How marketing tech lets you get personal with your customers

The speed and scale of business today means few companies can have a personal relationship with their customers like the shopkeepers of yesteryear, but data and marketing automation can help fill the gap.

In the "Good Old Days," businesses had personal relationships with their customers. They knew who their customers were and what they liked. Today, technology and the sheer scale of business have disrupted that one-to-one relationship. The result has been a surge in marketing tech and the value of customer data as businesses seek new ways to understand who their customers are and what they want.

"It used to be all about the shopkeeper," says Nick Worth, CMO of Belgium-based omnichannel marketing automation software provider, Selligent. "Today we haven't met the customer in person, but we're still trying to know them. We're trying to do it with data."

Powerful marketing tech solutions offer marketers the capability to take advantage of the enormous amount of data available to them, and put it to work, giving them the opportunity to operate at scale while still offering customers personalized engagement. But that's easier said than done.

"The fundamental problem is that so many of us marketers are so uncomfortable talking about technology that we default to these bad questions," Worth says. "How many Facebook likes do you have? When did that become a relevant thing? What is a Facebook like worth to your particular business?"

To start asking good questions, Worth says, marketing tech needs to provide marketers with real, valuable data in a way that is accessible to them without requiring them to understand the technology or rely on a team of data scientists (that they probably don't actually have access to).

Ecommerce brings big bucks

The past few years have seen big ecommerce solution providers pay top dollar to add marketing automation capabilities to their portfolios. In 2010, IBM paid US$480 million to acquire Unica. In 2013, Oracle ponied up $871 million for Eloqua and came up with $2.5 billion for ExactTarget. That same year, SAP acquired Swiss marketing automation specialist Hybris for between $1 billion and $1.5 billion, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Venture capitalist firm, HGGC, a leading middle-market private equity firm that was a big investor in Hybris, sees even more potential in the space. In July of this year, it acquired Selligent. In a report released by VentureBeat in August, Selligent was ranked the fastest-growing company in the marketing automation category with growth of 12 percent in the past year. The average growth in the category over the past year was four percent.

"Increased complexity of businesses and diversity of consumer data sources, along with the push for meaningful customer interactions, is driving the rapid adoption of sophisticated marketing automation solutions," Hudson Smith, principal at HGGC, said in a statement about the Selligent acquisition. "Selligent's platform was built to accommodate these demanding challenges and produce strong marketing results. Their nimble solutions allow ambitious marketers to seamless manage individual consumer journeys in real time, without significant support from an organization's IT department."

Yesterday, HGGC doubled down on the investment by merging Selligent with another of its companies: U.S.-based email technology company, StrongView. The integration of Selligent and StrongView will make the new Selligent the leading independent provider of digital marketing engagement technology in the U.S. and Europe, according to HGGC.

Selligent CEO, Andre Lejeune, will remain the company's CEO, while StrongView CEO, Bill Wagner, moves into an advisory role. Rich Lawson, CEO of HGGC will serve as the combined company's chairman.

"We originally invested in Selligent earlier in the year because we see the need for an independent omnichannel platform focused specifically on marketers," Lawson said in a statement yesterday. "Bringing StrongView's broad roster of U.S.-based enterprise and mid-market clients and its leading contextual email technology into Selligent makes the company the clear market leader. Clients will be able to select from a flexible set of consumer-first email and multichannel capabilities and enjoy top-tier service across both sides of the Atlantic."

Selligent, built on a native software-as-a-service (SaaS) platform, combines a single view of the consumer, sophisticated campaign management and omnichannel campaign execution to give marketers the ability to create unique consumer experiences across multiple channels.

Getting personalised through technology: Thomas Cook

"Four years ago whenever we sent out an email, we sent the same version to everyone in our database," says Dominque Vanhove, head of Marketing Performance at Thomas Cook Belgium, subsidiary of U.K.-based travel company and Selligent customer, Thomas Cook Group.

"If the design team had some spare time they would maybe produce a second version, aimed specifically at families for example, but this meant making a completely new email. In our other online channels, such as display, we were used to hypersegmentation: banners that showed the product you viewed online, social ads that differed based on the age and gender of the user, etc. It frustrated us that we couldn't apply a similar segmentation strategy in email marketing, which plays such an important role in the lifecycle of a customer."

But the addition of Selligent to the toolbox changed all that, Vanhove says.

"Once Selligent was introduced at Thomas Cook, we were hit by the endless opportunities in segmentation and marketing automation," she says. "With less workload than it once took to produce one single email, we could now send 1,000 different versions of one email, completely automated. We set up several automated lifecycle campaigns that not only send out highly personalized emails, but also text (SMS) messages, triggered by our customers' actions. Not one email sent out is the same for two users.

"By linking Selligent to our CRM, we are able to combine booking data, personal data, click behavior and even search behavior on our website, culminating in a unique rich data profile for every customer and prospect."

Cashing in on data

Thomas Cook Belgium is the biggest travel company in Belgium, with more than 35 years of history. That means a goldmine of customer data, Vahnove says.

"We have an in-depth knowledge of our customers: We know what they look for in a hotel, if they have kids, what their favorite activity is on holiday, etc.," she notes. "This added value is very apparent whenever you walk into one of our travel agencies: We know you. We try to give our customers that same personalized approach in our online channels, by targeting our communication on social media, in display, in Google Adwords, in emails and on our website."

But while very experienced in targeting communication, Vanhove says Thomas Cook simply didn't have the tools to get the most of its email and SMS marketing — until the company partnered with Selligent.

"Working with Selligent didn't require much transformation on our part, as our new segmented email strategy fit in seamlessly with our segmentation strategy. What did change was the way we looked at data," she says. "As Selligent provides real time data about what our customers are clicking on and searching for online, we can now build fully dynamic profiles, that change with every click the customer does.

"The great thing about our omnichannel approach is that this profile is also accessible in our retail shops. So if you walk into one of our shops, we know what type of holiday you were looking at online the days before, and can immediately offer you a product that matches your preferences. Selligent really makes it easier for us to convert prospects into customers."

But regardless of the technology solution, Vanhove says marketers must embrace data now and begin leveraging it, even if it's imperfect.

"Data isn't worth anything if you don't do anything with it," Vanhove says. "So many businesses don't use the data they own because they don't have a plan. Every single bit of data, whether it's a click on an email or a date of birth, tells you something about your customer. The main challenge is figuring out what you want to achieve, which data you want to combine and how you will test if it's working. And don't worry if you can't figure it all out from the get-go.

Start simple: Use different images in communication to women and men, or offer different products to families and singles. But don't just sit on the data until you have a master plan. Simple segmentation is better than no segmentation."

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