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Improving Valentine’s Day with Omnichannel Personalization

By Bryon Morrison

Whether you think Valentine’s Day is a trumped up Hallmark Holiday, a childhood memory of tiny cards and chalky confections or a special day to celebrate your soulmate, you have to admit it was a lot easier this year than it used to be. The days leading up to February 14th usually meant a crowd of desperate dudes in a CVS aisle contemplating a battle royale over the last box of chocolates. Sure, love was in the air but, the hassle factor meant your Valentine was probably going to smell the same old roses again.

This time it was actually fun, because of technology – specifically, omnichannel personalization. I know that’s not a popular perspective, because we love to blame tech for the world moving too quickly and making us feel more isolated than ever. It’s also difficult to associate words like omnichannel, hyperpersonalization and big data with the most romantic holiday of the year. Not exactly pillow talk for consumers, but time-constrained romantics like me were happy companies were talking about it.

Making OmniChannel Personalization Work

Behind the scenes, brands were truly saving us by serving up infinite choice, inspiration and convenience. It took on many forms like targeted ads, ideal discount codes, a helpful nudge in an email or a message from that app you forgot you downloaded the year before.

And it wasn’t just the myriad of channels they were using that made things better. It was also the personalized experience. Average marketers tell you what you looked at or bought last time, but this year the good ones were giving out-of-the-box ideas. They helped us avoid the digital equivalent of yesterday’s long lines…the endless online form. We didn’t have to provide our first-born and a blood sample to create a relationship with a brand. They recognized us when we returned and we picked up where we left off. These technologies were the difference between Valentine’s bliss or a night in the dog house.

My Personalized Valentines Experience 

What did all this mean for this hopeless romantic this year? It went something like this…

I finally responded to the Nordstrom email I’d been ignoring for weeks with a subject line I interpreted to say, “You’re not seriously going to push this to the last minute again, are you, moron?!” Their app had a perfect gift idea based on previous purchases I’ve made for my wife so I was literally checked out in a minute or two. I was feeling pretty good about myself.

A week later an app push from Open Table with a suggested reservation at our favorite restaurant took seconds to set up. The restaurant knew me from their loyalty program and reached out via a call to offer sprinkled rose peddles on the table and chilled champagne. Brilliant – I almost felt like I was showing off!

I thought I was done, but that last second banner ad and offer code from Shari’s Berries couldn’t be skipped. Besides, I had to be the only one that got such a sweet offer, right? I went online to pick my specially designed chocolate covered strawberries and before I knew it they slid a dozen roses in the order, too. You know how they got me to do that trite retread of a gift? They reminded me my Wife loves multiple small gifts over one big one and they could send them on consecutive days! I could already hear her telling me I was the greatest Husband in the world as I hit “Complete Purchase.”

By the way, if you’re you saying “hopeless romantic must mean sucker” you may be right, but in less than five minutes of effort I was way ahead of all those other suckers staring at an empty card shelf and sweating profusely.

The impact of personalization didn’t end with shopping or dinner. My house racked up points, too. The “romance setting” for the blinds and lights in the home automation app set the mood along with the personalized Spotify channel in Sonos. Of course, the DVR remembered my preferences so I didn’t even think about the game I was missing (I may be a Romantic, but I have other interests).

Yes, the perfect Valentine’s Day was out there for all of us if we were willing to embrace omnichannel personalization…as well as our valentine’s.

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Facing 2016, we decided to take stock of what we’ve experienced and learned as marketers. It’s more important than ever to truly understand your target audience, to focus on improving the customer experience, and to provide value with your advertising by way of personalization. The only difference that comes with operating in a digital environment is the speed at which we must adapt to our customers’ continuously changing habits and preferences across all channels. Thankfully, there are some tools and strategies that have helped us out greatly along the way.

A seamless customer experience is priority #1 in your omnichannel marketing strategy

We should be happy to live in a time where our products and services can reach a global audience. That said, each one of our hundreds of thousands of customers has a unique set of preferences when it comes to communicating with your brand.

Data Management Platforms can organize your customer information and prime it for action. Marketers can use this kind of software to reach customers and deliver relevant content across multiple touchpoints, including web, mobile apps, social media, email, and text. The actions that a potential buyer makes on one channel should be remembered in a unified customer profile that carries over across all channels.

Given the endless amount of options that your customers have access to online, it’s important for remove as many barriers to communications as possible. Making your customer experience seamless across all channels will make them happy and absolutely drive your revenue. Speaking of which…

Mobile marketing matters.

While it’s important to deliver a strong customer experience on every channel, marketers should understand that no other channel has risen so sharply in growth, use, and importance than mobile. Mobile = Money, and nowhere this year was that more obvious than the record-breaking Thanksgiving sales weekend that spanned from Black Friday to Cyber Monday, where mobile hits accounted for a whopping 49% of all shopping visits across eCommerce sites.

Not only was more money spent in eCommerce than ever before, but the amount of mobile browsing and purchases increased so much that the crowds at brick-and-mortar stores looked noticeably thinner on Black Friday.

Marketing automation boosts efficiency and effectiveness.

It’s important for today’s omnichannel brand to be able to provide content with impeccable timing. It’s possible to automate this process using data from your digital marketing hub, meaning that you’ll put your customer information to work to generate real-time advertisements and messages that are personally relevant to each one of your buyers.

Why wait? A Data Management Platform never sleeps, and it’s available to message your customers instantly based on preset triggers that adapt your marketing efforts on the turn of a dime. Don’t make your customers wait to be engaged: automate your marketing to improve each campaign’s efficiency and effectiveness.

Your content must be useful and shareable.

