No amount of real-time marketing will consistently guide a customer toward making a decision about their next purchase. While plugging into trends might help brands compete for attention in any given moment, real-time marketing (RTM) lacks the depth, utility and value of true customer engagement in times of need. When customers set out on their buyer’s journey, they are not looking for marketing or messages. They’re looking for information, direction and someone to trust. Brands that engage them in real-time and assist in the decision-making process will not only increase conversions but will also sow seeds of brand affinity and loyalty.
According to McKinsey, a high-impact recommendation conveying a relevant message is up to 50 times more likely to trigger a purchase than a low-impact recommendation. What makes a recommendation high impact? Understanding intent, context and introducing value in the moment…consistently. Research shows that contextually relevant messages result in 6-7x higher conversion rates than generic messaging. Yet, 70 percent of consumers have a negative view of inconsistent cross-channel messaging. And, according to Acxiom, 74 percent of brand cannot recognize customers in real-time.
The truth is that it’s not so easy to track individual customers, know their individual preferences, and introduce the next best action for each in real-time. Yet, as more and more companies embrace data, machine learning and other customer-centered systems, the ability to do just that, engage customers at the right time, in the right place, on the right device, is now not only approachable, it’s quickly becoming a competitive advantage.
Real-time customer engagement in practice
As I was researching the subject of real-time marketing versus customer engagement, I found an interesting white paper published by RedPoint Global, Real-Time Customer Engagement in Practice. In it, the company explores the benefits of real-time customer engagement beyond RTM and also outlines a four-step framework for building an agile, customer-centered infrastructure.
I found the paper helpful for a number of reasons. First and foremost, it appears to be written for marketers or at least, it is readable by marketers. This is important because for the last several years, I’ve learned that CMOs and marketing organizations have been leading investments in digital transformationin the name of modernizing marketing toward customer experience (CX) strategies.
What’s key here is that until recently, marketing has largely focused digital much in the same way it has in traditional media for decades…casting a wide net, aiming at catching the attention of broader audiences through ongoing campaigns to drive semi-qualified traffic toward conversions.
In an era of machine learning, all of this is becoming much more efficient and capable. More so, with the right data, technology, infrastructure and mindset, marketing stands to substantially contribute to CX and also business growth. It can do so by using new intelligent, plug-and-play technologies to understand customer intent, timing and context and engage them in real-time, adding value in each stage of the entire customer journey.
Build a next-generation, intelligent marketing organization for real-time customer experiences
Everything starts with asking the right questions and organizing holistic data to let technology, and human insights, identify answers. The whitepaper offers some baseline examples to get you started:
- What channels do they prefer?
- What devices are do they use or prefer?
- What are their preferences, i.e. color, size, style, flavor, genre, etc.
- What are their past behaviors that indicate intent?
- What messages or products will resonate best based at a given time or event/situation?
- What are their interests and demographics?
- Where are they in the buyer journey?
Organizing resources around these questions will of course, help find the answers to set the stage for delivering the right message, at the right time, in the right place. It will also set up an intelligent system that combines human creativity and technologies to trigger next best messaging by channel, time, customer preference, and offer.
Marketers then need to build a real-time customer engagement model, powered by relevant customer data. The whitepaper suggests doing so in four steps, 1) stretch, 2) walk, 3) jog, and 4) run. There is also a handy checklist for each step listed in the whitepaper.
1: Organize a real-time cross-functional data management team. Obtain data from all possible sources. Data governance and continuous enhancement of data are essential for scale and long-term success. The accuracy and robustness of data will define the boundaries for what you can do in real-time customer engagement.
2: Start with a series of real-time engagement pilots that are smaller, focused and lower-risk in scope. The goal is to test and learn and get quick wins. Use available data, i.e. social, clickstream, browsing, POS, loyalty, CRM, etc. to start experimenting with personalized outbound campaigns. Incorporate trigger marketing tactics to layer implicit and explicit data into customer engagement.
3: Expand real-time tactics from single-channel to multichannel and layer in optimization techniques. Experiment with real-time inbound offers and experiences that engage customers online, call center or in-store. Rigger messaging and remarketing through email, SMS, or mobile app to tie in real-time outbound channels.
4: Expand real-time inbound and outbound engagement strategies to start shaping the ideal omnichannel customer journey. Use machine learning to automate recommendations, propensity to buy models or customer score cards. Additionally, apply ML toward optimizing next best offer, next best channel and consistent messaging across any channel.
The migration to real-time customer engagement is about finding relevance at the intersection of customer expectations, emergent technology, business objectives and time/convenience. The good news is that this level of real-time engagement is just starting to take shape. This is an equal opportunity for all marketers and CX strategists to help their organizations gain material expertise and experience, while also earning a significant competitive advantage.
These four steps will help accelerate your path toward optimizing (and benefiting from) real-time customer engagement. Not taking any steps in the near future, will only put you that much further behind meeting customer expectations and demands and also your competitors that invest in CX innovation and relevant engagement.
 Experian 2013 Marketing Study, Personalized emails deliver six times higher transaction rates, but 70% of brands fail to use them.
 Bridging the Cross-Device Chasm, Forrester Research, Inc.
This post is part of our contributor series. The views expressed are the author's own and not necessarily shared by TNW.