells someone that they’re a good match.
This isn't that difficult to do from the marketer’s perspective, but customers view it as a next-level touch that makes them feel like they’re shopping with the right brand. It’s not just an image, but an image that’s relevant to them.
And that’s what the best retail marketers get right: They use data and readily available tools to make it personal for the customer, which in turn pays enormous dividends for the brand.
Jeff Haws is a senior marketing manager at MessageGears, an enterprise customer marketing platform.
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