One retailer’s personalisation journey from digital marketing to cognitive computing

Bikes retailer shares how it is making the trip to personalisation, from digital marketing capabilities to content and IBM's Watson

Carol Wentworth in conversation with IBM's Kareem Yusuf
Carol Wentworth in conversation with IBM's Kareem Yusuf

It’s a growing challenge for marketers: Knowing which content to serve a specific customer to personalise that moment of interaction. But for US-based bikes retailer, Performance Bicycle, the issue is on its way to being solved thanks to cognitive computing.

During this week’s IBM Amplify conference, the retailer revealed it is looking to harness the vendor’s Watson cognitive computing services in order to pool all of its digital and social content into an intelligent content hub that can be used to quickly personalise experience to target customer segments.

It’s just the latest step in an ongoing journey for Performance Bicycle to utilise digital channels and technology to provide better customer engagement.

SVP of marketing, Carol Wentworth, said Performance Bicycle has started working on how to bring all of its content assets together into the cloud, such as catalogues, promotions, social and user generated content, learning articles, imagery and video, in order to create a single repository with unified taxonomy. She said the work was prompted by efforts to improve the experience for a key customer segment: Female enthusiast cyclists.

“This segment can drive incremental volume for our company, so we started by partnering with our offering and design teams to bring together existing content, such as product catalogue, promos, learning cycle content and user generated, social content into an intelligence content hub,” she told attendees. “In the near future, we will be able to leverage this content to create and deliver personalised experiences for this target segment.”

Where cognitive comes in is being able to analyse content and automatically organise and tag each piece with key concepts, features and attributes, such as aspirational or emotional indicators.

“By having our content automatically tagged and analysed, my team will be able to find the content they need, get recommendations on the best content to achieve our goals or identify where there might be new content to provide personalised experience for our customers,” Wentworth explained.

“Cognitive gives us new insights, such as into tone of that content, which can be used to better meet up with a customer’s intent. Today, the team is manually tagging and searching for content across multiple systems. It’s very time consuming, and this makes it difficult to have a complete view of our content or pull the right content together efficiently to create relevant experiences for our customers.

“In the future, the team will be able to understand what content exists today, and see how effective it will be to achieve our goals for the segment.”

Performance Bicycle will also be able to measure performance, what’s working and not working, and plan for new content, Wentworth said.

As an example of the experience this will enable, Wentworth said an avid female rider, ‘Cassy’, could receive an email update on new rides, which links to a signup page. When she visits the signup page, the experience and content is tailored to her and her upcoming ride.

“One more thing our team is working on that’s exciting is that the new content and information can be leveraged in search in new way,” Wentworth said. “If ‘Cassy’ is signed up, realises she needs nutrition, and types that into search, we can now understand the intent of her search and deliver personalised content based on that intent, rather than just a generic keyword search result.”

The ride to cognitive computing

Utilising cognitive computing is the latest step for Performance Bicycle towards personalised, omni-channel retailing and marketing. The retailer is a longstanding customer of IBM’s, and over the last 15 years has adopted Websphere Commerce, Digital Analytics and Digital Experience. In 2013, it also rolled out IBM Marketing Cloud (Silverpop), adding a raft of new digital marketing capabilities to its arsenal.

“The more solutions under one roof, the better they’re going to work together,” Wentworth told CMO in an interview following her IBM Amplify presentation.

“We have a lot more capabilities to run queries and segment the database, and pull over insights from our CRM database to inform selections for email segments. That tool has given us a lot more capabilities to be more segment driven, more localised – we are populating emails now with local store information for example, which is extremely helpful to customers. We have a loyalty program and we send messages out to groups of members at a certain threshold of points own. All of these are things couldn’t be done in the past.”

More recently, Wentworth said Performance Bicycle’s CRM data, which is outsourced and managed by Epsilon, has been appended with third-party data, providing an ever-richer set of insights.

“We have done segmentation tests of communications and seen the power of this,” she said. “We’ve also done more personalised content that is more timely and relevant to you. If you buy a bike in store, we follow up with a thank you email, we recognise the store you bought it from with their information, we remind you to bring it in for slight adjustments. So we’ve started to marry the two capabilities more, knowing we have the flexibility in Marketing Cloud to leverage some of the unique characteristic in our CRM database.

“Of course, we’re still learning about the customer journey; it’s an ongoing process.”

The next step is to pull in social content to its customer data warehouse, along with data around people who participate in Performance Bicycle’s regular group rides and education clinics, plus events the retailer sponsors and supports, in order to improve advocacy and engagement.

“We have a lifetime value model, so we understand the likelihood of someone to repurchase, how quickly they do that, and how the value changes when there’s shorter times between spend and more frequent returns. But we need to understand the advocacy and engagement side,” Wentworth said.

“If a customer is participating in one of those other events but we are not aware, it’s a missed opportunity. There’s another component of engagement with our brand and the sport that would be nice to understand.”

At the same time, Performance Bicycle has been investing heavily in content and has about 20 associates across the business contributing content, along with a dedicated digital content specialist. It also produces videos and photo shoots that are both educational and inspirational.

Thanks to its ability to personalise messages, Wentworth said Performance Bicycle is seeing email open rates double that of traditional approaches.

“We know that if there’s a message that’s meaningful to you, that’s timely, relevant and personalised, we can easily see double or higher open and click rates,” she said. “Each email communication serves a different purpose – some are intended to drive a sale and conversion today. Some are designed to encourage you to ride with us on a Saturday.”

Aligning marketing with IT

Getting all of this is impossible without having a strong relationship with the CIO, Wentworth continued.

“You cannot, as a marketer, be successful without a stronger partnership with technology – it drives everything we do from a capability perspective,” she said. “It’s important to have a mutual understanding of roles and that we keep our teams aligned on that front.”

Wentworth admitted digital can present a range of grey areas between marketing and technology, such as user design and messaging, so as head of marketing, she has worked with her CIO to overcome confusion around who holds accountability.

“Change is sometimes difficult for people, but there’s a real body of expertise and ongoing learning around user experience design, and that’s resident in the IT team, then marketing partners to understand what is being developed. We provide all the imagery, copy, tone and so on,” she said. “For the CIO and I, it’s pretty clear, but sometimes we need to clarify for our teams.”

But when it comes to customers, everyone in the organisation has accountability, Wentworth said. She also agreed digital is key in helping marketers own more of that customer engagement story.

“We still need people to buy products and services to create our profitability, but it’s super important to talk about the customer in different segments and for their lifetime value, and do more talking about customers, full stop.”

The challenge for the marketing function is to keep getting the best nuggets of data-driven customer insight into the hands of the rest of the business, Wentworth said.

“This allows them to think differently, make better and more informed decisions, and really understand the profile of a person driving the lion’s share of sales in a category,” she added. “There is so much data there and a tonne of insights we could be sharing with the organisation. It’s time.”

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