Customer Data Tips for the 21st Century Apparel Marketer

Today’s marketers are often, and understandably, overwhelmed by the incredible volume of data available to them. The apparel industry is particularly challenged due to the unique mix of online and offline channels of interaction with their customers. But there are ways to deal with today’s “explosion of touchpoints,” to collect and analyze relevant data and find out what the consumer really wants.

Marketers must go well beyond the traditional data collection points of mail, phone, e-mail and the cash register to get a clear view of how customers interact with their brands. To target and communicate messages more effectively, retail marketers must engage customers through new channels, integrating e-commerce, websites, mobile and social platforms. No longer can marketers simply get by on marketing what “they” want; now retail marketers must listen to the voice of the customer in the store and resonating digitally.
The key to effective multi-channel data integration is a well defined data collection strategy. Today’s customer interaction environment is seeing an explosion of touchpoints that has opened up doors beyond the traditional capture points.
  • Website data – There is no shortage of data that can be collected online with regard to consumer activity. The challenge with web data is that the sheer volume can be daunting to even the most experienced marketers, and in many cases it cannot be directly tied to a consumer at the name/address level. The key to this data is to identify only those components that are valuable to the marketing process. This will ensure that you don’t turn your marketing database into a massive storage system for online data, but a tool to organize and access the most relevant information for your customers. 
  • Mobile – Many organizations are expanding their sites to support mobile shopping or have created skinny apps for portable devices, such as the iPad. Mobile phones in particular are becoming the primary method for engaging consumers at different touchpoints given that the device is usually with the person at all times, and people tend to hold on to their phone numbers, even if they switch carriers. Mobile marketing also allows for geo-based targeting, as well as a two-way communication medium. However as mobile privacy is still paramount, getting consumers to opt-in is critical.
  • Ecommerce – Collecting data from ecommerce transactions can be some of the most valuable data you can collect. This data can inform purchase behaviors, profile, and channel preferences, as well as allow for the opportunity to collect data elements that may drive better customer engagement such as income, gender, presence of children, etc.
  • Social – Social media is by far the fastest growing area for data collection. Through social media, existing brands are broadening their customer reach, while new brands are exploding with ways to capture data on consumers. Social marketing isn’t simply about getting people to friend you on Facebook, follow you on Twitter or always about monetizing your efforts. It’s also about listening to what consumers are saying about your brand, products, or services in the marketplace and adjusting your marketing accordingly. 
Each of these touchpoints offers valuable opportunities to collect relevant information on the consumer that will enable more targeted communications across all channels. Now you know what you want to collect and where you want to collect it, but where should you store it and how do you access it? Although technology itself won’t generate results, without it you will be flying blind and will not be able to take full advantage of all that great data you’ve collected. So what do you need?
The emphasis should be to establish a marketing infrastructure that is not limited by the types of data that can be stored. Establishing a marketing environment that allows for effective offline and online data integration, combined with access to a single view of a consumer across all touchpoints, is fundamental to executing on a multi-channel marketing strategy in the retail-clothing industry. Without this type of environment you will not be able to establish a clear view into how channels are working together to drive revenue to your business. 
Now that you have the data and the infrastructure to support it, it’s game time. Even with the best data collection strategies and infrastructure, it can all fall apart if your targeting and messaging are off track. It is now your responsibility as a marketer to listen to what consumers have told you and leverage that data to make the most relevant marketing message possible. This concept of consumer-centric marketing is not new but is highly underutilized in most industries. Marketers continue to use the one-size-fits-all marketing model, which will not yield growth results for long. 
So what should you do?
  • Follow the data – Use all collected data across multiple channels to inform the messaging and the offer.
  • Target consumers – Engage your customers on their channel of preference, not yours. A targeted campaign via email may be more effective than a television spot, if people keep skipping commercials on their DVRs.
  • Don’t be afraid to test the waters – One of the best aspects of these new marketing channels is their low barriers to entry. And since these new channels are here to stay, testing will ensure that when you are ready, you can jump in full force.  
So much has been said of the 360-degree view of a consumer in the marketing world. With all the ways a consumer can interact with your brand, this never has been a more critical need. The opportunity for apparel marketers is tremendous, particularly as consumers are often brand loyal. With so many new and exciting ways to capture and communicate with consumers, apparel marketers now have the opportunity to truly establish that consumer-centric view they have always dreamed of. 

David Geisinger is CTO of Merkle, Inc. Retail Vertical.

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