One of the great marketing challenges of 2015 was learning to adapt to the AdBlocking software that became a standard in web browsers on both PC and mobile channels. We as an industry came to terms with the fact that the traditional ad died a long time ago: the new standard for engaging with customers is based around providing them with relevant, personalized content that adds value to their lives.

We saw countless examples of this as Facebook adapted its Newsfeed to embrace video, reaching an average view count of 8 billion per day and going toe-to-toe with YouTube. The key to this incredible growth? Promoting high-quality content that can be shared within social circles. When your content is just that good, people will advertise for you and sing your praises without any added prompting.

In other words, you get what you give. That’s a lesson that NectarOM learned when working with Avocados From Mexico to double their Facebook likes to over 1,000,000 in total over the span of just three months. NectarOM and Avocados From Mexico enticed its users with shareable, quality content such as recipes, giveaways, and eBooks that were passed on to friends and family and grew their social media presence in a very organic way.

Marketing personalization increases customer loyalty and engagement.

As much as marketers would love it if all of their customers were found in one place, the fact is that we live in an age where our products are connecting with more people than ever before. Each one of your customers has their individual preference for communicating with your brand, whether it’s over your website, your Facebook page, your mobile app, through emails, your brick-and-mortar store or some combination of all of the above.

Personalization has become much, much more than just a “first name” tag at the beginning of a mass email. It’s about understanding your customer based on their interactions with your brand, their shopping history, and the critical life events they choose to share on social media. Learn it, embrace it, and make it a part of your marketing toolkit moving forward.

So the numbers are in, and Cyber Monday was actually America’s biggest online shopping day ever according to Adobe. Shoppers spent $3.07 billion on Monday alone, bringing total eCommerce revenue to $11 billion for Thankgiving Weekend.

Now, here’s the catch: while total spend nationwide increased, the average order size actually decreased from $69 to $67.30. This trend suggests that customers are shopping around and purchasing specific products from various retailers, as opposed to visiting a one-stop destination for all of their gifts. Here are some crucial points where companies should employ personalization to take maximal advantage of their eCommerce sites:

eCommerce features deals 24/7

It’s not about big single sales days anymore.

A telling trend we’ve observed in recent years is the extension of the holiday shopping season, which is no longer constrained to Black Friday/Cyber Monday but basically starts after Halloween and continues until Christmas (and possibly after).

What this means is that the most attractive deals and discounts are prompting customers to buy in smaller orders, but with increasing frequency. Today’s shoppers aren’t shy about buying a gift for dad on Amazon, picking up holiday cards in the store, and then downloading apps to look for deals on clothes that they can check out in person at the mall. Factors like greater smartphone and mobile device usage, an increasingly digital culture, and a lack of patience for the “Black Friday at 5:00 A.M. mosh pit” experience have pushed customers towards embracing the convenience, selection, and value provided by eCommerce.

Mobile as a platform for advertising

This past Thanksgiving week showed us that mobile purchases are increasing in number, but the common pattern observed is that people enjoy browsing for products on mobile (up to 49% of shopping visits occur on from mobile devices) and then make about 75% of their actual purchases from a desktop.

This means that the majority of customers who interact with your brand on mobile devices are probably there just seeking some basic inspiration and information. Since the screen space and attention span of a mobile user is so limited, it’s essential for your brand to maximize its impact on the viewer by showcasing for them the products that they’re most likely to buy.

Of course, mobile shoppers (especially impatient Millennials) will abandon your app or site if it’s too slow or acts buggy, so make sure that your brand’s tech presence is on point. Target’s site, for example, went down several times during Cyber Monday and it’s impossible to say how much potential business they lost for it.

Black Friday/Cyber Monday were huge days for eCommerce, but this isn’t the end of the story. What we’ve learned from this past weekend is that, regardless of how you slice it, eCommerce and the omnichannel shopping experience is becoming the de facto process for the modern holiday season. That means that today’s brands should invest heavily in personalization software to create a shopping experience that’s fast, functional, and provides relevant product offers to their customers. It’s only going to become more important next year and the year after, especially as more and more shoppers become comfortable with eCommerce as a whole.

Another Thanksgiving has come and gone, and this year’s Black Friday saw more shoppers make purchases online than ever. According to the National Marketing Federation, $4.45 billion dollars worth of revenue was generated in online purchases this weekend, an overall 14.5% increase since last year.

The NRF’s latest survey estimates that 103 million Americans did at least some of their shopping online from Thanksgiving Thursday to this past Sunday, which probably had a role in the decreased foot traffic that we saw in shopping malls and retail stores. The inevitable Cyber Monday statistics should confirm the overall trend that more people are opting out of shopping in person in favor of eCommerce, and the shoppers that still do enjoy visiting stores in person are increasingly going for the whole omnichannel experience via digitally-assisted purchases.

This shift could also be the result of an extended “holiday” shopping season that now starts just after Halloween, which means that shoppers who would have braved malls and Wal-Marts nationwide are now choosing to do their gift-buying earlier and online. Either way, we can see that more than ever shoppers have the luxury of making purchases based on price (always) and the convenience of the overall shopping experience year-round, instead of waiting participating in the Black Friday mosh pit for a couple of deals.

It’s not difficult to see a future where Americans start doing the bulk of their holiday shopping online as discounts on the goods they want start popping up in early November, perhaps even right after Halloween. Through eCommerce, shoppers have a wider variety of product choice, research tools, and access to a wider inventory than might be available in-store. And with the overall trend of extending the availability of holiday discounts, it’s likely that we’ll see a continued growth in online and mobile commerce while the Thanksgiving spike in brick-and-mortar stores continues to level off for everyone else but tactile shoppers that insist on seeing products in person and for whatever reason, enjoy the strange, contemporary American tradition of Black Friday.