Audience segmentation: Marketing automation based on what your customers do

Getting to know your customers no longer means watching a randomly selected group of the population test ideas through a one-way mirror. Now, with advances in marketing automation and audience segmentation, there is almost no limit to the possibilities of how brands can understand their customers. Caitlin Salter talks with brand marketers who are doing audience segmentation well, and those tech suppliers who are helping marketers automate their processes.

From the mid-1990s when emails became a genuine method of communication, ‘marketing automation’ meant a one-size-fits-all newsletter to a customer database. The ever-growing industry now encompasses endless automation and analytics for marketing, and is seen by many organisations as an essential business tool to understand their audiences. Platforms such as Salesforce, HubSpot and even tools like Google Analytics are streamlining processes and changing the way customers interact with brands.

Kevin Doyle, Salesforce Regional Vice President, says the vision of the platform is taking moments and turning them into trusted customer relationships.

Kevin Doyle.

“Marketing is no longer a silo. Today’s marketers have to nurture customer relationships and grow revenue for their businesses by connecting with the sales, customer services and commerce teams.”

E-commerce, email and CRM data can all be integrated onto a single digital platform. By homing all business data in one place, everyone in the business can understand who their customers truly are, what they want and how the business can meet their needs, Kevin says. 

In the modern digital age, it’s not hard to spot when an organisation’s marketing and commerce groups are not connected. From a consumer perspective it can be as obvious as continuously being targeted online ads to an item they’ve already purchased. 

A Salesforce Connected Customer Report found that nearly 90 percent of buyers believe the experience a company provides matters just as much as the products or services it sells. Kevin says that can only be achieved with privacy ensured collection of data across an organisation, and that comes down to trust.

“The way you build trust is through empathy and actually caring who your customers are – you can only do that if you know who you’re talking to, otherwise you’re just praying and hoping for the best which is impossible to trust.”

Learning if a brand’s marketing is impacting customers has traditionally been a fairly expensive, unscientific art with surveys, interviews, focus groups and customer observation. 

While there is still plenty of room in the market for these methods, automation, artificial intelligence and machine learning is not only more efficient for businesses, it improves the customer experience too, Kevin says.

“Now we can track every movement and see how it’s driving sales. The fact that we can completely connect online and offline data as well as signed-up and anonymous data means customers can get exactly what they want – and businesses can see the results.”

Customer journey

Mike Taylor, BBT Digital Founder and Managing Director, says he’s watched the industry change immeasurably in the eight years since he opened the digital agency’s doors. For one, online analytics have developed to a sophistication that had barely been conceived in 2014, and the expectations from both brands and consumers have changed.

Mike Taylor.

“Businesses are waking up to the fact that they need to have a strategy about how they’re managing their customer information and data,” he says. “Back in the day, everything was done via a third party and customers would sit in databases. Now, we place the focus on who the customer actually is and how we can find out more about them to give them a really good experience.”

BBT Digital specialises in strategic digital thinking and works within a broad range of industries to support clients – many may have an established digital presence or strong brand but need assistance   tapping into what their customers need.

Taylor says marketing automation and user segmentation offer  brands the opportunity to scale their businesses but they’re not one-size-fits-all.

“First-party data and understanding all the possibilities feels like where we were 15 years ago when digital marketing was a new concept. Now, what brand out there doesn’t have digital as part of their marketing? It feels like it’s still in its infancy but it allows brands to get far closer to their customers and give customers a voice in the brand.”

The basic user segmentations like gender, age and location can all be tapped into by businesses without great effort. But Mike says behavioural and intent segmentation require a bit more expertise and offer hugely exciting results. 

In 2022, the shopping journey of a given customer is likely to not be as straightforward as popping down the shops and buying what they need. Without realising it, all consumers have their own set of behaviours online and their intentions can be crystal clear.

Using retail as an example: if a customer visits a website for the first time, they may only stay for five seconds and the messaging needs to be high-level, advertising a sale or a sign-up discount. If, however, a customer has been on a site for upwards of four minutes, they’re in ‘research mode’ and they may look using multiple devices so messaging about the quality of the brand or a previously looked-at item would be more appropriate. With omnichannel marketing consumers can get consistent messaging about a brand seamlessly.

