This week kicked off with positive news for us all. A vaccine is ready to roll out, retailers can open 24/7 over the festive season and of course the countdown to Christmas has begun. Using this marketing momentum for retailers, the time to grab your consumers attention is now.

Direct Mail has seen a huge increase in engagement over this year. With more people than ever working from home and the need for more tangible and personal communication at an all-time high, 40% of consumers agreed that direct mail became a part of the new routine. We saw clients increase their mailing volumes month on month, and a recent campaign for a leisure retailer saw a huge 86% increase in sales as a result.

Direct mail offers a lasting, trusting and tactile form of engagement that plays an essential driving role for your customers brand journey. Research from Royal Mail – Marketsearch 2020 shows that 88% of consumers engaged more with direct mail in 2020 than ever before. Engagement and online traffic increased by 64% and online sales increase by 25%. However, direct mail can never reach it’s full potential without the addition of digital marketing and email communication. Email has a much shorter life span but delivers the immediate and up to date content to keep your brand present for the consumer. When primed with direct mail, customers spend 30% longer engaging with digital communication. The two side by side offer a unique brand experience – increasing brand engagement – instilling brand loyalty and providing timely and personal communication throughout.

To ensure these channels are utilised to the full, communication must be timely, accurate and compliant. With quality data, correct addressing and relevant content, the two can work seamlessly:

– Drive customer engagement
– Increase ROI
– Promote positive brand reputation

To find out how REaD Group can help you unleash the full potential of your data

Contact our team today!

Understand your customers with Actionable Insight

Anyone remember those TV adverts, with a guy trying to disguise himself as a new customer in order to get a better deal from a brand he already buys from? I can’t remember the brand it is advertising, but it strikes a familiar chord. We have all suffered the frustration of being suckered in by a great introductory rate only to get screwed on the year two cost. In fact, one of my friends was lamenting recently about how his one-year introductory price from his broadband provider was over and now the price was being hiked up.

At the same time, the Government has encouraged energy suppliers, banks and mobile phone providers to make it easier to switch. All you need to do now is send a text to move your mobile provider and it is incumbent on the bank to move all your Direct Debits to make it easier.

In the insurance sector, the aggregators have completely broken the model. Switching and checking prices across suppliers is easy. To win business, insurers are cutting costs and losing money on year one. This has created some bad PR, and new legislation to ensure that existing customers are not penalised is being suggested. To be fair, there has been a lot of activity recently to try and rectify this balance, and convince existing customers that they are getting as good a deal as new customers. That may even be what the advert is trying to tell us.

Attracting new customers is hard!

Despite all of this, and maybe what this shows, is that attracting new customers to your brand is hard. There is more competition than ever before. New entrants are increasing across all markets, many of whom need to “buy” new customers to demonstrate scale, as well as intermediaries who promise to find new customers at cheaper costs.

During the ‘80s, there was an adage that attracting new customers was six times more expensive than keeping an existing customer. I’d love someone to look at doing that calculation now. I would wager the price to acquire has gone down but that the movement between brands has increased massively.

As part of my role at the DMA on the Customer Engagement Committee, we have been looking at the role that brand engagement plays in the acquisition of new customers. It has thrown up some really interesting insights. What the brands who have a low year one cost are relying on is inertia: that once we move to a brand we won’t change. And in general, that is true, although inertia does vary by sector. However, 70% of people in the DMA survey said that they would consider moving if there was a better price available. So, while that inertia still exists, by chasing customers with lower prices we are actually creating more switchers every year – the irony.

The role of brand and channel

It is also true that brand plays a big part in acquisition. Only around 25% of people consider new brands when they are looking to buy for the first time. Having exposure to a brand name and feeling confident that they are quality and secure makes a difference. So new entrants do struggle, which is probably why they compete on cost.

The other interesting area is around channel and how brands find new customers. Nearly three-quarters of consumers chose email as either their first or second most preferred way to receive comms from new brands and nearly half suggested post was their favourite. At REaD Group we spend a lot of time helping people recruit new customers. And most of that happens through very traditional media channels – direct mail, telephone and e-mail.

We have a travel client, for example, who do really well recruiting new customers using PPC, SEO and digital display, but also do really well with off-the-page adverts. We worked with them to introduce good old direct mail into the mix – primarily to drive new brochure requests. And the results have been stunning, with people buying expensive holidays straight off the mailing. The ROI is over 500 to 1 and growing with each campaign.

