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EP #7: Overcoming Data Challenges to Fuel Omnichannel Personalization at Scale

About this Podcast

As part of our #PersonalizationThursdays serieswe interviewed Namrata Balwani, a leading Martech Influencer, Marketing and Growth Consultant based out of the UAE. Namrata shares valuable insights on the following:

  • How businesses need to adapt in terms of their work (from home) culture, data analytics, and marketing strategy during these current times
  • The key data challenges that businesses encounter while trying to develop an effective marketing and personalization strategy
  • Examples of brands that are acing their predictive product recommendation game to increase user engagement and conversions
  • How brands can identify the fine line between personalization and over-personalization
  • The future of digital marketing that puts equal emphasis on both the adtech and martech domains

Tune in to listen to Namrata’s take on all things customer data, personalization, and marketing adaptability!

Episode Transcripts

Pradyut Hande{Host): “ Hi guys, welcome to a brand new episode of the Martechno Beat, a specially curated podcast series powered by Netcore Smartech. Where we talked to thought leaders, martech influencers, and leading growth practitioners across Industries and geographies where they give their two cents on how Brands can unlock new ways of growth through the application of both marketing and technology together. Today’s special episode I have with me, none other than Namrita Balwani, one who is a marketing customer experience and growth consultant with over 20 years of experience based out of UAE. Welcome to the episode Namrita. I’m so glad to have you with us today.”

Namrita Balwani: “Thank you so much Pradyut, it’s good to be here.”

Pradyut Hande{Host): “ To begin with, how are things there? We live in unusual times. It’s bizarre. It’s unprecedented and the need of the hour is obviously flexible and adaptable, but it doesn’t take away from the fact that these are extremely uncertain times.”

Namrita Balwani: “Definitely Pradyut. I don’t know whether everyone feels it. But I definitely feel it’s hard to think about businesses usually when there is so much going on. I’m sure that a lot of people are in the same boat. You have continued work, but it is still always around you right so I just hope we can all pull through it, but always practice social distancing and stay home and stay safe right now.”

Pradyut Hande{Host): “Very well said, and I think in that context it’s also important. We spoke about how we need to evolve as human beings in a situation like this. You mentioned very importantly that businesses also need to evolve because you know these and there’s no playbook to operate in a situation like this. No one is actually prepared..”

Namrita Balwani: “Absolutely. Absolutely. I think I was also hoping that we’re seeing that the business has been talking about remote work for a long time. Now say a big change. We saw the series of tweets by the CEO today. He tweeted about the past three weeks”.

Pradyut Hande{Host): “Correct.”

Namrita Balwani: “And the business has rapidly changed so some of these things were much needed, but yes a lot of companies have been caught unaware and it is obviously difficult to adapt to work home and figure how it works but also try to innovate and stay in the current situation at the same time. So definitely a hard time for everyone.”

Pradyut Hande{Host): True, I think the name of the game in a situation like this is adaptability while maintaining your Competitive Edge. Yeah. I think that’s the way forward for businesses and the fact that this is happening across geographies and across Industries is again food for thought for senior leadership and management.

Namrita Balwani: “Definitely, I think one big thing that I do see coming out of this is how much businesses have traditionally built more online definitely need to have a consistent and reliable online presence that goes beyond your marketing.” 

Pradyut Hande{Host): “Right” 

Namrita Balwani: “Marketing Online of course, but having your product and services in some way that adapt to be online. World something that you know that you have been talking about but it’s definitely gonna change in how fast it is adopted now.”

Pradyut Hande{Host): “Right, very true, I think very valid point there and then actually brings me to my first question of this episode, you know, we’ve seen how businesses grapple with unifying that data across online and offline challenges channel is actually as so what do you believe are some of the most common challenges that brands or companies face while implementing actionable insights from granular data with regards to their marketing or personalization efforts.”

Namrita Balwani: “Right, One of the big challenges is very simple I think with a lot of traditional businesses that also have an online presence now having firstly the historical data, which is trying to extract it from a lot of Legacy systems at its own level of difficulty.

Pradyut Hande{Host): “ Right.”

Namrita Balwani: “And once you extract it, you know, the fact is you build a single customer you need significant investment in understanding. What is your data calling you? What is a unifier? How do you decide what is the unifier of your data and then what are the tools and Technology you need to make that happen is of course one side of it, right? But I think another critical point is just in terms of having the right skill sets in companies and people being able to understand how data drives a lot of decisions a day.

Pradyut Hande{Host): “Right.”

Namrita Balwani: “ And it’s not data just from the perspective of marketing only but it is about saying can a person who typically implements in a marketing campaign and maybe has not relied on a lot of real-time data be able to adapt. You know, how do you serve customer Journey for real-time data adoption as supposed historically what marketers have done in other mediums, which rely on any fact and data to make decisions. Today you have to change every day. So less another challenge and I think the third is that as much as a marketer, companies try to understand the customer journey. It is shifting all the time.

