Profile: Jeremy Gilley

The man marketing world peace

Catching up with the customer

As customers’ purchase journeys become increasingly complex, the challenge for brands is to plot their routes across a mix of online and offline channels, and a growing range of devices.

Auto Trader

Auto Trader uses data to attribute car dealers’ sales to its online platforms

Most marketers now expect customers to interact with their brands in more than one medium and know that each touchpoint will influence buying behaviour in a different way. But, as the journey towards a purchase becomes more complex and convoluted, so it becomes more of a struggle for brands to attribute their sales to their various marketing messages.

Consumers are travelling via more and more platforms in pursuit of the right product at the right price, which means marketers need to ensure they place signposts at different points. They also need to know which ones are most effective at showing shoppers the way.

For Auto Trader – Guardian Media Group’s marketplace for new and used cars, which runs across a website, a mobile site and a mobile app – this means understanding not only how buyers and sellers arrive on its platforms, but also how they drive offline car sales at the dealerships it partners with.

Auto Trader provides dealers with web traffic reports, detailing the clicks generated by its car listings, and also offers unique trackable phone numbers that enable it to report on the number of phone calls generated by its website for a particular dealership. According to Berian Reed, Auto Trader’s head of search marketing and online partnerships: “It is a stronger lead than a website click and closer to the end sale.”

He adds: “We also integrate with dealers’ customer relationship management systems to track which Auto Trader leads result in an actual sale. This is a huge step towards completing the end-to-end, marketing-to-sale journey. Coupled with our postcode data, we are able to demonstrate with a high level of confidence the physical number of forecourt sales generated from advertising with Auto Trader.”

With over 350,000 cars available on its website, the company also invests heavily in online search and display advertising, using bid-management platforms such as Marin Software to track which keywords and campaigns are performing most effectively.

“The automation that these tools offer has allowed us to invest much more effort into new marketing technologies and into learning more about on-site consumer behaviour,” says Reed.

Auto Trader is not alone in wanting to understand how to point prospective customers in the direction of a purchase. But this is not easy and requires brands to line up a lot of different variables. As MoneySupermarket.com head of digital Andy Mihalop puts it: “The panacea for any brand is to connect the right message, via the right media channel, on the right device, to the right customer, at the right time.”

Consumers are now comfortable shopping on multiple devices and platforms as and when it suits them. While they welcome this convenience, it is a headache for marketers and they are increasingly turning to data to understand sales attribution.

“It means getting lots of disparate data sources into one place,” says Mihalop. “Secondly, it is about being able to derive actionable insight pretty much in real time.”

MoneySupermarket has invested heavily in its own technology in an effort to achieve this, as well as hiring data scientists who work closely with the digital team. “The business has recognised that investment has to be in data and in people who are able to derive the insight,” Mihalop adds.

MoneySupermarket

MoneySupermarket has hired data scientists to work alongside the digital team

This is echoed by eBay UK head of advertising Phuong Nguyen, who says the advertising and retail industries are investing heavily in making sure their platforms are talking to each other.

“Without the ability to see how the customer’s tablet experience results in an in-store purchase or website purchase, for example, you will not have the insight that enables you to continue to optimise your user experience,” he says.

Being able to attribute sales to a particular device is something Nguyen says the industry needs to work on, but it is a big focus of 2013 for Auto Trader, where Reed says its new ‘single sign-on’ feature will help to put the brand one step closer to building a clear picture of consumer behaviour across platforms.

Retarget practice

‘Programmatic buying’, where brands buy online ad impressions that are targeted across websites where a specific audience is likely to see them at a given time, is also helping brands to understand the customer experience better. As MoneySupermarket’s Mihalop says, programmatic buying helps brands not only to build models predicting how prospective customers might behave online, but also to ‘retarget’ them at different stages of the customer journey.

Mihalop explains: “If someone gets a motor insurance quote from us and then leaves to continue their journey on the web, we can retarget them with personalised quotes [via ads on other websites]; or if they enter their vehicle details and then abandon the quote, we can show them an indicative quote based on the vehicle they drive.”

He adds that programmatic buying also offers an opportunity for cross-selling different products. Ads can be targeted using ‘propensity models’, which predict the people who have booked holidays through MoneySupermarket who are most likely also to buy travel insurance, for example.

