2014-18-September-Running.jpgA decade ago, it would have been safe to assume that you were reading this through an internet browser. Gathering data on your reading habits was fairly straightforward in those days because your browser yielded information that was relatively complete, especially when you consider the rather small universe of digital media then.

Times have changed. Today, the browser is just one of many places where customer behaviors and interactions can be captured. As the universe of channels, touch points, and devices expands, so has the browser’s importance begun to shrink. Brand marketers who won the battle for the browser were the biggest winners in the past. Today, and in the future, the successful brand marketers will be those who move beyond the browser and follow their customers into a cross channel world.

Competing in this world comes down to how well marketers can capture, integrate and execute on all of the consumer data available. It's disheartening to hear that 85 percent of marketers say they’re hampered by inadequate access to data, according to a recent report by the CMO Club and Visual IQ. That’s an astonishing number in a world where big data has become a household phrase.

It’s not the abundance of data that's the problem, but the absence of a useful framework that allows marketers to keep pace with their customers. Here's a primer that will get you started on creating that framework.

Capture all the Data Out There

Nobody ever asks for the incomplete picture. The initial promise of digital was to give marketers a more complete picture of consumer behaviors, preferences and interactions. That promise has largely been fulfilled, but very few marketers are capturing all the data that is available. Instead, marketers are capturing only some data. It may look like a lot of data -- because it is -- but there’s a very big difference between a lot of the picture and the whole picture.

So, the first step in creating a true cross-channel framework is to equip each and every customer touch point with data collection capabilities. If you fail to do that, you’ll miss valuable information signals that enable smarter, faster and more effective marketing because you won’t know all that you can know about your customer’s likes, dislikes, needs and behaviors.

Think of it this way: if your child asked for help with a book report, would you tell them to read every page of the assignment or every other page?

Integrate Your Data Into a Single Picture

Call it connecting the dots. All of the data in the world won’t make your cross channel marketing a success unless you find a way to make sense of that data. Unfortunately, many marketers today aren’t integrating their data into a single picture.

Social data exists in one silo, mobile data in another. Offline data isn’t connected to online data, and first-party data isn’t aligned with third-party data. That’s why integration is the second step to creating a cross-channel marketing framework.

Your customers move seamlessly through a multitude of data sets, but if you can’t track them across those data sets, the customer falls through the cracks. Naturally, if you can link together all of your data sets, you’re less likely to lose customers in the cracks. That’s a good thing, but the better result is that you’ll be able to create meaningful customer experiences because you will truly know your customer, not just a snapshot of their activity.

Execute Everywhere in Real Time

While it’s essential to collect all the data you can, and critical that you integrate it into a single picture, none of that work will do you any good if you can’t act on that information in real time. That’s why the third step to creating a framework for multichannel marketing is real time execution everywhere.

But though it’s tempting to focus on speed (real time has become something of a buzzword with the rise of programmatic), it’s just as important to get the challenge's scope right. It’s nice to serve up a relevant banner ad in real time, but the goal is to be able to align marketing across all touch points and channels (mobile, email, social, etc.) in real time. As for speed, real time really does mean real time. Data loses its value as time elapses between signal and action. Conversely, the faster you can execute on your data, the more valuable that data becomes.

Building a true framework for cross channel marketing isn’t as easy or as fast as pressing a button. That framework is an enterprise-wide solution, and the only force that can bring all of the necessary pieces together is senior-level leadership. What is needed is careful consideration of infrastructure issues and how effective integration with third-party vendors can be accomplished.

That process is underway at many companies today as marketers drive toward a more holistic understanding of consumers in an increasingly complicated and fragmented environment. The question is how quickly and how well will marketers adopt this new framework so that they can deliver a better customer experience?

Title image by Mark Ramsey (Flickr) via a CC BY 2.0 license