Real Or Relevant Time? Making The Best Choice For Customer Needs

Data-Driven Thinking” is written by members of the media community and contains fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media.

Today’s column is written by Craig Howard, VP, chief solution architect at Merkle.

Marketers want to be able to do more in real-time, but can they truly understand and explain what that means and the ways in which it can be enabled? Real-time capabilities are not just a singular concept. And real-time isn’t always a strict requirement. There’s a place in marketing for relevant-time data.

Relevant-time is real-time data processing that considers context. The context that drives the timing for detection, interpretation, and action is driven by the consumer and his or her expectations – specifically their relationship with the brand. Consumer expectations may differ based on the touchpoint with which he or she is interacting or how recently they have interacted with the brand. For instance, the consumer would be less disappointed if a website visit didn’t reflect the knowledge of his or her most recent major purchase than they would be if they phoned the call center to discuss issues with that purchase, and the service technician was not aware of it.

So relevant-time considers the true need for a brand or for a consumer, balanced against the costs involved in truly delivering an end-to-end experience fueled by real-time capabilities. Relevant-time means applying real-time concepts through a filter of pragmatism. The strategy and coordination required to realize a real-time vision can be a very daunting problem to solve at any level.

On the flip side, if marketers can approach this need pragmatically, considering relevance not only in the experiences they create but in the timeliness to enable the right experience, we can shift our thinking to the concept of relevant-time, instead of just real-time.

How real-time does real-time need to be?

Real-time implies no delay. No delay in detection, interpretation, and action. You must understand how to process data in real-time to detect a behavior, interpret that behavior, and decide how to act on it. And each of these steps requires different considerations when determining the most relevant timing.

Real-time marketing attempts to react to customers’ needs at any point along the customer journey and is then updated by a recent understanding of the customer’s profile, behaviors, intent, and goals. The concept of real-time is often used broadly across marketing as a requirement, even though many do not truly understand how to actually apply it effectively.

It’s important to create an experience at the moment an interaction occurs, but if that experience is not informed by the most recent activity, such as recent page views on a brand website that clearly show interest or intent, that real-time activation is not likely to achieve optimal results. If a representative handling customer service or a sales interaction understands the customer’s recent shopping activity, he or she can have a more informed conversation and stands a better chance to convert the sale or satisfy the service need. The converse would be promoting a product to a customer after that product has already been purchased. Even worse, promoting that same product and providing better pricing than the consumer paid would create a negative experience.

Uncovering relevant-time data as the right approach to the customer experience 

You will uncover relevant-time data by understanding when and where real-time data is necessary to weave into your customer experience strategy. Not all situations require a real-time understanding and interpretation of recent behavior.

Relevance in timing should also consider the advertiser’s needs. Financial or operational drivers, such as a need to move certain products off the shelf, often impact consumer messaging and offers. Spikes in interest and sales during specific events or holidays require an immediate and detailed understanding of purchase behavior, as well as product availability, in order to quickly change messaging according to what is performing.

Applying relevant-time requires an always-on approach in order to gain operational efficiencies and continually optimize the performance of marketing efforts, audience strategy, and customer experiences.

What’s next for real-time and relevant-time data?

When planning, remember that implementing real-time data processing and usage will add complexity to common data problems and increase costs. By taking a pragmatic approach to your real-time adoption and experience management, you can begin to apply relevant-timing that will create unlimited benefits when it comes to personalization.

Careful analysis will help you understand both the brand and consumer needs related to detection, interpretation of behaviors, and action based on the consumer’s refreshed profile. This will reveal the path to a balanced approach around real-time and relevant-time.

Now, more than ever, marketers and brands alike are being cost-conscious, and relevant-timing with real-time data is the way to see tangible economic benefits, stronger customer retention, and overall greater customer satisfaction, which is key. Don’t wait to implement your data; start now, in real-time.

Follow Craig Howard (@chowardmerkle) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.