“That really is the power of programmatic buying. It allows us to create a multitude of different customer segments [to target], because we can slice and dice both behavioural and customer data, create a segment and put that straight into [ad technology platform] MediaMath to test it.” Mihalop says the company has a “positive ROI” from all its retargeting activity.

Auto Trader, too, has seen a “massive uplift” in its click-through rate and a reduction in its cost per acquisition of a customer as a result of retargeting over the last six months, Reed claims. “We have been experimenting with dynamic search retargeting. So, for example, a private seller may arrive at our site via a search engine, start completing a listing for the BMW they want to sell, but then abandon the transaction,” he says.

“We will retarget that person with bespoke advertising messages when they are next searching, such as ‘70,000 people searched for BMW 3 series cars last month – list your car with us now’. This is quadrupling the effectiveness of our advertising in some cases.”

The company has also gathered some valuable insights from this. For example, it found that lots of people start listing a car on a Monday, but don’t complete until the following weekend when they’ve had time to take and upload photos.

“We’ve found that we are wasting money by serving ads to these people during the week – it’s better to wait to see if they complete the listing over the weekend,” says Reed. “That represents a huge cost saving when you consider that we attract 13 million unique users across all of our platforms each month.”

With shoppers oscillating between platforms on their shopping journey, brands are also grappling with marrying offline data with online data. Bennetts, one of the UK’s largest providers of motorbike insurance, runs 11 offline channels, including bike events nationwide, press advertising and rider sponsorship, and the company combines this data with its online findings.

Director of marketing and ecommerce Hannah Squirrell says: “Bennetts undertakes six-monthly brand-tracking research into consumers using both offline and online channels. It is very insightful. We back this up with data from Hitwise to further understand our competitor environment and other resources we have at hand. Our team structure ensures that all insights are collated and acted upon at a strategic level and that our approach, whether on- or offline, remains fully integrated.”

Social status

Social media is another valuable data source for brands, although many are careful not to use this information directly for sales. Bennetts’ social activity is purely about driving engagement and advocacy, Squirrell says. It has just launched a social network for bikers called Bike Social, which delivers content and enables bikers to share their experiences. Bennetts also uses Facebook to collect data, and recently ran a track day that was designed following bikers’ input on a Facebook survey. Its Facebook following rose by 4,000 people in one day.

Martin Allen, director of global customer marketing at Hotels.com, agrees that customer advocacy is the best form of advertising, and social sharing is therefore a key part of its marketing strategy. “To gain insight into what our customers think of us at Hotels.com, we measure the engagement on each piece of content we publish on our Facebook pages around the world. Social sharing is about more than Facebook however, so in addition, we encourage social sharing of our email content and are looking at ways to expand this.”

But as brands gain a more intimate knowledge of customers, they must be careful not to cross the line between relevance and obtrusiveness. Allen says Hotels.com carefully monitors how often it communicates with its customers, and prioritises service messaging above marketing messaging.

He adds that the main lesson the company has learned relates to personalisation. “The more tailored the message, the happier the customer and the higher the likelihood of conversion. Wherever possible, we use our knowledge of customer behaviour to personalise and tailor our messages to ensure we are sending relevant material to the right people at the right time.”

Delivering relevant advertising will continue to drive the industry forward, and will make it easier to see which marketing messages are leading to sales. Relevance is also likely to be necessary if consumers are to see targeted marketing as a valuable exchange for their data.

But this means knowing when to stop serving ads to people who just aren’t clicking. And that, like every aspect of charting the customer journey, requires an ability and a willingness to navigate by the data.

Econsultancy explains

Linus Gregoriadis

Linus Gregoriadis, research director, Econsultancy

‘Omnichannel’ has become a new buzzword for businesses striving to offer a consistent experience to consumers across a broadening array of digital and physical touch points.

Research for the recent Econsultancy and Adobe digital trends intelligence briefing finds that just under two-thirds of marketers (65 per cent) agree that their businesses will try to differentiate through customer experience in 2013.

According to the report, marketers are under no illusions about the importance of using offline data to optimise the online experience and vice versa, with the overwhelming majority of marketers (85 per cent) saying this is important for their businesses.

Examples might include a call-centre employee being able to see a customer’s online interactions, or using offline sales information to optimise the web experience.

