In the run up to JUMP 2011, the challenge of gathering and using data across all channels remains a key issue for marketers.

Last year, social and mobile were the new kids on the block and now it’s fair to say they are now serious contenders for fully established marketing channels.  

Although these new channels present new challenges, when it comes to data gathering and gleaning intelligence to manage a customer’s journey, they are ultimately just new channels that need to be treated in much the same way as the existing channels.

All of the evidence points to customers wanting to experience multichannel interactions with brands at a time and place of their choice. Earlier this year, we undertook some research to get a deeper understanding of this and asked consumers via an online survey how they preferred to be contacted. 

Not surprisingly, email was the most favoured channel for communication across the board, with 86% preferring it for offers, 80% for product and service updates, 76% for feedback and 60% for customer service.

Mobile stood out as potentially the most intrusive channel, with 95% saying they find it intrusive for push messages. And when it comes to reaching out to new customers, nearly half thought email was appropriate, 43% liked direct mail and 17% social media.

We also know that the quality of the data we collect and how it is stored is key to delivering meaningful insight into customer behaviour and developing those hugely useful but challenging, multichannel single customer views.

Shortly before JUMP 2010, we asked 100 marketing professionals about their multichannel marketing and the results were enlightening.  

While 51% were using five or more channels and 98% were using at least three to get their messages across, at that time only 35% were storing the information gathered from those channels in a single database.

Even more surprising was the lack of empirical evidence used by marketers to drive decisions when choosing their channels: 49% were using available budget to guide their choices; nearly half were being guided by gut feeling and one in two said the expertise and experience available within the company guided their choices.

So why are so many decision makers relying on gut feeling rather than customer data? 

The clear majority of marketers cited data quality (71%) and data compliance as the primary barriers, with over half the marketers surveyed declaring a lack of knowledge regarding the legalities around the use of multichannel data.

It’s clear that data is at the heart of both the challenges and opportunities that multichannel marketing offers.

For marketers, the volumes of data that can be gathered across all of these channels (in store, call centre, direct mail, mobile, clicks, social media, etc) is genuinely daunting.  

Global digital data stats are mind-blowing. Today, there are close to 2000m internet users, over 250m websites, 65 million pages on Wikipedia, 65m tweets a day and over 500m Facebook users. By 2020, it’s estimated the digital universe will be 44 times larger than it was in 2009!

This data can be collected, scrutinised and manipulated, but how do we decide what is useful and how do we translate it into something meaningful so as not to lose sight of that which is practically usable versus theoretically possible?

It’s not just the volume, it’s the speed. The communications world is truly in real-time now, moving at warp speed. 

Not only do we have more channels to feed our customer profiles, making the data deeper and richer than it has ever been before, but we also need to understand this data quickly because customer behaviour changes so rapidly and they expect immediate responses. 

Brands are often having to react instantly to maximise positive sentiment and twice as quickly to minimise the negative!  And if we aren’t careful, by the time we’ve figured out a trend, the consumer will have moved on.

Then there’s the ethical debate over what data from which channels we should use. A good example of the wrong call here was The Labour Party’s decision in the run up to last year’s election to send cancer patients alarmist mailshots saying their lives could be at risk under a Conservative Government.

Clearly it’s a challenge to create and manage a multichannel single customer view, but it’s a challenge most businesses can’t afford to overlook. Brands that fail to get joined-up are likely to neglect the expectations of their customers. 

Customers are not concerned with our multichannel challenges; they expect us to have a full picture of their interactions, and to use this information to inform our communication strategies, making their buying process easier.

An integrated view of a single customer’s responses and interactions across multiple channels reveals how to communicate with them to improve customer experience and maximise return. 

Feeding information gathered from all channels into a single database will allow marketers to move from a ‘gut feel’ approach to informed decision-making based on actual customer behaviour.

So how can this be achieved?

As a starting point, marketers must ensure consistency of data collection across channels to smooth the passage of data into a single database. Good practice in this area will not only make data integration easier, it will also make compliance simpler.

Focus on what you want to achieve. I believe, when devising data strategies, we need to think about what’s important and what will really make a difference. 

Don’t just collect data for the sake of it. Look at the data you have, the data you need and how best to use it.

To do this, you need to focus on customer behaviour and where they are in the customer journey, regardless of what channel they come through. 

Use customer interactions, combined with analysis to produce what we call “addressable data”.  This information will expand our understanding of our customers and allow us to influence their behaviour and buying patterns. 

For example, if we want to encourage a customer to buy more often, we need to work out what the conversion points are for this. 

We also need to be clear at a segment level who we believe is able to exhibit this type of changed behaviour. Not all customers have the same potential and again, their full data repertoire can be used to understand this.

Graze, the company that delivers healthy snacks to your desk, seems to have this idea at the forefront of its agenda. 

Graze emails after each delivery asking customers to rate the foods received and allow them to edit their preferences all the time. These simple bits of data are key to a customer’s future behaviour and purchases with the brand.

Be relevant and personal. 

If you can glean information about your customer’s preferences, your marketing can be very specific to their wants and needs. 

We’ve been helping Travelbag to gather data and then act on customer search preferences, allowing them to market relevant offers. So for example, only people who have previously shown interest in a trip to Dubai will be sent a particular offer for that destination. 

This kind of simple segmentation, combined with multichannel communication testing, has in some cases doubled click-throughs and telephone enquiries.

Close the loop. 

Allow customers to begin shopping on one channel and finish on another. For example, French Connection offers style guidance through YouTube videos and converted customers can then buy online or in store.

Be responsible. 

Recent Direct Marketing Association (DMA) research revealed 42% of marketers are uncertain of what data is morally acceptable. 

And remember there’s sometimes a fine line between a clever legal use of data and an unethical or intrusive use.

In summary, with the rapid increase in the capability for customer interactions, the use of multichannel marketing looks set to continue to increase. 

Digital media gives us the opportunity to mine a massive amount of data but in terms analysis, we should focus on business objectives and only incorporate cherry-picked “useful” data. 

Once this information is consolidated, it can be used to develop profiles and segments to understand customers and their behaviours, and following that, to inform clever and rewarding marketing communications which deliver the right message, to the right customer, through the right channel, at the right time. 

It is only by embracing this fully integrated approach, that we will better understand our customers and be better informed on where to direct marketing spend.