A huge part of Mike and his team’s work is educating their clients on how to take a holistic approach to this sort of data. All brands are different, and so should have different goals when measuring the return on investment with marketing automation. A brand with a particularly complicated product, for example, may not need to convert sales online – but rather learn the best ways to inform their customers and follow up with outbound calls.

“What pages someone visits online, how long they’re on the site, how many times they’ve returned and what activities they do can all trigger different segments of that person. And all of that information can be used to learn what the customers want and give that to them,” Mike says.

Consumer power

Of course, it is impossible to talk about using marketing data without considering privacy. New Zealand does have reasonably high standards of consumer protection compared to other countries. All websites and retailers must display a privacy policy which details how they use customer data, for example.

According to Salesforce data, customers are increasingly interested in companies’ ethical use of technology and specifically how their own data is used, shared or sold once collected. 

Marketers are engaged in a delicate balancing act between needing ever-more data to drive their strategies and operating with full transparency and consent. 

In April 2021, Apple announced a new privacy feature that allows users to ask apps not to track their data. Mike says the informed consumer can be divided into two camps.

“One is ‘give me everything that’s targeted so things suit me’ and the other camp is ‘I don’t want people to know anything about me’. Giving users the choice means brands can’t abuse the trust of that consumer because they’re making a conscious decision now. Gone are the days when you spam your database with emails,” he says.

“It’s a fine line and it’s a relationship you really need to foster. The consumer has never before been in the driver’s seat about how their data is used. I’m excited because it means businesses and brands have to pick up their game.”

Craig Whitaker, Google New Zealand Partner Lead, says consumer expectations of data privacy have shifted in recent years.

Craig Whitaker.

“Consumers are becoming increasingly concerned about how their online information gets collected and used. They want to feel safe online knowing their personal data is secure and private but they also want relevant and useful experiences with brands they care about.”

According to a January 2022 BCG & Google study, more than 75 percent of people say they only want to see ads that are relevant and useful to them.

“As trust in a business’s brand grows, so too does the information they can use to help make their marketing strategy more relevant and effective,” Craig says.

“Building direct relationships with consumers that are based on responsibly-gathered first-party data can unlock competitive advantages. First-party data helps businesses better understand consumer needs and deliver a better customer experience which can increase performance.”

Crumbling cookies

In 2021, Google followed the lead of Safari and Firefox by announcing its plan to phase out support for third-party cookies in the Chrome web browser – which is used by an estimated 2.8 million New Zealanders. While the other browsers blocked third-party cookies outright, Google opted to phase them out within two years.

Third-party cookies allow companies to track the movements of users who don’t engage with the company directly, to build up a data picture of consumers. With the pandemic accelerating the rate of digital-first companies, the risk for marketers was the shift away from third-party would lead to a less personalised web experience for users – Salesforce data showed 78 percent of marketers felt customer expectations were more difficult to meet than a year ago.

This industry-wide shift puts the spotlight directly onto first-party data, which is generally consented to by customers who interact with businesses online or offline – by visiting the website, making a phone call, signing up for a loyalty programme or subscription, or purchasing from in-store.

Jess Sakey, NZ Herald  Customer Engagement Manager, says the depreciation of cookies has caused the team to rethink how they use data to target audiences across the business – especially as audiences now expect communication to be more relevant for them.

NZ Herald segments users in different ways including whether they are free, registered users, or subscribers, to ensure any   communication they have is timely and personalised. One-to-one personalisation is also used, which involves showcasing content that their audiences may want to consume. 

“We encourage our audiences to log into the NZ Herald website, so we can personalise their onsite experiences as well as collect first and zero party. Audiences are segmented based on a number of factors including their subscription status and onsite behaviours,” Jess says.

Internal modelling and customer insights are used for outputs like curated newsletters. As well as all this, NZ Herald’s data team employs machine learning techniques to determine propensity to subscribe and to churn, which are pushed as attributes to their marketing automation platform.

