When Your Customers are Not Always Online…

No visit to Japan is complete without a ride on their high speed, notoriously punctual rail network. Three years ago, I had experienced a rail network that had an average delay of about 0.6 minutes for an entire year. (Gasp, what’s the Indian average again?) I was at one of the most technologically advanced countries in the world. Interestingly, I saw a pile of catalogues in a corner, several of which were already being read by passengers. Intrigued, I picked up a copy and browsed through the products on display. I simply couldn’t fathom this – one of the most forward looking digital countries in the world was using an antiquated form of advertising. These readers were using QR codes to know more about the product or searching for the product online.

I later understood that the catalogue business is thriving, where several products are displayed with attractive short term discounts and in sync with latest trends. Toll free numbers provided in the catalogue enabled customers to place orders. A little research told me that along with Japan, Europe employed the catalogue model to push product sales.

When your customers are not always online...twitter

But what really caught my attention was that the discovery process was entirely offline. Even in the most digital-friendly nation, offline was massive. There is much to learn from customers’ offline behavior. Because, once I map a user offline, I can send a personalized catalogue to that consumer based on his interests and purchasing behavior. This is a win for a consumer and a brand.

For example, Shawn may have liked a black shirt in the catalogue, and might have called up to find out if they have it in red. Later when Shawn buys the red shirt online, we link this data to the catalogue delivered to him. So the next time, we know what Shawn might be looking for. By capturing customer browsing behavior online, and linking it to all the offline data captured about him, we can open a line of conversation which is not just engaging, but far more meaningful.

The whole point of doing advertising right is not just hitting the right target audience, but hitting them at the opportune moment. No amount of images depicting delicious, mouth-watering food will have any effect on a person once he has finished a meal. This is where contextual advertisements come into the picture. If advertisements are supposed to inform, they should be displayed when the customer wants that information. Otherwise, the ad remains an encumbrance.

Power of Contextual Advertising

Digital advertising today includes advanced tracking, profiling, contextual ads, native ads, re-targeting, performance marketing and all the gazillion other industry buzzwords. Apart from the standard parameters like age, gender and location, these days software’s track customer’s interests by using heat maps, duration of viewing, speed of clicks and more. This results in highly personalized ads delivered to the customer in a context that makes browsing and purchasing so much easier, simpler and faster.

Here’s an example of what we did for a leading middle-eastern airlines to help target their ads better. When customers visited the airline’s website, we simply logged their browsing patterns. The customers were profiled as to which location they were from, where they would like to go, which date range they would prefer to travel in, etc. If the customer did not ultimately buy the ticket, then their browsing behavior was logged and studied using powerful algorithms, to understand which aspect of flying with this airline had disinterested the customer.

The algorithm would understand whether the price of the ticket made the customer reconsider the purchase, or lack of a particular service, or unsuitable timings, etc. The customer who found the price to be unaffordable will get an advertisement informing him of cheaper rates on another date. Another customer will see an ad informing him of a premium flight service for the location of his interest, offering additional features which the customer was looking for. With data analysis, ads just became that much more contextual.

Getting Super Contextual: Offline Data

We’ve simply seen the tip of the iceberg when it comes to interpreting data to make business decisions. Using micro-segmentation, customers are grouped together based on their characteristics and browsing patterns. The algorithm can learn what each micro-segment’s behaviors and interests are like. When the algorithm logs a new customer, he is profiled and added to one of the existing micro-segments. This allows the algorithm to tap into data collected by similar users in the past and offer the customer an advertisement which is targeted specially to him. This means, the algorithm does not have to wait to collect every individual’s data extensively, instead it uses the data that’s already been logged about a customer’s micro-segment. Naturally, it also increases the algorithm’s response speed.

Digital advertising, just like anything else, has its weakness. A major chunk of a customer’s time is spent offline rather than online. Vast amounts of data can be captured from customers’ offline interactions with brands. By on-boarding offline customer data onto our servers we can link them to their online profiles. This provides brands with a holistic view about the customer.

There are several aspects to incorporating offline data which make it a challenge. A customer provides his name in a call to customer care. Using the name and possibly purchase history, algorithms have to identify his location, his approximate age and other demographic, geographic characteristics. Powerful analytics tools need to be employed for this task. Using the insights companies have to take corrective steps in their current processes, once the customer pain point is identified. After all, every customer wants it done his way.

The Future – Redundancy of Offline Data

This might seem a tad absurd. Only a couple of paras back, I was singing praises about how important offline data is. But bear with me for a moment. A couple of decades ago, there was barely any data online. The world ran on offline data. Since then, the world has rapidly gone online, and the development of technology has catapulted it to a space we’re still playing catch-up to.

The sheer importance of offline data is now felt everywhere. Now, it’s time to take offline data and add it to an online environment. Make a truly hyper-connected digital world that benefits consumers and brands alike. Almost all offline data should be on-boarded to ensure seamless analytics and results.

The explosion of technologies like wearable devices and Internet of Things will add to this data on-boarding. Wearable tech will indicate customer satisfaction and dissatisfaction. Internet of Things will log data of every unit of every product out there. Advanced analytics software will provide deep insights into consumer behavior. Rather than pushing products out to customers, advertising will evolve into a discovery platform. Here customers will learn about new products and engage with the advertising algorithm through data. This data oriented model, will open new conversation lines with customers in today’s extremely consumer focused market.

Originally posted on Adage

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