In the UK, the BBC recently made something of a fuss about Big Data, retail and the use of 'historic sales data' in marketing intelligence, proving that the tips, tricks and techniques of marketers are no longer dusty secrets guarded by analysts are now mainstream, well known and even increasingly accepted by consumers, according to Adam Lee, CRM consultant for Amaze. This article is copyright 2014 The Best Customer Guide.

Commercial data analytics has long been dominated by the concept of a 'Single Customer View' or 'SCV'; a central repository of all customers and their transactions with the business in question. This approach makes perfect sense.

But the phrase "historic sales data" used in the BBC article, and the "Customer" part of the Single Customer View highlights an issue with this age-old approach. It relies on someone making a purchase. The bigger challenge that lies ahead, for data scientists, marketers, behaviourists and the like is, for better or worse, how to deliver a personal service to someone who hasn't bought yet.

But the 'Single Customer View', as a concept, isn't as suitable as it once was. In reality, it probably hasn't been for a good few years. In fact, for global eCommerce brands (and those manufacturer brands to whom the opportunity to sell direct to the consumer is becoming increasingly attractive), there's much more to be gained from anonymous data analysis (the "wisdom of the crowd") with renewed focus being placed on user identification at any step of the user journey.

The benefit of this is that you have to encourage the user to part with their information; it's a challenge, but getting an individual to do this means that you've given them something that they value enough to share something with you.

This isn't a new theory, but it hasn't been adopted by the business and marketing world as quickly as it should have been. The 360-degree view of the customer (there's that word again) is still pretty much out of reach for the majority of businesses. What's more, the argument that "if they aren't a customer, then they are only costing me money" just doesn't hold water in an omni-channel world any more. If someone isn't a customer, but is interested in what you can do for them, then it's down to your inability to give that person what they're looking for…so try harder!

Which means that, just as customer analysis can highlight optimal comms plans, anonymous crowd analysis and user insights can rule out poorer approaches. For example, perhaps you're beginning to write off emails that you send to customers because no-one reads them any more, or your Click-Through Rate (CTR) is reducing significantly.

Maybe you should look again. Let's take three separate complaints about how unresponsive your subscription and customer base has become:

  1. Perhaps 50% of your email base haven't ever bought a product from you. Why are you still emailing them? You're damaging your brand, and again you haven't given those people what they want.
  2. Why are you bothering sending blanket emails out to your hundred thousand strong email base on a monthly basis? You might have a monthly CTR of 20%. But how many of your users are consistently opening your emails? Because that's a better measure of the quality of your emails, and if you're giving people what they want. Why aren't you treating them differently?
  3. Your returning visitor percentage on your site is above 70%: lots of repeat visits, but sales aren't increasing and customer lifetime value is flattening.

Those are three points of discussion that suggest a customer/sales-driven approach may not be the only way to speak to your people. So how could a user-focused approach deal with these sticky issues? By rolling them all together and adding a splash of intelligence:

  • Take the 50% of non-purchasers from the first point.
  • Mix them in with some rigorous campaign analysis that may help us deal with the problems in the second point.
  • You can immediately see who isn't a customer, but who loves your emails - they can't get enough of your site - and because they're coming to the site every time you mail them, use a tracking technology to identify what those users are looking at online - and that will take care of your third problem, over time.

So we have established that they aren't completely convinced by your proposition just yet, but they still come to your site regularly. So a personalised communication based on intent could reap dividends. And that is, at a very simple level, how to start understanding the intent of the user; an approach that is just as powerful as a customer-centric approach. Brand loyalty isn't as strong as it used to be: you have to work harder, for longer, and in different ways, for someone to truly love a brand.