Mapping the Consumer Journey Through Ambient Data: Q&A with Ken Parnham, Near

Data is becoming a plentiful resource as we enter the era of hyper-connectivity; and with 45 billion connected devices due to be in use by 2023, volumes are only set to grow. While this gives marketers and enterprises a wealth of information, mining the meaningful insight needed to understand consumer journeys can be challenging. ExchangeWire speaks with Ken Parnham, general manager Europe, Near, about ‘ambient intelligence’ and its ability to solve this issue by providing a granular, unified consumer view.

ExchangeWire: What opportunities can a hyper-connected world offer marketers and enterprises?

Ken Parnham: In brief, it offers the chance to create a hyper-detailed picture of consumers, including their activity, habits, and needs. With connected technology becoming an integral part of everyday life, consumers are generating a plethora of real-time data gathered from signals sent out when they use smartphones, assistants, or wearables. Of course, these signals are non-personally identifiable (PII), but the deep insight they produce can still be harnessed to build a unified view of individuals, and their omnichannel journeys.

For example, marketers and enterprises can utilise data touchpoints to identify which stores consumers prefer, where they like to eat, or their local gym. They can also trace online and offline purchases or brand interactions to pinpoint which stage consumers have reached on their unique path to purchase. With such information at their fingertips, marketers and enterprises can ensure messages are tailored to their target audience and served at the ideal moment, maximising relevancy and engagement, as well as improving the user experience. Better still, the ability to trace consumer movements across multiple touchpoints can also help inform areas such as product development. With real-time analytics both online and in real-world footprints, decisions about how products can be improved, or where they should be sold, can be made faster and with greater precision.

What challenges are marketers and enterprises facing with greater connectivity?

The most significant challenge connectivity brings is also its strongest asset: data. With the number of global connected devices due to top eight billion this year, the majority of consumers now have near-constant access to an array of digital content, products, and services; and the more they use their devices, the more data they create. On the one hand, this data opens the door to unprecedented personalisation. But on the other, the sheer quantity of it can be overwhelming; especially when we consider that not all of it is useful for specific audiences.

Additionally, with so much information flowing in from different sources, it’s not uncommon for datasets to become fragmented, which makes it difficult to join up the various pieces of consumer journeys. This means there is a risk messages could be irrelevant, or repeatedly delivered to individuals via different touchpoints, fuelling consumer frustration and wasting precious marketing budgets. The good news, however, is that with the right tools, data can be tamed and turned into actionable, pertinent insight.

What is ‘ambient intelligence’, and what does it mean for the future of marketing?

Essentially, ‘ambient intelligence’ is a term used to describe cohesive data analysis, driven by artificially intelligent (AI) tools. It works by collating and assessing data signals from multiple environments, such as purchase records, social media activity, location, credit scores, and WiFi usage. Once integrated and analysed, the overall pool of information allows marketers to gain a 360º view of target audiences, no matter which in which vertical they operate. And that’s not all, they can also move with consumers from one touchpoint to another, learning about their individual likes and dislikes and adapting messaging accordingly throughout their entire journey.

The implication of this for the future is a revolution in efficiency. Marketers no longer have to make assumptions based on isolated touchpoints. They can utilise reliable insights about each consumer to create better, more resonant campaigns – and allocate spend wisely. They need never take another uncertain step again.

How can marketers and enterprises benefit from a unified view of consumers?

Primarily, a unified view of the consumer provides a basis for forging closer relationships that fuel engagement, loyalty, and sales. With complete comprehension of individual identity and tastes, marketers and enterprises can adjust communications to always strike the right personal chord.

But it’s not just about targeting. Linking online and offline activity can also enable businesses to enhance performance and revenue in multiple departments, including operations, sales, and customer relationship management (CRM). Retailers are a prime example: they can use signals from mobile interactions with their brand and demographic data to define the best location for new stores or leverage visitor insight (like peak visitation times and purchase rates) to optimise their in-store approach. Our own research into events such as Black Friday, for instance, has shown that consumer groups attracted to UK shopping centres were notably different. Bluewater mostly appealed to female shoppers aged 46 or above, while Liverpool ONE was a popular choice for 26-35 year old males. Such insight is invaluable for discount, display, and product planning.

Why is it difficult for enterprises to achieve a unified consumer view?

Speed is a crucial factor in today’s market. Enterprises must rapidly consolidate, decode, and put data into action if they are to beat competitors. And this adds even more pressure to the already hard task of managing the massive data emanating from smart devices. Thus, it’s not hard to understand the temptation to take data shortcuts, such as basing messaging on the first touchpoint instead of mapping individual journeys as a unified whole. But this can lead to irrelevant communications and consumer irritation that outweighs time-saving benefits. A consumer, for example, might download a fitness app in the morning, but order a takeaway using their laptop in the evening. If an enterprise only looks at the first touchpoint, they could fall into the trap of pigeonholing the individual as a health fanatic and target them as such, when in fact their interest in the subject is minor. To guard against inaccuracies, marketers need to track consumer habits across devices. By far the simplest solution is to partner with advanced technology providers with robust quality control measures, verifying sources to avoid errors or duplication and attribution across devices, so no touchpoint is missed.

As mentioned in ExchangeWire.