Some established trends present ongoing challenges in 2015

It’s a little over a week into 2015 and I’m still sorting through my thoughts on the challenges and trends that we, our clients and other companies will contend with as the year unfolds. But there are a few conclusions that I have come to:

Filling in the gaps in customer knowledge will require both offline and online data

One of the broader themes of the last few years that continues to develop in 2015 is that the drive to understand and use digital data continues unabated – although too many so-called ‘Big Data experts’ in the digital world that think they have good handle on this information and how to apply it actually don’t. The trouble is most people who believe they know how to unlock the value in digital data or pretend to be able to do so are still in fact missing the whole picture.

Online behavioural data certainly provides a big part of the picture when it comes to many customers, but it falls far short of providing a full and true view. Getting a perfect 360-degree view of a customer may never be truly possible, but getting a pretty accurate read on a consumer’s patterns of behaviour is certainly an achievable aim.

Bringing together all relevant data on each customer – whether online or offline – is the way forward for companies that really want to get a firm grasp on what their customers are doing, so they can understand behaviour within key segments and respond to it more effectively and in a more tailored and personalised way. Thus, linking data of all types to the Single Customer View (SCV) database will emerge as a key task – and challenge – for businesses in 2015.

Equally critical in this endeavour is the ability to identify a website visitor as a known customer. That means building an SCV that can capture this information. This will be a major aim for businesses – albeit a goal that is easy to identify but one that, thus far, few firms have successfully attained.

For a lot of companies, simply convincing their digital people that they need to look beyond online activity to more effectively respond to customers’ wants, needs and preferences continues to be an uphill battle and will remain a source of cultural clash within organizations.

To address these challenges, we recently acquired digital media analysis firm Cognesia, which specialises in real-time tracking and analysis of customers’ online behaviour. We are marrying this digital capability with our own traditional strength in loyalty programmes and database marketing to provide a more complete and responsive view of customers.

Companies will suddenly wake up to the need to prepare for data protection rules

It has been long discussed and expected, and is currently scheduled to pass later this year or sometime in 2016, but tough new European Union data protection legislation will potentially place huge restrictions on companies’ ability to use personal information on prospects and customers without explicit consent is something that, as the year goes on, will suddenly begin to loom as a soon-to-be-here reality.

In this context, loyalty schemes will become a hot area of interest as companies look to ensure database marketing strategies remain workable when the new EU legislation is finally passed. Businesses of all stripes are already increasingly realising that – with their built-in consents for data handling, analysis and use – loyalty schemes provide, in the very least, a safe haven for companies looking to retain and utilise customer information. What many will then pick up on is just how effective a loyalty scheme can be as a foundation for effective database marketing and customer retention initiatives.

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