The outbreak of coronavirus has given data-driven strategy its moment in the spotlight, writes Huw Fulcher, data scientist at Appnovation

The past eight months have seen plenty of curveballs for retailers and brands to grapple with, but one thing is certain: data rules all. Even before the tumultuous events of lockdown, data-driven organisations were 23 times more likely to outperform their competitors in acquiring new customers. The dramatic spike in online retail since March has magnified this ability, making strong data insights not only a necessity but a superpower in an age of perennial unease.

Companies with robust data sets have used this knowledge to navigate the tectonic shift that’s taken place on both sides of the supply and demand model as a result of Covid-19. They’ve been able to react nimbly to market changes, but also adapt their personalisation efforts in a way that builds lasting consumer loyalty.

Image: Stephen Dawson, Unsplash

For brands who’ve not been as agile, the crisis has created the catalyst needed to press pause and revisit their data strategy. Here’s what the pandemic has taught us about using data to bridge that gap, and realign quickly to behavioural changes caused by external events.

Building resilience and reactivity

Data is a lens by which businesses can make rapid, strategic and informed decisions: and coronavirus has thrown the need for this optic into sharp relief. As Tim Steiner, Chief Executive at Ocado, puts it: “As a result of Covid-19, we have seen years of growth in the online grocery market condensed into a matter of months.”

When faced with such a huge uptick in consumer behaviour, it’s no longer enough for companies to simply capture raw data. Instead they must refine it into a series of precise and accessible insights that form the basis of every decision made.

Not only that, but data sets should be continually monitored and reassessed in response to outside events, too. The outbreak of Covid-19 has flung down the gauntlet between businesses who “set and forget” their data insights, and those who use them to delve deeper, and respond decisively to sudden behavioural changes.

The latter group have been able to fall back on a large and reliable analytics “backbone” to quickly reposition their personalisation engines and predictive models based on shifting consumer needs. This enables better, faster decisions at all levels of business, putting into play rapid progress that acts as a buffer to ongoing uncertainty.

More importantly, however, a strong data strategy means companies can take advantage of the new surplus of data created by the surge in online demand before their competitors do.

They can use this data to reposition their personalisation efforts quickly deploying changes to their website, email or app services but also to carve out fresh opportunities with new audience segments.

Data analysis thereby becomes a framework for refining digital services on a dime, allowing brands to both reassure existing customers and expand their reach with new demographics, harnessing consumer loyalty at every turn.

Equally, the events of 2020 are a warning cue for companies who lack this capacity to revisit their data strategy and shore up their defences.

A refined approach to marketing

Covid-19 has demonstrated the critical impact of data on marketing efforts, too.

Personalisation is no secret to marketeers. Emails with personalised subject lines are 26% more likely to be opened, while 72% of consumers say they will only engage with personalised messaging.

Tailored messaging, then, is a standard way to cut through generic, mass-marketing communication. But it’s become more acute during a global crisis when brand marketing can rapidly feel irrelevant or worse, tone-deaf. And while an ad or PR campaign is an easy solution in this situation, data-driven personalisation means brands can recognise different customers and connect with them on a deeper, more profound level.

As a brand, you can use the wealth of new and changing online data that’s emerged through lockdown to examine how your consumers are behaving on-site, and cross-reference it with different age categories or regional demographics.

For example, 56% of people aged over 75 struggle with digital literacy. Supermarkets serving this audience could find ways to hand-hold them as they grocery shop online for the first time under lockdown. This type of personalisation effort shows consumers that the brand cares about them, and creates a great opening experience, paving the way for lasting loyalty.

By building rich insights into consumer behaviour and preferences via your website, you can also identify different personas for marketing campaigns. And you may even be able to reverse engineer product placement by mapping existing customer segments and the products that they buy.

Social listening can form valuable data insights here, too. What are people saying about your brand on platforms like Facebook, Instagram or Twitter? What do they like and what do they complain about? Where are conversational spikes taking place?

While traditional focus groups still have a place in understanding consumers, this type of reactive social analysis will provide you with a more rounded and honest snapshot of public opinion.

Equally, search trend data is also important: especially when you can see marked shifts in what people are searching for in moments of crisis. For example during lockdown, our client, plant-based product company Alpro, leveraged search data to create content that would resonate with consumers stuck at home and looking for inspiration.

In order to capitalise on an increase in paid search for recipes on Instagram, the Alpro team created an #alproreciperescue campaign where users uploaded photos of items in their fridge and received a customised recipe based on the contents in return. Alpro also created reactive Instagram content based around trending searches such as Dalgona coffee.

These tailored content strategies didn’t require a huge amount of effort or budget, but they more than tripled engagement rates for the brand: a great reminder of the kind of powerful trade-off that comes with using your data effectively.

Loyalty in times of need

Alpro’s content initiative shows how the best kind of data strategies respond quickly to change and in a way that deepens customer loyalty via detailed insights into behaviour and preferences.

An omnichannel approach is a core part of this offering, allowing brands to bring together behavioural data such as wish lists and purchase actions into one seamless experience.

For example, the new IKEA Store app allows consumers to research products from home and check availability in store ahead of their visit. Once in store, they can find where their dream items are located and identify special offers that chime with their preferences on the move.

Similarly, the Starbucks app learns what you like to drink and at what time and where: knowledge that means you can skip the queue and have your order ready when you walk into a store at many US outlets.

This omnichannel interplay between online and store is a win all round: it helps brands to manage their inventory more efficiently, and builds a great experience for enhanced customer loyalty. It becomes even more apt in an age of social distancing, where consumers can plan ahead online to get in and out of a store quickly, or perhaps use a mapping tool to identify real-time footfall in nearby stores.

So, we can see that, with the correct privacy and consent mechanisms in play, a strong data strategy gives brands the edge in an event like Covid-19.

It carves out the flexibility to recognise and respond to changing consumer behaviour with targeted personalisation efforts. And this in turn engenders the kind of deep-seated understanding that consumers value now, midway through a crisis, more than ever.

Huw Fulcher will be discussing how food and beverage companies can approach new challenges in the digital marketplace at the Digital Food & Beverage Virtual Event on 2-3 September. Find out more and sign up for free here.

About Appnovation

Appnovation is a global full-service digital consultancy. We help businesses advance and inspire, create positive transformation, and champion digital innovation. Our expertise and knowledge is your expertise and knowledge: At Appnovation, we seamlessly integrate strategy, user experience, development, deployment, training and support.

We create breakthrough digital solutions by engaging and collaborating with our clients to understand the individual creative challenges and goals for every initiative. Embracing the power of technology, our global team delivers digital transformation that drives innovation, growth and ultimately business value.

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