Among the many buzzwords in today’s digital marketing vernacular, “real time” likely ranks as one of the most overused – and misunderstood – terms out there. For the month of April, the term generated 391K mentions on social media, nearly four times that of another jargon superstar, “big data,” according to social media monitoring service TrendKite.
Real-time data has tremendous value in today’s evolving digital landscape, where consumers no longer have the patience for slow, disconnected experiences. Unfortunately, we see companies defining it differently in almost every channel of the space. Let’s examine what real time actually means, and how we should consider redefining it for the modern era.
First off, why do marketers need real-time data? The answer is action. Being able to respond to customers signals faster and with more relevance, unquestionably leads to better ROI. For example, Deckers Brands recently reported a 1,500 percent increase in its cart abandonment recovery results via real-time personalization. Mason Companies is reporting record email open rates of 50 percent for two of its major cart abandonment programs.
According to Meyar Sheik, CEO of Certona, a leader in real-time personalization for multichannel retailers, today’s competitive environment leaves little room for late or neglected opportunities for relevant customer engagement. “Digital marketers have more and more technologies available to take action of real-time data and drive smarter in-the-moment personalized experiences,” he said.
So how fast does fast need to be? Gartner Research defines real-time data as “data and analytics services that can be delivered on demand in real time marketers to assist in both programmatic and rapid-response decision making.” According to James McCormick at Forrester Research, real-time data needs to be “fast enough to keep up with the customer,” i.e., able to have impact within the same engagement session or even interaction point. This means the availability of sub-second data, which many tag management vendors are uniquely positioned to deliver given their position in the flow of customer data.
Being able to effectively leverage real-time data requires sub-second response times across not one, but three key phases of the customer data lifecycle: collection, enrichment and activation.
It starts with collection, the process of capturing customer data as brand engagement occurs. Collection can occur online or offline depending on a company’s business model. In order to pass the test for collection a vendor must be able to collect data within one second of the customer behavior. Collection must also be “always on” – meaning as users engage with a brand on a web site, mobile app or kiosk, collection must happen for every event, not just for key events. The reason you need ubiquitous collection is to ensure robust customer insight and the flexibility of enriching the data.
Data enrichment means creating data elements where none existed before, such as content affinity or lifetime value. For example, the metric for lifetime value does not exist on the web page, but can be tracked and added over time, and then triggered for action when a certain marketer-defined threshold is met. Data enrichment is key for delivering more relevant experiences. It must occur at the same moment of collection, and in the same sub-second timeframe to be immediately actionable.
Lastly, data that has been collected and enriched in real time, needs to be activated in the same time frame, through any variety of execution partners, i.e., integrated digital marketing vendors, to affect action. These vendors include email marketing, retargeting, content management, advertising platforms, and many more. The importance of real-time data activation cannot be understated for the simple reason that you may not get another chance with a customer. If you cannot take action on fresh data, then you can’t take action until tomorrow, but tomorrow may be too late.
True real time must encompass the collection, enrichment and activation of data within milliseconds of each event. Without any of these three elements, real-time data is less powerful and will not be “fast enough to keep up with the customer experience” per McCormick’s definition.
Stratigent CEO Bill Bruno agrees.
“Customer data needs to be segmented, analyzed, and acted on in order to provide the most optimal experience in that moment for those customers and not simply digested 30 days later in a monthly report,” said Bruno, whose firm is a leader in multichannel analytics consulting. “The path to activation is founded within the design of a strategic data layer combined with the correct technology stack to support the need to not only take action in real time but to also own and create first party data wherever possible.”
Redefining real time not only gives more meat to an over-used buzzword, it gives the marketing industry a modern day way to reset the conversation and give everyone a common way to measure a technology partner’s true readiness to satisfy today’s evolving needs.