Company X has a loyal customer named Allison. She buys something online, tweets about her purchase, pops into a retail store and contacts the call center with a question about a new product -- all in the span of a week.
Allison's behavior isn't unique. It's how most customers interact with brands in today's digital world. They hop from one channel to another, absorbing marketing messages through a mobile app one minute and social media the next. They expect the experience to be seamless from one channel to the next.
Because of that, marketers are turning to cross-channel campaigns, which aim to engage customers across multiple channels with consistent branding messages. Some 80% of marketers worldwide say they'll run cross-channel campaigns in 2014, according to an Experian survey.
Running an effective cross-channel campaign isn't always easy. Most of the marketers in the Experian survey also cited roadblocks, including problems with collecting and maintaining data they need to analyze interactions across channels and not having the correct CRM systems to effectively manage customer interactions.
Solving those problems, analysts say, is complex. It involves finding the right technology and the right business processes to maximize the technology. The software is important, but it can't make up for bad data, lack of clear marketing objectives or poor workflows.
"The biggest thing I advise people to do is know what your current infrastructure is and know what it is you want to do. You have to know what it is you want to accomplish," said Steve Mintz, owner of CLM Prescriptives, a Wisconsin-based marketing strategy firm. "You can't just say, 'I'll get the solution and the solution will meet my end.' Your process has to align with best practices."
Finding the right technology
Identifying the right software for cross-channel campaign management requires that marketing and IT departments talk -- something that was almost unheard of previously. The technology purchase has to be based on marketing campaign objectives, said Justin Honaman, former vice president of national retail sales at Coca-Cola's bottling division. Prior to that, he was director of customer intelligence.
"A lot of people fail to set campaign objectives upfront," said Honaman, who left the Coca-Cola subsidiary in 2013 to become a partner at Teradata Corp., which sells data analytics platforms. "You have to start with the why. Why is it that we're going to be doing what we're doing?"
Are you looking for a system that's strong in email marketing? Some vendors are better at that, Honaman said. Are you most concerned about good flow of content from one channel to another? Other vendors are better at that.
According to CLM's Mintz, a lot of questions and introspection need to take place before a purchase. He cited a Gartner Research Inc. report that said it's 10 times harder to fix a problem when you're past the needs and assessment phase. "Only after you've done that will you find the right technology," he said.
Max Dufour, a partner at Harmeda, a strategy and innovation advisory firm, suggests investing in a data warehouse system to migrate all cross-channel data to a single location, store new data and analyze data. Without reliable data that is centrally located, you can't extract good statistics from a cross-channel marketing campaign, he said.
"A data warehouse as a hub is probably the best strategy," said Dufour, who is a partner at Harmeda, a strategy and innovation advisory firm. "You want all the systems to be connected centrally. You don't want to have any double entry."
Dufour noted that the shift to cross-channel campaigns has led to some changes in campaign management software. As channels are increasingly Web- and social media-based, marketers are choosing Web-based software and Software as a Service, rather than on-premises software. He also anticipates that marketing software will become more fluid. Rather than spending an exhaustive amount of time selecting a vendor, companies will develop a "fail early and often" mentality -- choosing a vendor quickly and then switching to another if needed.
More on managing big data
Managing big data is a big -- and complex -- issue. Here are some practical tips on how to get it right.
Create a single book of record. A single view of all transactions with a customer is key to managing interactions across channels, according to Justin Honaman, previously a vice president and director of customer intelligence at Coca-Cola Co.
Invest in a warehousing system. A data warehousing system is the best approach to creating that single view, according to Max Dufour, Max Dufour, a partner at Harmeda, a strategy and innovation advisory firm. Warehousing systems migrate cross-channel data to a single location, whether it's cloud-based or on-site. They're also designed to help you analyze data.
Start a loyalty program. Loyalty programs are a win for both the company and the customer, said Honaman, who now works as a partner and analytics consultant for Teradata Corp. The company collects reliable data on a customer, and the customer is happy to share that data in exchange for rewards.
Segment the data. Create more effective campaigns by sorting your customers into groups, suggests Dufour. Identify your top 100 customers or all customers in a specific location, for example, to create targeted marketing and sales strategies.
Don't skip the analysis. Do a thorough analysis before starting data collection, says Steve Mintz, owner of marketing strategy consulting firm CLM Prescriptives. How do my customers research, find and buy my products? What type of campaigns do I need to run? What channels are my customers using? That information will help you identify the type of data to collect.
Monitor data quality. Maintaining quality data is an ongoing process. You can't "set it and forget it," Mintz said. Companies need to have some sort of data quality team that regularly examines analytics. The team can meet monthly or quarterly -- depending on needs -- to identify and address data quality issues.
Think twice about buying data. Purchased customer data is often unreliable, Teradata's Honaman said, and incorrect data can alienate customers. Customers are likely to disregard an email -- or worse, feel offended -- if you address them by the wrong name, for example, or send an offer that doesn't align with their interests.
Good data, good practices
When Honaman worked for Coca-Cola's bottling division, he saw what happens when inaccurate data is used for cross-channel marketing campaigns. "There's definitely an alienation component," he said. "I could not tell you the number of times we would get replies where people were irate: 'I'm not so and so. You sent this to me but that's my ex-husband's email address.'"
In less extreme cases, companies waste marketing efforts on people who will never buy a certain product. Mintz uses the example of a company that markets to families with children under the age of 12. If you collect data on the children's ages when sales are made but forget to timestamp the data, you might continue marketing to people whose children are too old for the products.
Analysts agree that the quality of data is key to the effectiveness of a cross-channel marketing campaign. Your customer data needs to be reliable, current, well-managed, easy to analyze and unsiloed.
Company data also needs to provide a complete picture of each customer's interactions across multiple channels, according to Experian. As customers move rapidly through various channels, stitching together data across time and events produces a clearer picture of customer behaviors, according to Experian's January 2014 white paper, Harnessing Big Data for Cross-Channel Success. "As today's brands look to cross-channel data to develop deeper insights into their customers, they must recognize that discrete event data is a much smaller piece of a more sophisticated (and meaningful) puzzle," the white paper said.
Figuring out what pieces of data to collect and what channels to focus on presents further challenges. As for choosing what channels to focus on when you're launching a cross-channel campaign, Dufour recommends allocating more resources to the channels where you're already getting traction. "Where are your people?" he said.