Pradyut Hande{Host): “True, well true.”

Namrita Balwani: “And newer technology, whether it’s voice technology, whether it’s a lot of AI, is changing the way customers are also behaving and it’s pretty much like it cannot try to run a race while trying to sync up all at the same time, right? So these are the three big challenges.“

Pradyut Hande{Host): “Okay, and how would these challenges  vary for a market like the UAE would they be vastly different from what you would see in other Emerging Markets?”

Namrita Balwani: “I wouldn’t say they are mostly different. But this is also a market where the share of online and e-commerce has been lower as compared to other reasons.” 

Pradyut Hande{Host): “Right.” 

Namrita Balwani: “It’s changing now but so far. It’s been lower and second, I said also these are some of the Emirates that have been heavily driven by retail and took fall into malls. And these are the big changes that need to happen. For example, we have taking about to the current situation the Dubai Mall has decided to partnered with Noon.com and create a complete online storefront for their businesses

Pradyut Hande{Host): “ Okay,

 Namrita Balwani: “But so far a lot of things have been very physically driven. And so here the big challenge for most companies is building a single customer view because it’s fundamentally hard to do still”.

Pradyut Hande{Host): Right, correct, in lots of my conversations with industry insiders from that market. You see the transition of a lot of traditional retail, physical businesses that are now moving into the e-commerce space gradually and I think this particular outbreak and pandemic will only exacerbate that particular situation where they would have to rely on online channels to drive sales.

Namrita Balwani: “See a lot of weaker businesses have had their e-com channels and most of the bigger companies operate here, but it is the linking of all the data, you know, the physical data the Loyalty program data and the e-com data together, which is the challenge for them”

Pradyut Hande{Host): This means that it opens up the requirement and the potential opportunity for the implementation of customer data Platforms in a situation like this.

Namrita Balwani: “ Definitely, you know a couple of years ago TMP is something that several large companies have invested in. But the overall time you see more privacy and the fact of first-party data is becoming more and more important. CDP is definitely becoming the need of the hour as fast as the presentation to cope with here now talking about the CDP first of the role of data and how you should look at it.”

Pradyut Hande{Host): “ Right.” 

Namrita Balwani: “It is definitely a point of interest and I see across industry Industries whether it’s not only retail but banking obviously and it was Hospitality until of course, you see, you don’t know what is the state of hospitality. The industry is going forward, but it’s definitely a big area of their interest as well.”

Pradyut Hande{Host): Okay, and then that actually brings me to my next question. We spoke about the key data challenges that businesses encounter and it brings me to ask you. What do you think is the significance of delivering personalized customer experiences in today’s market? What do you think? How do you think businesses can go about delivering those seamless user experiences across channels and platforms?

Namrita Balwani: “ Right just look at personalization, you know initially personalization used to be a part of the recognition guide that a company or brand recognizes why I am to recognize my past purchases. They recognize what is important to me”.

 Pradyut Hande{Host): “Right” 

 Namrita Balwani: “But I think the very basic level of recognition and personalization when you look at what actual customers want is personalization that helps them through the buying journey. So it makes it easy to complete the purchase. We already know what they typically buy out of the fire five items for example or it could be another example if a grocery startup today knows that they never bought any meat product. They don’t they don’t need to give coupons for meat products.”

Pradyut Hande{Host): “ Right, because they see it relevant to you.”

Namrita Balwani: “Exactly, which traditionally retail have not been able to do because they had coupled the store in just standard coupons it’s not extra anything and the other part of personalization is saying does it reward me or teach me something new. These are all areas I think that drag me to move toward. Most companies today are still doing what’s called field excursion, like your name, your past purchase, your amount you may have spent last time, or its rules-based segmentation.”

Pradyut Hande{Host): “Right.”

Namrita Balwani: “ And this is the kind of personalization today even companies should not talk about even this but this tends to bring hollowness today. And what means to change I think is what is called predictive personalization”

Pradyut Hande{Host): “ Correct” 

Namrita Balwani: “And of course, you need a whole host of data and you need a recommendation and real-time optimization and segmentation and that to me is to personalization rather than just sending me a message saying “Hey we missed you “ because to me that kind of messages, everyone, that’s kind of masses. So what is the big relevance of that”

Pradyut Hande{Host): “That’s true, that’s true because that basic generic level of personalization as we were also seen just doesn’t cut it in this market anymore because your customers need demand greater relevance in context and unless you’re unable to do that as a brand they are willing to you know to part with their screen share, wallet share and with their you don’t mind share and go to other branch.