While it is clear that what are generally considered as newer and more exciting media channels such as programmatic, social media and digital TV are playing an ever-increasing role in acquisition, what is also clear is that great use of data and targeting “offline” also works well. And actually, in reality, the clever brands are those that use all media channels to engage and then convert new customers.

As individuals we don’t think of channels at all. What we see are adverts for new and interesting products delivered in the most relevant ways. Whether that is on our favourite sites, on Facebook, through the post or in our inbox will depend on us as people. One size does not fit all!

So, overall, maybe chasing new customers based on price works but probably not for the long term. In the longer term, whether you are a new and exciting disruptor or an established brand looking to consolidate your market share, building a programme that starts with the brand and is backed with well targeted direct communications across a range of relevant channels is going to create a much more sustainable outcome.

Getting to know your customer

And at the heart of this is knowing the customer, knowing where they spend their time, what they are like and what they respond to. Whether inbound or outbound, the more we know about the consumer, the better our marketing will be. And this is equally true for new prospects as it is for existing customers.

In general, brands know a lot about their customers, particularly the behaviour they exhibit both in terms of how they come to buy the product they have and also what they buy while a customer. For example, brands like Sainsbury’s and Tesco have had detailed insights for years due to loyalty schemes. Online brands can see every transaction and tie it to an individual, they can see what is browsed before buying, how they have found the brand, and which offer they have come in on.

However, whether they understand their customers outside the context of their brand is up for debate. There is so much more to a person than what they buy from one brand. There is definitely a role for data sharing to help understand consumers more. Before GDPR there was the idea of data triangulation where brands considered swapping data to help infill what they don’t know. GDPR has pretty much killed this idea so that then leaves third party data and what can be done to enhance what is known about a customer.

Fortunately, there is more data than ever before that can be used inside what is legal, and what is ethically right, to enhance what brands know about their customers, where they live and the areas the live in. Third party data, open source data and other non-PII data can be transformative if applied correctly and intelligently.

No one needs to wear a disguise anymore: brands should know enough about both prospects and customers to be fair, clear and transparent on pricing.

With our data and insight, REaD Group can tell you more about your customers and prospects that any other provider.

Get in touch  to book in a chat with one of our team.

View our Download Here

This year REaD Group proudly sponsored the first online Insight in Fundraising Conference ever! Following a day packed with discussions on ‘Insight in a fast-changing world’, we explored the positive potential for insight driven supporter engagement, and addressed the challenges charities faced in 2020.

We heard from a range of charities and organisations; JustGiving, British Red Cross, The Children’s Society, Blind Veterans UK, Wood for Trees, Kew Gardens, National Deaf Children’s Society, St Ann’s Hospice, Lloyds, Sainsbury’s, Action for Children, Kidney Research UK, RNID, Prostate Cancer UK, Cats Protection, Shelter, Scope and Macmillan Cancer Support. All emphasising the importance of accurate data and knowing how to use it.

“In the middle of every crisis, lies great opportunity”

-Albert Einstein

The opportunities were there. With many marketing channels no longer an option, charities had to utilise what they had.  More supporters working from home, an increased engagement in direct mail and a huge increase in supporters ‘will to donate’. The foundations were laid out and ready for action! However, the next challenge for charities was utilising the few fundraising channels still available, and, setting the new goals to achieve them. We saw charities offer alternative gifting options, more focus on spending patterns and understanding customers WFH behaviour. Understanding supporters has never been more essential, and this is where customer insight, segmentation and data analysis comes in to its own.

Understanding your supporters and prospects is key! – and ensuring your data is accurate and complient is the way to get there. Many of the charities and organisations above have paved the way for data led marketing in an uncertain time. There is a light at the end of the tunnel and data is how to find it.

Download our Insight in Fundraising overview here 

Contact REaD Group today! 

 

Part of Rare Consulting’s COVID-19 Emerging Trends Series and with contribution from REaD Group’s Customer Engagement Director, Scott Logie, Grey Expectations: How Brands can Create Sustainable Growth with Consumers Aged 55+ explores why businesses need to get serious about targeting the older generations – particularly online, where many have shopped during the pandemic and now intend to stay.

This means showing more empathy of what marks them out as being different to other age groups; recognising their needs and desires; and understanding their choice drivers. Our findings have implications not just on how we communicate to them but also how we build services that create long-term value for brands and consumers.