In the last year, daily newsletters have been based on data insights, rather than editors’ hand picked stories each day. There has been a 50 percent increase in total clicks since newsletter content was moved to be based on the most-read articles of the day.

While it may look on paper like customers are receiving more communications from the brand than ever, by moving from a manual to an automated process, NZ Herald has actually reduced the amount of content in their customers’ inboxes because communications that are deemed irrelevant are no longer sent. 

“If a subscriber has already downloaded the app, they are removed from any subscription onboarding emails about downloading the app,” Jess says. “This makes for a much more positive, relevant and individualised customer experience.”

To integrate user experience further, email engagement data is also used to augment the behavioural data to provide customers with onsite personalised article recommendations.

Customer value exchange

Google’s Craig Whitaker says first-party data is what generally comes to mind when thinking about audience data now.

“Businesses need to consider the value exchange they are offering their customers in return for the data they share – for example if a customer has a preference on delivery times. They also need to ensure that the user is informed of how to remove that consent if they wish.

“The collection and use of data helps businesses deliver relevant user experiences at scale and anticipate user needs.”

Understanding the ‘value exchange’ between brand and customer needs to be at the heart of marketing data, Craig says.

“We already know that consumers won’t engage with businesses or be willing to share their data if they don’t understand the value exchange. It’s a two-way relationship and if a business is being transparent and responsible with data whilst providing value, the customer will be more willing to share a little more about themselves. It’s an ongoing cycle based on trust.”

Google enables marketing automation in a variety of different ways, including with tools that help media planning, media automation tools and automated audience creation. Features in Google Analytics 4 allows businesses to create audiences based on an industry category selected – which it can then use to display a number of preconfigured suggested audiences that can be passed through to the ad buying tools for targeted advertising.

There are numerous other ways Google enables marketing automation such as creative message testing and personalisation. With the Covid-19 pandemic resulting in gym closures, Les Mills launched On Demand globally using machine learning and automation to test multiple creative iterations and compare results against a control group – which helped Les Mills prove which ads would drive highest performance. 

After experimenting with voiceover, ad length, and background music, the campaign opted for voiceover ads and was rolled out on YouTube in more than 40 countries. For the customer intent audience lists, Les Mills used brand, competitor, and generic home workout keywords to reach viewers who were more likely to subscribe to its platforms.

Craig says the pandemic played a role in accelerating businesses’ transition into digital and the adoption of technology to unlock business opportunities. 

“We observed that Google searches for ‘click and collect’ increased four times since the beginning of Covid-19 and continued to grow 65 percent in 2021. It’s a seamless omnichannel experience that consumers are searching for, one that offers them the freedom to buy what they want, when they want and how they want.”

Creative data strategy

Qassem Naim, FCB Aotearoa Chief Transformation Officer, says a lot of clients have the ‘Ferrari in the garage’ when it comes to getting the potential out of the data they are collecting about their customers.

In May 2022, specialist KiwiSaver provider AMP Wealth Management appointed FCB Media to run its paid media account, after more than a year of FCB helping with performance digital and one-to-one, including unlocking marketing technology capabilities with Salesforce.

 “They were a Salesforce shop and had the technology in place, but like a lot of clients, there was potential in the technology they weren’t getting at the time,” Qassem says.

“We have developed capabilities and a maturity roadmap and worked with the team at AMP to really ‘drive that car’ to epic results. It’s a really pleasant outcome when you’re breaking records in a business that has been around for more than 100 years.”

While the marketing technology landscape is developing fast, Qassem agrees that the pandemic accelerated the number of clients using and adopting this type of technology. “It created a real need for people to understand the types of marketing automation, there’s a lot of different technology that sits inside its landscape.”

Mark Lee.

Mark Lee, AMP Head of Digital Sales and Engagement, says traditionally the company would serve its clients through advisors, but made the business decision a few years ago to focus on direct-to-client  relationships.  

“With that decision it was obvious that we needed a marketing automation platform to deliver that, and FCB had good expertise in that area and it made sense to pull them in to help us achieve the   

This article was first published in the 2022 June/July issue of NZ Marketing magazine.

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