NEW YORK CITY -- Retailers had it so much easier when all they had to do was keep their store shelves stocked.
Now consumers are as likely to order from a merchant halfway around the world as they are to walk to a store down the block. They take the recommendations of strangers online over the advice of the sales clerks who work in brick-and-mortar stores. They comparison shop from their smartphones, and they are unimpressed by generic marketing materials.
At the National Retail Federation's 102nd Annual Convention and Expo this week, retailers grappled with those realities and looked to technologies like advanced analytics for possible solutions.
SAS, the sponsor of this site, was one of hundreds of vendors that attended the four-day conference to demonstrate state-of-the-art solutions, including an array of retail software for optimizing, visualizing, and gaining insight from customer data. SAS also sponsored multiple "Big Idea" sessions that enabled some of its customers to share their experiences with everything from social media and mobile commerce to using customer analytics to provide relevant shopping experiences.
One of the big issues for retailers is learning to engage effectively with customers both online and offline. So it was no surprise that the SAS-sponsored session on cross-channel campaign management drew a standing-room-only crowd.
SAS is regarded as an industry leader in cross-channel campaign management. A Forrester report released last year gave SAS top scores in customer intelligence, optimization, analytics and reporting, application usability, corporate strategy, and financials. Forrester analysts said the company demonstrated "deep capabilities in optimization, interaction management, analytics and cross-channel integration."
The reality is that interacting with customers in an appropriate manner drives better marketing outcomes in a variety of ways, including higher spending, increased loyalty, and larger profit margins. "The challenge is delivering relevant offers at the right time, via the right channel and with the right message," said Anthony Volpe, a retail adviser for advanced analytics at SAS and the moderator of the cross-channel campaign management session.
Alan Adams, senior director of global CRM marketing systems at Office Depot, and Kerem Tomak, vice president of marketing analytics at Macys.com, joined Volpe to explain what steps they are taking to meet that challenge.
Adams stressed treating customer data as an enterprise asset -- and getting rid of the silos that have traditionally existed among departments and business units. And he made his point in a most unusual way: through a screen grab from Finding Nemo, which showed multiple fish swimming in separate bags of water. Each fish represents a department, and the water is customer data, he said. Though each department is using some of the available data, everyone would benefit more by breaking the bags and letting that customer data flow across the enterprise.
He defined cross-channel campaign management as "using a deep understanding of your prospects and customers to deliver the right message, at the right time, about the right offering through an ever-growing list of vehicles that is desired by the individual at any given moment."
Tomak said cross-channel campaign management helps businesses understand how customers interact with their brands through multiple touch points -- digital and offline -- and then use this insight to build two-way communication channels that benefit everyone involved.
When asked what the single biggest obstacle there is to implementing successful cross-channel campaigns, Tomak cited big-data.
The size of the data is getting bigger every day. The challenge is to build a base from the data that you really trust. Then build intelligence on top of that data, and make sure your execution of those channels is tied to what the data tells you, so you can use it to make optimal decisions.
Adams said the best way for retailers to become successful cross-channel marketers is by "breaking down the silos in each department, getting out in front of the data, and focusing on user experience." In other words, implement data-driven, customer-centric marketing campaigns that flow seamlessly across channels.
What do you think? Can integrating information from multiple channels like the web, call centers, and stores help retailers make better use of customer data?