At BlueConic, we believe in the importance of bringing people together to exchange expertise and foster discussions. Recently, we had the privilege of hosting a gathering of marketers and technologists during NRF’s 2024 Big Show, including Brendan Witcher from Forrester, a leading authority on retail and customer data. Between Brendan’s insights and the open dialogue with attendees, we dug into some of the threads and themes of NRF, questioning and debating the challenges of upleveling customer engagement and loyalty. His insights, combined with valuable discussions with attendees, shed light on critical challenges and opportunities related to customer engagement and loyalty that modern marketers in the retail and consumer goods space face. For those who couldn't join us in New York, we missed you, but we're bringing the key takeaways to your doorstep!
1. The Relevance Gap: Perception vs. Reality
Brendan shared that despite 92% of digital professionals investing in personalization technologies, only 33% of consumers say companies do a good job creating experiences that are relevant for them. This disconnect is often due to businesses ironically relying on unreliable basic demographic data (often sourced from third-party vendors) to segment audiences, rather than leveraging dynamic and more insightful zero and first-party data.
My take: Save your money and ditch the questionable data. Earning customer loyalty requires the effective use of consented, zero and first-party data and, potentially more importantly, a nuanced understanding of how to leverage that data to deliver experiences your customers want (more on that later).
2. Beyond Data Parity: Achieving Competitive Advantage
To meet short term goals, most marketers tend to get myopic and use data to optimize experiences for the small portion of their audience that is on the cusp of converting. Conversion optimization strategies are understandable given that most businesses are in the business of, well, staying in business. Marketers seeking a competitive advantage from their data, not just parity with their nearest competitor, need to move past conversion optimization to unlock their next stage of growth. Think about it, if you’re buying “in-market” data from a third-party data source, why do you think your competitors don’t have that data too?
My take: Most customers on your site aren’t making an immediate purchase. While their value may not convert to dollars today, their data offers a different kind of ROI. Ask yourself, “What first-party data could I collect to differentiate their experience as they consider their options?”
3. Technology: A Piece of the Puzzle, Not the Whole Picture
This is one of my favorite takeaways. Many companies perceive new technology as a panacea for their business challenges, but the reality is success relies not only on the tools but also on humans – cultivating the right company culture, establishing an effective organizational structure, and fostering a shared understanding and belief in the metrics tracked. Brendan said it best as heads nodded in agreement in the room: "You have to get everyone on the same bus." Once everyone is on board, remember, data is the fuel powering the bus (and you’ll go a lot farther with better data).
My take: Change management is hard, but it is an absolutely critical piece of unlocking the true value and potential of anything in your tech stack, especially a customer data platform. You can spend whatever you want on a piece of software, but if you’re not going to invest in the resources to use it, or give your teams the space to address the organizational changes needed to facilitate transformation, it’ll never work.
4. Avoid the "I Know You" Trap
Companies often fall into the "I know you" trap, mistakenly believing they sufficiently understand their customers to provide the right experience. However, this belief is frequently based on false, misinterpreted, or limited information, leading to erroneous assumptions (see point 1). As Brendan highlighted in his report (subscription required), not every person traveling to Orlando is going to Disney World, so it's a poor customer experience to market to them as if they were. The better approach? Start by asking, "If we knew X, we could do Y," and then methodically work backwards to identify the reliable data and tools needed to make informed decisions, rather than jumping to conclusions.
My take: There’s a very fine line between connecting and disconnecting with consumers. Personalization gone wrong is a surefire way to lose credit with your customers. Take the time to get to know them, with the data they share with you, before making assumptions. You know how that one goes!
5. Personalization: From Good to Great
Recall the Relevance Gap? Saying you “do” personalization isn’t enough. Jim Collins’ business wisdom applies equally to digital marketing as it does to broader business strategy. It’s natural for companies to settle for 'good' in their personalization efforts, stopping once the basics are up and running. With limited bandwidth and constantly competing priorities, the failure to leap from good to great crops up in many places. Settling for good enough only widens the gap between a business’ perception of their marketing initiatives and their customer’s experience.
My take: Leaping from good to great is easier said than done, but personalization and personalized experiences are two different things. The box isn’t checked until every customer feels like your only customer.
Ultimately, this event was a reminder that it’s not just what you know, but how you apply that knowledge creatively, effectively, and authentically that matters. Having the chance to learn from others who are actively trying to move from good to great is incredibly helpful. The path to best-in-class customer experiences and deep customer loyalty is paved with first-party data and insights. Feeling inspired? Watch Brendan’s full talk below: