From increasing customer expectations to an always-on approach to brand engagement and the inexorable rise of real-time engagement via mobile and social media, marketers face a fast changing and challenging environment, according to Katharine Hulls, VP marketing for Celebrus Technologies, who here examines how organisations can exploit the latest generation of analytics to improve the multichannel customer experience. This article is copyright 2014 The Best Customer Guide.

With senior management placing serious pressure on marketing to contribute to growth strategies, how are marketers planning to respond? What are the priority developments? What skills are required? And how, perhaps more critically, can marketing exploit this fast growing mass of customer data to deliver measurable business value?

The 'Digital Marketing Insights Report 2014' published by Celebrus and Teradata revealed a clear focus on personalisation and the use of real-time data over the next two years. However, given the emphasis on measurability, performance and bottom line value, why is the vast majority of organisations failing to exploit the latest generation of sophisticated analytics?

Hulls suggests a need for a more robust data foundation, calling on organisations to look closely at the value of journey mapping, golden pathing and affinities analysis.

Marketing Priorities
The marketing team is under ever greater pressure to demonstrate fast and tangible return on investment. According to the latest Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) and Bloomberg Marketing Confidence Monitor, many businesses are heading into 2014 with "aggressive" growth ambitions. Not only does growth dominate the management agenda for half of all organisations but 42% report an increase in management buy-in and more appetite for investment in innovation and new business practices, products and people.

So how are marketers planning to respond? For many, the sheer diversity of choice and challenges is overwhelming. While the focus is clearly on enhancing the customer experience, where should activity be prioritised? Creating a Single Customer View (SCV) to improve omni-channel marketing; delivering real-time personalisation solely within the online channel; or exploiting analytics to deliver deep customer understanding and enhance the customer experience?

Whatever route the marketing team decides to prioritise, managing data remains a major concern. According to The Digital Marketing Insights Report 2014², commissioned by Teradata and Celebrus Technologies, organisations are struggling with data: data storage (36%), data quality (23%) and making the data actionable (15%) are the biggest challenges facing the marketing team.

Future Focus
Personalisation in all its forms certainly dominates marketing strategy, with the research revealing that while only 21% have a SCV today, a massive 57% expect to achieve this goal within two years. The value of this deep customer insight is clear, with 70% of those with a SCV gaining better customer insights and 60% improving targeting.

However, creating the SCV is just the start - and with the push from management to deliver tangible results, analytics is becoming an increasingly relevant and sophisticated discipline. Done well, analytics can significantly enhance marketing effectiveness and profitability and a growing number of organisations are gaining significant advantage from the provision of an analytical view across multiple sources of data and multiple channels.

The research reveals that today disappointingly few organisations have extended the use of analytics beyond web analytics into areas such as journey mapping, golden pathing and affinities analysis. While almost three quarters (72%) actively use web analytics to support digital marketing efforts, other analytics endeavours have far less penetration, with around only a third using Voice of the Customer (36%), customer journey analysis (35%) and segmentation (34%). In addition and perhaps surprisingly, efforts that have a social media focus are also poorly represented in the results, with analytics to measure engagement and influence (20%) and sentiment (8%) both enjoying limited adoption.

Furthermore, while attribution is increasingly an issue for marketers, just two fifths (41%) use campaign attribution tools. Yet with diverse media driving sales across multiple touch points on the path to purchase, measuring simply first or last touch is not good enough. So why are organisations failing to examine attribution in the depth required to make it meaningful?

Embracing Analytics
The main problem is, as cited frequently in recent times, a lack of analytics expertise within the business; although companies also cite a lack of time and structural issues with data. However, the value of analytics is clearly recognised, with over half (51%) planning to invest in a dedicated in house analytics team within two years.

Certainly the value is clear to those organisations that have already invested in both the right tools and expertise: almost three quarters (71%) cite better customer targeting; over half (58%) improved conversion; with 51% confirming improved marketing personalisation and 51% improved customer experience.

These results tie in with the experiences of clients who are exploiting advanced analytics - from the use of golden path analysis to improve the customer experience and conversion rates, to the use of affinity analysis to identify the products that are browsed and purchased together. Organisations are using these new insights to enable journey improvements by, for example, detecting paths to churn, identifying site and basket abandonment patterns and attaining advanced individual customer level insight.

Journey analysis is also being used to optimise processes. Determining how customers flow through digital channels reveals bottlenecks, repeated steps and inefficiencies - such as web interactions followed by customer phone queries - and significant drop out points. By re-engineering processes, customer experiences can be significantly improved, leading to better retention and cost efficiencies. There are also many opportunities to improve the return on investment (ROI) from spend attribution to identifying fraud in real-time and behavioural based pricing.

So what next?
Analytics is far from the heartland of traditional marketing activity for most organisations. Yet in an increasingly growth oriented economy where marketing is expected to step up and make measurable contributions and inform on-going strategy, analytics is becoming an essential component of the marketing skills base. Furthermore the shift away from the exclusive use of web analytics also focuses the attention on the overall data strategy - not least the continued challenges of managing data storage and customer data quality.

The continued dominance of web analytics and use of aggregated data can cause both data quality issues and actionable data challenges because the data is not designed to support modern marketing requirements, such as omni-channel customer insight and one-to-one personalisation.

"For any marketing manager trying to determine the direction of investment, creating the right data foundation has to be a priority. Without a solid data strategy in place, marketers face a long, difficult and tortuous path to achieve the required depth of customer understanding and quality of multichannel customer experience," concluded Hulls. "With the right foundation, the organisation will be well placed to exploit a raft of innovative tools and techniques - from real time personalisation to sophisticated analytics."