The Digital Path to Purchase is a Personalized Journey

“The digital path to purchase is the next logical step in the path to purchase evolution,” Bill Bishop (@BrickMeetsClick), Chief Architect at Brick Meets Click, told Tom Furphy (), from Consumer Equity Partners, during an interview last year. Bishop added, “Segmentation and broad messages were necessary when we didn’t have the tools and technology to enable individual consumer connections. Now we’re beginning see the technology that will drive these connections and better measurement, too.” [“Digital Path-to-Purchase,” LinkedIn, 27 August 2014] When Bishop was speaking to Furphy, he was discussing at the digital path to purchase (DP2P) from the manufacturer/retailer perspective. But technology is also driving DP2P from the consumer perspective; especially, the growing use mobile devices. In fact, consumer technology is the sine qua non for the digital path to purchase. Consumer use of digital technologies is providing the preponderance of the data manufacturers and retailers use to better understand their customers. As Bishop noted, the most exciting thing from the manufacturer/retailer perspective is that measuring success of particular campaigns is becoming easier to do. He explains:

Digital path to purchase 07“Success is difficult to measure with the traditional path to purchase (TP2P). TP2P is structured around consumer segmentation and there’s little direct connection or contact between brands and consumers. It delivers brand messages via mass media that ultimately lead consumers to in-store messaging and packaging designed to drive preference at the point of purchase; use of the product, its packaging and continued brand messaging is designed to encourage repeat purchase. With the digital path to purchase (DP2P), success is measurable down to the most granular level. DP2P is an ‘always on’ connection between brands, retailers and shoppers that’s enabled by a range of digital touch points. As consumers search for products, click on ads, shop ecommerce sites and open emails, their actions are tracked, measured, targeted and measured again. As actions lead to conversion, through a sale or a posting to a shopping list, for instance, marketing systems get smarter at matching consumer demand signals to products for sale. Intelligent algorithms, code and data drive the experience. The connections are personalized and tailored to individual shoppers.”

Bishop points out that the link between manufacturers, retailers, and consumers is data — that is, when it’s the right data. In spite of all of the data that is currently being collected, Andrew Corselli reports, “Just one third of marketers feel they collect the right amount of data.” [“Marketers Crave Customer Data,” Direct Marketing News, 5 March 2015] Corselli draws that conclusion from a recent report from Infogroup entitled “Big Data’s Big Payday.” The report notes “that 53% of marketers yearn for more customer information.” Gretchen Littlefield (@SmallBizRules), president of Infogroup Media Solutions, stated, “Although data-driven marketing is now the norm, marketers still thirst for more data. … Brands are seeking to continually deepen their understanding of customers by acquiring more meaningful data from multiple sources.” As Bishop noted, manufacturers and retailers want to get to know their customers so they can personalize the marketing messages they send to them. They want to send the right message at the right time for the right product. Deloitte analysts, Mike Brinker (), Nelson Kunkel (), and Mark Singer (), note, “Marketing has evolved significantly in the last half-decade. The evolution of digitally connected customers lies at the core, reflecting the dramatic change in the dynamic between relationships and transactions.” [“Dimensional Marketing,” Deloitte University Press, 29 January 2015] They add, “This modern era for marketing is likely to bring new challenges in the dimensions of customer engagement, connectivity, data, and insight.” In other words, modern era marketing is all about getting personal.

As I’ve pointed out in previous articles, there is a fine line between getting personal and getting creepy (see “Targeted Marketing: Be a Helpful Friend not a Creepy Stranger” and “Targeted Marketing: Helpful or Creepy?“). You want your customers to feel special but not violated. As the Deloitte analysts assert, “The result is a magnification of customer expectations in terms of relevancy, intimacy, delight, privacy, and personal connections. Increasingly, organizations no longer market to masses. They are marketing to individuals and their social networks.” They continue:

“One-way communication with consumers is a thing of the past. Marketers should build sustained relationships through a deep and meaningful understanding of individual customers. After all, effective relationships drive loyalty, build communities, and cultivate influencers. Meaningful relationships also require dialogue. The shift from omni-channel to omni-directional communication across channels is giving communities and individuals the opportunity to create new levels of engagement. … Deriving meaningful customer, sales, and product insights requires an appetite for enormous amounts of data and analytics.”

Past approaches to analytics aren’t really up to the challenges found in today’s digital landscape. There are simply too many confounding variables with which to deal. Fortunately, cognitive computing systems are emerging that can apply artificial intelligence and machine learning against these challenges. That’s what Bishop meant when he stated, “We’re beginning see the technology that will drive these connections.” And Accenture’s latest technology vision report calls cognitive computing the ‘ultimate long-term solution’ for many of businesses’ data-driven challenges. [“From Digitally Disrupted to Digital Disrupter”]

Although it may sound like manufacturers, retailers, and their marketing partners are in the driver’s seat in the digital age, that’s not the case. Digital technologies, especially the mobile phone, have empowered consumers in new ways. For example, Lars Albright (@larsalbright), CEO of SessionM, explains how mobile phones are affecting loyalty programs. He reports, “Mobile is shaking up the traditional loyalty model, just as it’s shaken up so many other things. The mobile phone has become the remote control for life, and we’re using it to change channels on our loyalty programs as well. More and more digitally-savvy consumers are giving up on traditional one-size-fits-all loyalty programs and choosing mobile-driven offerings that fit their specific needs.” [“Mobile Is Shaking Up Traditional Loyalty Marketing Programs,” AdvertsingAge, 9 December 2014] Although that sounds good for customers and bad for brands, Albright insists, “That’s very good news for brands. Because the mobile phone is where brands can reach consumers anytime and anywhere — where they’ll find engaged users who are ready to receive valuable and relevant messages.”

As Bishop noted, “The DP2P is based on science and logic — done right, it should elicit strong emotion. When a consumer gets valuable recommendations from a site, store or brand that shows they know him or her well, that creates an emotional bond.” Obviously, data-driven marketing efforts are going to rely heavily on technology (especially artificial intelligence) to get the right message to the right person. That doesn’t sound very “personal” but it can and should be. Albright puts it this way:

“As the advertising industry continues to become more automated, more systematic and more data-driven, tapping into the insights and connection points that help marketers build authentic relationships with their customers will be more important than ever before. Mobile-driven loyalty offerings are a clear solution to build these relationships.”

I believe that cognitive computing holds the most promise for ensuring that data-driven marketing delivers the personalized messages and manages the authentic relationships required in today’s business environment.

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