Trend for 2018: Data and Customer Engagement at the Center of Digital Transformation

There are many trends to discuss for 2018 involving customer engagement, customer data, and customer loyalty. Many of the trends lie at the center of the digital transformation era for many loyalty marketers.
Loyalty360 talked to Lindsay Bloom, Senior Marketing Manager for SessionM, about her thoughts regarding these pivotal trends.
What trends do you foresee for customer engagement in 2018?
Bloom: One of the biggest customer engagement trends—and it’s a customer data trend as well—will be customer data and engagement at the center of digital transformation. Many brands are facing the challenge of implementing a digital strategy across their entire organization. This is a requirement to ensure your organization has the right team structure to properly respond to how technology may change your customer engagement strategies.

More and more companies will be rethinking how their organizations need to be aligned around a digital transformation, rather than the traditional thinking of aligning the digital transformation around their organization. This may mean creating a dedicated digital transformation team is the best course of action. By doing this and setting some goals around customer engagement, companies will set themselves up for success for all current and future customer engagement initiatives as technology continues to evolve. 
What trends do you foresee in customer data for 2018?
Bloom: Greater adoption of customer data platforms (CDP). It will be a mandate to have the ability to leverage and make use of the customer data organizations (across marketing, sales, customer service and other departments) are collecting. While companies know they need to be able to analyze their data from disparate sources, that’s only part of it. Brands need to address the question: OK, you have your data in one view. Now can you act on it? How are you going to act on it?

Of course, with all of this customer data come concerns about whether it’s being used in an ethical way, whether it’s secure and whether consumers have enough control. As a result, there will be a major emphasis on security and privacy as it relates to customer data. You can’t talk about data in 2018, specifically data privacy, without mentioning the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). GDPR will have major implications for how U.S. companies do business in Europe, and the systems they leverage to ensure they are compliant.
How has the use of customer data by loyalty marketers changed in recent years?
Bloom: The loyalty marketers who are exceeding customer expectations are leveraging customer data to improve the customer experience. They’re moving away from mass discounts and toward personalized offers based on an individual customer’s purchase history, preferences, and more. In the past, loyalty centered on consumers demonstrating their loyalty to a brand—a value exchange that has been reflected in generic punch card programs and discounts. These tactics motivated people to sign up for loyalty programs or make a one-time purchase, but have not been effective at actually driving the outcomes that matter to loyalty marketers, such as increases in basket size, purchase frequency, purchase recency, etc.
What are loyalty marketers doing well regarding customer engagement and where do the challenges lie?
Bloom: The best loyalty marketers recognize the need to evolve and to innovate. They understand that in today’s competitive marketplace they need mechanisms in place to show their appreciation for their customers’ patronage. They recognize that to truly wow customers they need to deliver ultra-personalized, ultra-timely (real-time) engagements. Ironically, this is also where the challenge lies. While loyalty marketers know that they need to deliver personalization at scale, at the moments of impact, to differentiate themselves among competitors, many don’t have the right technological resources in place to execute those types of campaigns. Even some of the largest brands have such outdated, disconnected technology that they might not even know of, or conceive of, what would be possible with a system that gave them control of their marketing data and enabled them to gain a single, actionable view of the customer.
What will customer loyalty look like in 2018?
Bloom: In 2018, more companies will adopt the mentality that loyalty isn’t just about retaining customers and decreasing churn, or a customer demonstrating loyalty to a business, but rather it’s about creating a two-way relationship with customers. Marketers will place greater emphasis on leveraging their individual customer’s preferences, past purchase data, and more to deliver tailor-made experiences, content, and offers at scale.

Brands will also be thinking longer term about the strategies they employ to promote loyalty. This means many brands will move beyond merely transactional moments—buy this or spend this much and get 100 points or a free coffee—to also encourage other behaviors like engaging with content or referring a friend.  

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