Data-Driven Storytelling: Personalised Experiences in CRM and One-to-One Marketing

By Peter Holgate, Chief Strategy Officer, MRM UK

When it comes to CRM and marketing systems, it can be very easy to forget that underneath all the data and technology is a real human being who you want to engage with your brand. Marketers can end up taking a very systematic approach, forgetting to form a personal relationship with their customer.

At a time when consumers expect the brands they buy from to know and understand them, a systematic approach is no longer good enough. But by taking a data-driven approach to storytelling in the realm of CRM and one-to-one marketing, brands can create personalised experiences and form relationships that truly resonate with customers and create loyalty .

There are two sides to data-driven storytelling, both of which are extremely powerful for brands. The first is the functional side, using often publicly available data from across the customer journey to contextualise the brand story and make it relevant to people’s daily lives.

If you were trying to persuade more people to hire e-bikes in Leeds, for example, you might couple data on bike availability with data on road traffic to target commuters with digital ads at train stations.

But that data is usually available to everyone. The second side is therefore to make that functional story more personally and emotionally impactful by speaking to something that resonates with individual customers in their everyday lives. It’s this which creates a brand experience people want to talk about.

This might mean looking at demographic data to better understand your core audiences and ensure the experience can eliminate pain points. Young teens, commuters, families and active people over-65 might all be potential e-bike riders, but they likely have different motivations. Families might care strongly about the local community, for instance, while commuters want to get to the things they care about quickly and cheaply.

Marketers can then take this one step further to create truly personalised experiences using their CRM and one-to-one marketing capabilities. Suppose an airline knows I’ve flown as part of a family before. They should therefore be able to recognise that next time I’m travelling through an airport with five tickets, I’m likely travelling with my family again. If my flight is delayed, they might then give me different benefits compared to if I was travelling alone.

True customer engagement means choosing the best thing for each customer based on who they are and their circumstances all with the goal of forming an emotional connection. The result is a customer experience which is quicker, easier, and considerably more engaging.

Getting it right and avoiding the pitfalls

To execute this data-driven storytelling approach effectively, marketers must think about the entire customer journey and how everything plays into it, from data planning and having the right tech stack, to communications strategy and user experience (UX). How does it all connect into a cohesive experience and ecosystem?

The challenge is that these four areas are rarely controlled within one team. When four sets of people are all pulling in different directions, it inevitably poses a barrier to crafting truly personalised customer experiences. That’s why we advocate for bringing together expertise in communications, technology, data and design to help brands emotionally connect with their audiences.

But at the same time, marketers need to avoid falling into the trap of trying to do everything. Often the problem with CRM and one-to-one marketing is that there are so many levers to pull and so many consumer touch points in play that we go along making small improvements everywhere which don’t add up to anything. It doesn’t build any momentum.

In fact, it can be the smallest moments of good customer experience which have the biggest impact. Like that famous story of a teenager who tweeted that they were stuck in a Virgin Trains toilet with no toilet paper, only for a staff member to have some personally delivered to them.

Virgin is generally incredibly strong at recovering when things go wrong in its customer experience. They utterly over-index on fixing things in a human way, turning a potentially negative experience into a positive one.

For every brand, there will be a handful of critical points in the customer relationship where they need to perform. If you can find those inflection points and focus on them, they create a halo effect across the brand, while the rest of the experience runs itself.

There are generally two categories of business this data-driven storytelling approach proves particularly effective for. The first is those which have an owned digital ecosystem, like an app, loyalty scheme or ecommerce platform. In those worlds, customers are completely reliant on brands to guide them through the experience.

The second is brands which have strong communications at the top of the funnel, but struggle to turn that into an ongoing relationship with customers. Car companies, telecommunications firms and insurance businesses all have a habit of going dark once that TV ad has gone out.

Success ultimately comes back to understanding who your customers are. It comes back to combining the functional and emotional sides and working out which parts of the customer’s relationship with your brand actually matter to them. What are you connecting to in their life and how can you dial up those moments in the right way?

It’s about putting people back into the relationship you’re trying to build. Without a person to listen, you don’t have a story to tell.