Getting Personal: The Value of Contextual & Experiential Communications

Cover Story

Getting Personal: The Value of Contextual & Experiential Communications

By Paula Bernier, Executive Editor, TMC  |  November 10, 2014

Facebook on Sept. 29 announced it has rebuilt Atlas and is leveraging the technology to enable advertisers to reach people with personalized messages across devices, and use information about both online impressions and offline purchases to figure out what ads and offers are the best match for each individual. This kind of personalized targeting and use of both online and offline information is the wave of the future.

Industry research and consulting group Gartner (News - Alert) got it right in a 2011 study when it said: "For marketers and campaign management to use digital channels effectively, these channels can't be just a port for traditional campaign methods. Although most marketers are using more than one digital channel, their approach is often no different from a spam model, where success is driven by high volumes and attempting to make a profit from nearly everyone who accepts the offer. Just using digital channels is not the answer."

The answer is to better understand customers so you know how and when to most effectively meet their needs and present them with new offers. It’s also about communicating with customers and prospects in a way that looks beyond single transactions and considers them as whole people with unique needs and aspirations.

Data-driven insights based on available data can result in 23 greater likelihood of customer acquisition, six times greater chance of customer retention, and 19 times greater possibility of profitability, according to McKinsey Global Institute. The analytics market is worth $38 billion.

Contextual Communications

The first of these concepts is commonly referred to as contextual communications. The idea here is to look at a customer’s behavior and/or physical or virtual location at any time to figure out what kind of solutions and information might best meet his or her needs at that particular point in time.

Some businesses already are doing that by leveraging real-time communications tools and predictive analytics to support contextual marketing efforts, which are built on an understanding of data such as relative location, social graph, usage, accessibility, and a user’s past or current activity on the Internet to determine when an individual is most receptive for what message or transaction based on his or her behavior. 

As discussed in last month’s issue of CUSTOMER magazine, retailer Toy Genius (News - Alert) recently went live with a website through which shoppers can communicate in real time with clerks that appear via live video to tell them about products, answer their questions, and trigger videos showing those products in action. While talking with online clerks, shoppers can continue browsing the Toy Genius website, and the clerks can see what they’re looking at to engage them in conversations about additional products on which the shoppers have paused. (This is the contextual part.) Not only can the clerks interact with and share information with shoppers, they can put the products customers select into virtual shopping carts and move shoppers to the checkout when the time is right. (Also contextual.)

Meanwhile, companies like Neustar (see the company’s Strategic Solutions Series in this issue) and ResponseTap offer tools to help organizations tie together the information about customers as those individuals move from a company’s website to its contact center in an effort to improve the customer experience and call handling times, as just one example of how such information can be leveraged. In fact, Neustar was mentioned in the Facebook Atlas blog mentioned earlier.

“Omnicom is the first to sign an agency-wide ad serving and measurement partnership with Atlas,” Erik Johnson, head of Atlas, revealed in his Sept. 29 blog. “Together, Omnicom – powered by Neustar technology – and Atlas will jointly develop integrations to enable more automated capabilities for Omnicom’s clients, including Pepsi and Intel – who are among the first testing the new platform.”

Speaking of Omnicom, CRM leader (News - Alert) in September also forged an alliance with the advertising and marketing firm to create an integrated customer journey platform they say will “help Omnicom’s agencies to create highly personalized communications that connect the dots between marketing, sales, communities and customer service, allowing its clients to create dynamic, end-to-end customer journeys.”

In mid-October Salesforce took the wraps off an analytics cloud solution called Wave. The platform is designed to help businesses review, get insights from, and act on any kind of data from any device. Users can interact with data via charts, dashboards, and other views that enable them to customize and filter data as desired. Salesforce calls Wave “analytics for the rest of us,” and says it can unlock analytics via the cloud to the entire enterprise so all members can move faster and smarter.

GE Capital is among the customers already using Wave, which promises to shorten from months to minutes and seconds the cycle to act on data.

Already, has signed on 30 ecosystems partners for Wave. That list includes Accenture, Appirio, Deloitte, and PwC on the system integration front, and Axeda, Dun & Bradstreet (News - Alert), FinancialForce, and Predixion on the independent software vendor front.