Despite the political and technical challenges, companies are recognising that they have to change quickly to meet customer expectations for consistency and appropriateness of service and messaging across channels. It is clear that data holds the key both for improving the customer experience and financial performance.

Econsultancy logo

Econsultancy is a sister company of Marketing Week

But turning an infinite stream of data from a plethora of sources into something meaningful is easier said than done. Many companies are now working hard to develop business intelligence which incorporates web data, often extracting digital data from web analytics packages and using cloud-based data warehouses.

An advantage of joined-up data is the ability to carry out more sophisticated marketing attribution, enabling better allocation of resources by looking at the whole customer journey, rather than just a blinkered view obsessing about only the last click.

The focus on data, and recruitment of analysts who can make sense of sometimes conflicting information sources, will remain a key priority throughout 2013.

House of Fraser

House of Fraser

House of Fraser’s eBay campaign led to more sales on its website and in-store

House of Fraser has 62 high-street stores, as well as an ecommerce business that encompasses mobile apps, a mobile website and HouseofFraser.co.uk. It also runs a direct outlet store on eBay.co.uk. According to executive director of multichannel Andy Harding, tracking behaviour across channels is the biggest challenge in understanding how customers shop. “Data tracking solutions are key to being able to measure customer value,” he says.

In June 2012, House of Fraser ran an eBay campaign across multiple sales channels in order to support its summer sale activity. It also wanted to generate awareness, purchase intention and sales across its online and offline channels. The strategy focused on one month’s activity split into four key phases, which ultimately delivered over 60 million impressions.

Throughout, House of Fraser used a mix of techniques to target shoppers, including keywords, product categories, behavioural targeting, retargeting and postcode targeting. Geographical ads supported sales in the Hull and Leamington Spa stores.

Within a week of the campaign breaking there was a 44 per cent uplift in awareness, while 72 per cent of sales took place on House of Fraser’s own website despite the fact that adverts were all linked directly to the eBay outlet listings.

Harding says: “We found that promotions we run on eBay.co.uk have a positive impact on sales on our own website, and also, more surprisingly, in-store.”

Readers' comments (3)

  • We are having these conversations daily with CMOs who are looking to understand the customer's journey through communication channels. If you're not there when the customer is formulating the first ideas about their needs, your competitors might be, so this is about hitting the right people at the right time with the right message: http://ibm.co/derek_carroll

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  • I have to say I whole heartily embrace the march toward using data to refine and truly understanding the effects that different communication channels are having, but it also worries me. Having had the pleasure of working in the media industry for many years I can see similarities to what is happening in digital strategies today, to those of Direct Marketing in the nineties. The growth of Direct Marketing in the UK came from a recession hit economy and the drive for more accountability. However, this drive for accountability meant that marketers focused only on what they could see works rather than the broader marketing mix, and as any good marketer inherently knows it is the breadth of their mix which creates and develops brands. This focus on accountability led to the use of short term thinking and which, ultimately, lead to diminishing volumes and returns. I can see advertisers being sucked into this same problem today and only focusing on the bit that they can quantify, meaning long-term marketing activities may go by the way side.

    Let us not forget the common sense human aspect of planning otherwise we will be subject to being led up a short-term ally and not look at the bigger picture. Let’s do the right thing and plan with the support of data and not being marched whole heartily by it, following the beat, of the data scientists' drum.

    (www.totalmedia.co.uk)

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  • The analysis of data drawn from multiple mobile devices is becoming increasingly prevalent for online marketers and it is crucial for organisations to take advantage of available technology to power advanced customer analytics.

    The ability of multi-channel data collection will enable organisations to build a deeper and richer single view of their customers across all digital channels and drive highly tailored offers and communications to specific individuals. Having increased insight into multi-channel data collection enables organisations to not only improve customer interactions across digital channels; protect their brands by building an influencer network; but also to tailor appropriate content based on a customer’s stage of interaction.

    There are tools available that provide aggregate data for multiple mobile devices, however organisations would be wise to use tools which can pull all of this data together in real-time and turn it into highly insightful, individual-level profiles which can be used immediately.

    Analysts have been preaching the concept of a single customer view for years; and there is no doubt that the explosion in Internet-connected devices and diverse channels is creating a huge challenge for organisations to achieve that vision – but it is now becoming a reality of today rather than merely a fantasy of the future.

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