As customer expectations have grown for instantaneous feedback and services from merchants and service providers, the job of the marketer has become infinitely more complex—and the need for accurate marketing data more imperative. According to research by Evergage, 64% of survey respondents consider a real-time response to be within or under a minute.
Software has solved some of these issues of speed and relevancy by enabling marketers to automate campaigns and emails, text alerts and other online actions to thousands or millions of customers based upon user behavior, such as an abandoned shopping cart. Yet as the corporate software footprint has grown—multiple systems and data stores inside and outside the company—new issues have cropped up.
Take the example of a large airline which must book thousands of trips per minute while also communicating on schedule changes, flight delays and other critical alerts around the clock. The infrastructure to handle that transaction load is enormous. When marketers want to access that data to offer real-time promotions to customers, such as giving a discount to a customer who had a bad experience, they don’t get top billing from IT. The data from internal CRM, billing, operations, frequent flyer and customer service systems isn’t synched regularly with marketing systems.
That means marketers can’t act upon customer needs in the moment or even in a few hours. Marketers may get a portion of this customer data, but not enough or fast enough to take full advantage of real-time marketing opportunities—and that means lost revenue opportunities as well. Data from Evergage shows significant benefits from real-time marketing, including increased customer engagement (81%), improved customer experiences (73%), and increased conversion rates (59%).
The problem with marketing tech and real-time data
To be proactive and innovative as a marketer, one must have the ability to be spontaneous. Taking advantage of unpredictable opportunities to engage customers as they arise, related to sudden changes in the weather, news events or customer service events, for example, requires a highly integrated environment. Unfortunately, the tools that marketers use don’t often contain the latest data on customer activity.
SaaS marketing tools have contributed to this challenge of data synchronization. Working with vendors to update marketing databases in the cloud isn’t always quick, accurate or simple. What about the magic of APIs, you ask? Certainly, the advent of the API economy means that companies can exchange data between systems on different networks in different platforms with much greater ease than in the past.
Yet APIs are not a cure-all. APIs take some time for IT to code and implement, especially when IT is creating connections from many internal systems to the SaaS providers. Those APIs must be maintained and updated and are prone to errors, as networks are not always up on both the sender and receiver side. Over time, data invariably gets out of sync. As well, companies require ample internal network infrastructure to move these massive data feeds in a timely fashion. The more frequently the data changes, the harder it is to keep the data in sync.
Marketers have adjusted by cherry-picking data to be uploaded to their SaaS providers for specific campaigns, while leaving behind data that might not have an immediate purpose. This is fine for scheduled campaigns, but it’s not ideal for when a new or real-time marketing opportunity arises.
Bring back the data
Given the above challenges, companies are now reevaluating their past strategies of outsourcing marketing data and capabilities beyond the company walls. Bringing customer data and systems back inside the company gives marketers direct access to internal data sources. There is no lag or additional processes required to work with outside vendors, nor the need to replicate data. It’s easier to achieve a single data repository of customer data, which is important not only for marketing and sales needs but also for data privacy and security requirements. Best of all, marketers can do more of the real-time marketing work, which drives customer engagement and sales.
Companies can achieve this without abandoning cloud strategies, too. Instead of serving as the storage mechanism for customer data, the cloud can be used to manage complementary activities such as campaign management and tracking.
Creating an internal data repository for customer data will take time and investment for most companies. When asked how much customer data lives in a central data warehouse, 95% of respondents said that at least some of their data is located in a centralized database, but only 34% say most of it is, and just nine percent have everything in one location, according to “Email Marketing Trends & Best Practices,” a 2016 survey conducted by The Relevancy Group. Yet as customer intelligence and real-time marketing become increasingly important to customer loyalty and revenue growth, executives will find the prospect of having all customer data in-house hard to ignore.
Dan Roy is Co-founder and CEO of MessageGears.