And offers a SaaS-based tool that combines social listening with marketing automation. If, for example, a person mentioned on social media she had plans to attend a conference, a travel company could use the tool to push that person relevant discounts on hotel or air travel at the conference destination city. Until recently, the system processed social media comments in batches, but the company expects to introduce real-time capability (at scale) of this kind of thing this year, says Roz Lemieux, the company’s CEO and co-founder, adding that’s possible due to super fast processing via Spark technology.

Another recently unveiled offering in the contextual communications space comes from BlueConic. Called Contextual Dialogues, the solution enables marketers to experiment with and tweak messages within the customer journey (and without IT involvement) to improve the chances of conversion.

“Companies are starting to realize they can use the online journey and the online behavior of their customers to [impact] the experience of customers when they phone,” says ResponseTap CMO Bhavesh Vaghela.

This is the kind of thing that can allow an organization to deliver a truly differentiated customer experience. And that can be key in building customer loyalty and shaping that organization’s brand into one that is truly unique.

Mobile apps are also increasingly leveraging the value of contextual communications.

In fact, in September unveiled Journey Builder for Apps, which companies use to deliver personalized communications all along the customer journey. For example, Sony PlayStation says it is leveraging Journey Builder for Apps and the Marketing Cloud “to analyze in-game data to deliver personalized content across digital channels and connect with gamers in entirely new ways.”

Steffen Sorrell of Juniper Research (News - Alert), says context awareness signals a paradigm shift in the definition of what search means on mobile. “Combined with deep linking,” he says, “this shift will transform the manner by which we discover and access apps: the days of flicking through the app tray are numbered.”

In the report, titled “Mobile Context & Location Services: Navigation, Tracking, Social & Local Search 2014-2019,” Juniper forecasts that the number of smartphone and tablet apps of this type will rise to $7.5 billion by 2019, up from $2.8 billion in 2014, a 167 percent jump.

Experiential Commerce

Meanwhile, about 75 percent of companies are already leveraging what Glenn Conradt, vice president of global product marketing at CoreMedia, refers to as experiential commerce. Web content management software provider CoreMedia got this number from a survey it did of 143 attendees at IBM’s Smarter Commerce Global Summit in May.

The idea of experiential commerce is to marry online content and transaction capabilities of organizations to engage visitors with content related to the product they are considering or have purchased. That content could be in the form of a blog, a comment section, or video clip, or whatever. And it could be delivered via the company’s website, or to customers and prospects on various social media sites (“where they are”).

The point is, that to support customers in their journey, it’s not just about providing them with general information about your company or just about selling the product, says Conradt, it’s about selling products that tie into customers’ aspirations and lifestyles.

“Whereas traditional online commerce is characterized by transaction-centric elements such as product information and pricing, experiential commerce seeks to replicate the complete shopping experience consumers are accustomed to in stores,” according to a recent survey report by CoreMedia. “This is often accomplished through storytelling, allowing consumers to connect a product to their life, leading to brand engagement beyond simply making a purchase.”

Indeed, in CUSTOMER magazine’s new Content Boost column, which debuts with this issue, Carrie Majewski points out the value of storytelling to drive profit and enhance brand awareness. And she mentions that 93 percent of B2B and 90 percent of B2C marketers are leveraging content marketing strategies this year, according to the Content Marketing Institute’s 2014 benchmarks report.

The five key goals of experiential commerce, according to the survey, are increasing customer loyalty (according to 68 percent of those surveyed), revenue (66 percent), customer satisfaction (63 percent), engagement (62 percent), and brand awareness (58 percent).

Kraft is one company that’s using experiential commerce to build customer loyalty and strengthen its brand. Let’s look at what it’s doing related to its mayonnaise.

When people wake up in the morning, the first thing on their minds is probably not what they can do with mayonnaise, says Conradt, but they may be thinking about what to make their families for lunch or dinner. So rather than simply pushing a mayonnaise ad, Kraft can leverage tools like Google Analytics with the Hummingbird algorithm to see what information people are reading, and if someone is on Pinterest, for example, looking at meal ideas, Kraft could link those people to experiential content involving recipes that just happen to contain mayonnaise as an ingredient.

“While e-commerce has grown rapidly in the two decades, at times we are still novices when it comes to understanding how to provide a better customer experience,” according to the CoreMedia paper. “By shifting our focus to what drives customers and inspires their loyalty toward a business, however, we can succeed in today’s highly competitive marketplace.”

Edited by Maurice Nagle
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