Namrita Balwani: “Yes, just to give you an example of how of course these are tough times and everyone has caught unaware by trying some marketing critical of any brand at present. Right, but at just as an example, you know, the gyms in this reason for shut down a couple of or maybe a ten days ago or so, they announced the closure of the gym and then a couple of days later, I got a message from a  gym trainee, and that said first three words were “Hey we missed you and then talked about logging to their app. You know, for a workout. Now the first part we miss you was not relevant because we all know that the gym is closed later. It would have been you not able to work out at home or log on to an app now or something.”

Pradyut Hande{Host): “ Correct”

Namrita Balwani: “ These are just a small thing, but make a difference.

Pradyut Hande{Host): “ No, absolutely, because while the experience, you know, every brand is a stand to build personalization experience, there is so much they can do with regard to messaging also.“

Namrita Balwani: “Definitely, I think you know the creativity and the cons personalization can change drastically if you are able to do real-time. Correct segmentation and real-time analysis of what people have done in the past and then look at your creative channel rather than it’s still looking at creating something which lets me just think is a hundred keywords and adapt messaging with these hundred keywords for example.”

Pradyut Hande{Host): “ Right, right while you cited the example of a gym chain whose messaging was probably not on point or was noncontextual at the moment. Could you share examples of some brands that you think are doing a fabulous job when it comes to racing their personalization strategy?

Namrita Balwani: “ I have always been a huge fan of Shifora and Shifora where you look at what they do, even in a store and the personalization level is extremely bright. They have been dedicated to understanding your need and giving you the right product, but when it comes to how they emerged online and offline because in the Sephora app when you put in on this store, you can have the store more than give you additional recommendations on the basis what you just see, have done that one side of this and second side is that you know, even it looks at the recommendation. I have always found the Shifora the recommendation as to how it works is really really good,

Pradyut Hande{Host): “ Right” 

Namrita Balwani: “And it always tends to give you free music that even when they do they have certain gift items and you can add that online . It will give three or four things that you can add for free for samples. Even those are always pretty relevant to what your purchase history has been. It’s not just a sample for the sake of the sample.”

Pradyut Hande{Host): “ Right”

Namrita Balwani: “ I think for Shifora is one of the brands they have also which is why they have customers who are so loyal to them and their loyalty program really works. For me, that’s one of the biggest examples. The second. I mean, we all know that Amazon but I would say Amazon is even compared to Netflix or even compared to a lot of online services. Definitely, the hyper-personalization that Amazon has is much much higher right because they have so much data that they analyzed for such a long period of time most of the stuff that they recommended is always very pointed towards an individual and that is really personalization is very changing from direct marketing, which was one is to one to another of mass media, then we went to digital and now personalization or hyper-personalization pretty much going back to one is to one marketing that existed we back when.”

 Pradyut Hande{Host): True and it was interesting that you cited the example of Shifora now, even in our experience working with a lot of e-commerce platforms. We realize that the importance of a very very well-rounded recommendation engine cannot be downplayed because that essentially becomes your tool to ensure that your customers or your users are receiving exactly what they want. It’s shortening parts to conversion. It’s going to help them bring them back to your website or app. So its value cannot be downgraded at all.

Namrita Balwani: “Right”

Pradyut Hande{Host):  And I think another important aspect in this is that when you talk about a recommendation engine or hypo personalization strategies those recommendations don’t just stop on the homepage or on the app. It’s something that has to happen at multiple digital touchpoints whether you’re leveraging email, SMS push notifications. I think that’s something that the brands should also focus on.

Namrita Balwani: “ Right, I think the same challenges. There are a lot of Journey occurrences required for investment in tools and definitely not everybody today has invested in tools to that level but it is really important because when you think about marketing today.”

Pradyut Hande{Host): “Correct”

Namrita Balwani:  “Though marketing without having the right, not technology drives marketing but technology is the backbone of marketing.”

Pradyut Hande{Host): “ True,true”

Namrita Balwani: “ And so when you want to sink this journey, say if I sent you an SMS, but you don’t respond. I will give you the same notification when you log into my app, right you gotta think why you haven’t responded and what else I should give you instead that’s gonna make a difference”. 

Pradyut Hande{Host): “Right, now that’s very true because at the end of the day, you know, your users are your customers are looking for value and you know, the faster you deliver it to them and the more contextual you make your messaging the greater the chances of sticking by you and you getting the chance to drive up your user retention and loyalty. So now that we spoke about personalization and how it’s critical for brands to focus on that but a lot of personalization depends upon the amount of data that users are comfortable sharing with the brand now, where do you think Brands need to draw the line between personalization and over personalization?”

Namrita Balwani: “I think that’s a great question because if you are increasingly looking at the scenario where people are worried about what brand they are doing with their data and the fact that obviously there is a regulation that increasingly covers across the world on how you can extract data. We also saw examples of studies. That would have been done that said that a lot of people find certain things very creepy. For example, there is an extended study that shows that 41 percent of people would find it very creepy with the texture of men while they are walking off to find a store.”

