What will marketers do with their holiday gift of customer data?

The holidays are a time of wonder, merriment, gifts and…as usual, discounts. As marketers, it presents a crossroads: We could stop short and measure the ROI of holiday discounting in that same holiday window. Or, we could extend the ROI window into 2016, using our valuable gift of new, rich customer data from this past holiday season as a catalyst for smarter 2016 marketing plans.

Every January, every brand has an opportunity to make a new and better decision on how to use its new gift of holiday data.  

  • Will the new names be simply added to an email list for continued mass discounting?
  • Will the data from holiday sales be used to start a (more) relevant customer conversation in 2016? 
  • Will the insights fuel the development and implementation of a long-term customer strategy to drive business more broadly?

As an example, consider the tremendous PR and customer goodwill REI generated this holiday season with its #OptOutside campaign. REI increased online sales traffic by 26% on Black Friday to balance closing its doors that day, while also generating 1.4MM social mentions. Smartly, REI is planning to “continue the conversation” in 2016, via a partnership with the National Parks Service, as well as collaborating with over 150 other partnerships to promote its #OptOutside movement and the promise of more to come.  In return, REI will be rewarded with a holiday investment that pays off far beyond the Black Friday window, with a more ways to get customers to shop, buy, review, share, and love its brand – and ultimately grow the business.

Clearly, the best answer is to use holiday data aggressively to create a different kind of customer dialogue. For REI, they stuck a new spike in the ground on how to engage their customers during key holidays. While “investing in customer” is not as simple as mass discounting, the long-term return is much greater. The reward is a more diverse tool kit to drive business growth; tools with less cost, more competitive differentiation and more brand attachment.

For us, the process starts with considering customers as an investment portfolio, recognizing that all customers are not equal. Some customers have more long-term value and / or opportunity, and as such warrant more investment. How we act on that customer opportunity should similarly be differentiated by the customer’s individual value, opportunity and needs (and not just the brand’s need to sell).

Interestingly, while Amazon does a better job of using data in communications than most, they still miss the mark with their product-centric vs. customer-centric approach. With so many new customer data opportunities for Amazon, will 2016 be the year when Amazon pivots to consider me as a customer – and reduce the many, many follow-up emails for a product I flagged as a gift and that doesn’t fit my profile? No doubt, Amazon is well ahead of every other online merchant, but we hope their next round of innovation pushes to do even more with customer data.

Let’s begin the New Year with a resolution to build on the holiday dialogue, engaging customers with your brand, going beyond simply selling to them. Consider all the conversations you can have that aren’t about mass discounting, but instead help customers navigate your brand to discover what’s most relevant to them:

  • Provide tips on how your customers can enjoy their holiday purchases.
  • Direct them toward brand experiences that don’t require spending, to keep them engaged between buying cycles.
  • Focus on gift card redemption as a way to get consumers back in your store or to your site. Use the data to guide them toward gift card use that fits their profile, making it more than a transaction.
  • Give your customers a preview of what the brand has planned for them in the upcoming year, giving them reasons to read your emails in the months to come.
  • When you do sell, make it relevant. Recognize gifts differently than purchases. Use holiday purchases (channel, product, payment type) to personalize your message. And say “Thank you.”

Holiday data is a gift to start a more relevant customer dialogue in 2016, appropriately sized to the customer opportunity and specifically crafted to the customer need. Make a New Year’s resolution to use that gift to connect with your customers beyond typical transactional initiatives in a meaningful way; leveraging the data they have given you and demonstrating your gratitude for their gift.