Is it the right time for real time for Asia’s SMEs?

As technology lowers the barriers to entry across a multitude of industries, it is increasingly hard for SMEs to gain the attention of their target audience’s attention in today’s saturated information landscape. Consumers receive a constant stream of offers and marketing communications from an array of brands and sectors across myriad channels, ranging from app notifications to email and social media,

To help break through the noise, many brands are looking to real-time marketing, a strategy aimed at delivering the right personalised message at the right time to address a customer’s ever-changing needs. In fact, according to research by Resulticks, 65 percent of SEA brands have identified real-time marketing as a priority for 2019, making it the most widely prioritised marketing strategy in the region.

While the adoption of real-time marketing has been largely driven by innovations around AI, machine learning and marketing automation, there is still a need for marketeers to have a foundational framework to get the most out of this strategy. This is especially relevant because 39 percent of SEA brands that participated in the same survey indicated they were faced with too much data to implement an effective omnichannel marketing strategy.

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Understanding Customer Journeys

A foundation of real-time strategy is how customer data and marketing professionals’ understanding of their customers can be combined to identify opportunities.

Take for example the rise of FSI SMEs that have created savings and investment apps that takes into consideration the factors surrounding when a customer will begin the discovery process for a financial product. Instead of ads highlighting an attractive interest rates, brands in the FSI SME industry are looking to identify potential customers by finding those who are at pivotal points in their lives, such as those who have recently gotten married, or are starting a new job.

Though this sounds logical, understanding your target audience’s broader needs and individual inclinations and then identifying these pivotal moments is simultaneously the greatest opportunity and the most formidable challenge for brands. Why? Because doing this requires brands to pursue a 360-degree customer view and then deliver  real-time engagement at the individual level .

So, what does real-time mean for SME brands?

For many SMEs, real-time marketing works as an extension of what they already strive to do: understand customers better and give them what they need in a timely manner. The difference, though, comes down to the scale and depth of the new concepts.

With a 360-degree customer view, a brand can accurately identify the customer despite the proliferation of digital identities across touchpoints, and they will also get a comprehensive, constantly evolving view of that customer’s interests, propensities, responses to campaigns and communications and their individual customer journey in addition to a diverse range of insights.

Though many SMEs know real-time marketing already, the speed of real time has changed the way companies can give customers what they need. Businesses can now set up automated systems that react in real time to both external factors and customer triggers – this speeds up go-to-market timings and can push the most relevant products at critical points for customers. In this regard, SMEs have an advantage as they are typically more agile and less likely to be burdened by legacy systems as compared to their larger competitors.

Going back to the example of a startup investment platform, a brand looking to offer investment products to its customers should first examine their 360-degree customer views to identify when a customer is most likely to search for the product. By predicting this customer behaviour, the brand can then take into consideration key factors such as a change in how the customer uses the app, or external triggers, like searching for advice on investing. A combination of these factors could be se tup to trigger an automated campaign targeted at this user across various channels.

Take car loans, for example. An automated campaign can be triggered in real time by external events, such as a drop in COE prices in Singapore or loan interest rates in other SEA countries. Then, targeted marketing can go out in real time to a customer demographic already pre-identified to be looking for this type of loan.

How can SME players get started?

Many SME brands turn to third-party platforms for customer database management, analytics and integrated marketing. Though these platforms can provide scale and best-in-breed specialised innovations that can help SME players focus on developing their key competencies, marketers still need to understand the essentials to make the most of these.

To get started, brands should begin by compiling data from multiple functions and traditional silos. This will allow the analytics engine access to a comprehensive data pool to begin identifying patterns, which are essentially relationships between customer data sets. For example, analytics can identify the factors that signal when a client will likely to buy their first investment product. This analytics engine should, of course, also consider external factors, such as seasonal behaviors, changes in the market or even when consumer trend changes take place.

These insights can also extend beyond marketing needs to the product planning process. For example, these analytics engines can identify the top products and features people look for. This data can then be factored into the product designs for the customer segment.

Once these insights have been used to develop a 360-degree customer view, marketeers can translate this information into a real-time marketing strategy. A real-time campaign is typically run by a rules-based engine, which delivers highly contextual interactions based on specific triggers. While analytics can help identify opportunities, marketers also need to pinpoint the triggers and actions that are most relevant to the target audience and most conducive to their specific campaign goals and overall marketing objectives.

For instance, a travel brand looking to promote their new destination could identify triggers that signal when a customer will be most receptive to its marketing messages, such as when a customer would be more inclined to new experiences and matching that to when they are most likely to make a travel purchase.

By identifying the right triggers and pairing them up with a deeper and more comprehensive understanding of customers, SME players can go to market with much more timely and impactful messages – ultimately driving the efficiency of their marketing campaigns, while also being more relevant to their target audience.