Pradyut Hande{Host): “ Okay okay”. 

Namrita Balwani: “So these are that you know, all, for example, 35 percent people actually find it creepy to find ads on social media or with items that you browsed on a website right, now this is something everybody does but I think the Fact is we have to be aware of people are asking about questions, right? And this is therefore to 0 party data by understanding data that is declared by Customers and it’s gonna be increasingly important, right and I do feel that if you do think around your messages and understand it. It doesn’t sound creepy or it actually sounds useful”

Pradyut Hande{Host): “ Right”

Namrita Balwani: “ This is a place to stand in absence of not going but your customers appreciate its messaging or not, right certainly the 0 party data, getting Customers to give you information to understand what they want to give you or what they don’t want to give you, correct. But on the Big Challenge, I think the personalization today is the lack of knowing where to stop, you know Brands continue to let’s say have the shopping cards, messaging following for your answer for several weeks”

Pradyut Hande{Host): “ Correct”

Namrita Balwani: “ but probably it means some data modeling to understand at what point that curves start going downward where people stop responding to that kind of messaging. So knowing when to stop can also be driven by data and we need to invest as much as in that and understand customers and segmentation and messaging and all of that.”

Pradyut Hande{Host): “ Very, true and very interesting point. So I think you know a marketer is a kin to a child in a candy store when you have so much data and insights to play with one can tend to get carried away and would not know when to stop pressing pause on the entire personalization game plan. So interesting observations there and that actually brings me to my final question for this episode. We’ve seen so much evolve over the last five-six years when it comes to Martech when it comes to multi-channel marketing automation when it comes to Predictive Analytics. Where do you think Namrita the industry is headed now? What do you think is the future of digital and mobile marketing?

Namrita Balwani:  “One big area that I see. And obviously, everybody sees the role of an AI right but I think for me the adoption of AI is not only about the ad serving or making it modulation, but it also goes back into understanding what is the marketing data telling to back to optimize your product and services.” 

Pradyut Hande{Host): “Right”? 

Namrita Balwani: “So today a lot of AI focused on how customers are responding and how we, therefore, segment them better and how we target them better but we gotta also start looking at things in which brands can change their supply chain. So they change the physical outlet they have or they change the kind of features they have in their application and they direct the result of what kind of data is telling us. The kind has to start flowing the other way. That’s one and I think the second of course, is that a lot of the programmatic side where we see challenges in the way that you don’t understand whether the ad actually means the person doesn’t understand what is the fraud level or there is the high fraud level certainly and increasingly brands are getting into it. That’s another area where I think AI will play a big role and try to understand whether the actual human and eyeballs are seeing your marketing campaign.”

Pradyut Hande{Host): “ Okay.”

Namrita Balwani: “ If so far we have a safety score and safety matrix is still not the level that you are able to understand how much of your money is spent. So I think that is another area where a lot of things should change from the media side of things.”

Pradyut Hande{Host): “Okay” 

Namrita Balwani: “And the third change I think is that I spoke about it in terms of predicted personalization, but also going across the board on every channel, so not just about Amazon.  So today if I log on to a brand with its online website and don’t do any predictive serving on content. It is content personalization that also gonna makes a big change to so why would I continuously see some home page for a Store or a hotel that we go to the Myriad website to see the same point that would be another change that would happen where content personalization is not  only around social media but also around volumes.”

Pradyut Hande{Host): “ True, at the end of the day every time a user visits a website or launches an app they would want to see something that’s contextual to them”.

Namrita Balwani: “I think it’s you know when we talk about context as I said when going back one is to one it is fundamentally hard to understand that right. Because we need a lot of data to build a context. Would it really effectively change that app for every single person or would you still do it in batches? So those are the things we still have to see.”

Pradyut Hande{Host): “ Correct”

Namrita Balwani: “But there are lots of tools out there that enable it today. I think what is missing so far is a lot of focus has been on the advertising side of things but it has to start growing back into a brand product. And these are typically brand products that are not tech startups if they are tech startups they already have increased. We’re gonna see changes on the other businesses now”.

Pradyut Hande{Host):  That makes a lot of sense and I think our listeners are going to benefit a lot from The Cutting Edge and insights that you provided Namrita. Thank you so much for making the time. It’s been an absolute pleasure hosting you.

Namrita Balwani: “ Thank you so much Pradyut, it’s a good chat, please stay safe. Thank you.

Pradyut Hande{Host): Absolutely, you too, we shall definitely reconnect when the lockdown is not in order.”

Namrita Balwani: “Definitely”

Pradyut Hande{Host): “Thank you so much.”

 

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