“The industry talks about over-55s as being one group. But to treat 17 million people in the same way is madness. Segment and research them as a non-homogenous group of people.“There will need to be some experimentation with customer engagement and experience for this age group, depending on your product type. One of the things they still crave is human experiences. A challenge for retail and e-commerce is to humanise engagement. If they want to chat, they want to chat to a person, about price and options. You can’t yet do that with an automated chat function.”
Scott Logie Customer Engagement Director, REaD Group

Find out how empathy, engagement and customer experience are the keys to marketing to the over-55s

Download the paper

By Scott Logie

One of the outcomes of the Covid-19 pandemic and daily reporting of related stats is that we have probably all become quite a bit better acquainted with data. At the very least I’m pretty sure that almost everyone understands what the ‘R rate’ is.

Given that all this data is available, it is a surprise then that few organisations seems to be using this data in a marketing context. Now, more than ever, tailored, sensitive and responsible marketing communications are crucial. And the point is that we have the data available to drive it.  Despite this, examples of organisations who are doing so seem to be few and far between.

For good example of how data can be a powerful driver for impactful decision-making – take what has happened in Leicester in the last week.

As has been widely reported, Leicester is the first city in the UK to have their lockdown status increased. This situation could potentially have been avoided had the data been available so that local authorities could have sent out early warnings to help to minimised the chances of infection and lockdown.  Having the right data to hand allows one to be reactive to an ever-changing situation and to make better decisions. 

The world has changed dramatically – with less face-to-face contact and a corresponding increase in digital services – at the same time many individuals are newly suffering from financial difficulties. More than ever, brands need to be targeting different audiences according to their different needs, and the data exists to help them do just that.

Research from Kantar shows that only 8% of consumers think brands need to stop advertising during the COVID-19 outbreak, but their expectations of how a brand should be helping them are huge: 78% believe brands should help them in their daily lives; 75% said brands should inform people of what they are doing and 74% said companies should not exploit the situation.

We’ve talk often about the power of direct mail to reach people at home. Mail reaches everyone, engenders trust and gives reassurance, has a tangible impact, drives interaction and gets people online – there is plenty of research and stats from the Royal Mail to back this up.

Direct mail should never be a ‘one size fits all’ approach. As with all communication, it should be tailored differently to different audiences – especially those who are vulnerable audiences, the recently unemployed, the furloughed and the self-employed. Each of these audiences has very different needs, and brands must be aware of these. And identifying these is now very easy, thanks to data!

Since April 2020, REaD Group data partner More Metrics has made available datasets that estimate COVID-19 risk factors and infection rates across the UK at a neighbourhood level. These datasets contain 20 different measures of risk at a range of local geographies, using open source and GDPR-compliant data from REaD Group.

Not only can this data give you a greater insight into your customer base at local and national level, enabling you to maximise marketing and sales opportunities and operational efficiencies, but as you prepare to come out of lockdown, you can now add to this the fundamental requirement of customer and staff safety: in other words, how to open and operate safely within a COVID-19 world.

This data is free to use for a range of geographical areas including Parliamentary Constituency, Ward and CCG. If more granular data is required, the data is available at Postcode and attached to over 50m individual consented consumers.

Find out how REaD Group can help you to apply this data to make sensible, sensitive decisions and inform your marketing strategy, supporting data-driven decisions and responsible marketing.  Get in touch today! 

Scott Logie is customer engagement director at REaD Group.

 

 

 

 

Boxes and bags that read 'Black Friday' and 'Cyber Monday' on green background

By Scott Logie, MD, Insight at REaD Group

As the countdown to Christmas commences once again, we are nearing the now global phenomenon that is Black Friday. The introduction of deals and discounts allegedly pertaining to the occasion seems to get earlier every year – I’m fairly sure I’d already received an email offering Black Friday savings in the first week of November!?

The digital shift

It must be said, in the UK at least, that the event is considerably less stressful than it used to be – more perched casually on the sofa with a cup of tea and a laptop than fighting tooth and nail in your local Asda for a plasma TV. I’m in no way knocking the occasion, my wife and I always make the most of the offers available to get a head start on Christmas shopping. As well as some treats for myself naturally…

However, as I noted in my blog last year on the subject, the majority of retailers seem to be missing a huge opportunity where customer engagement is concerned. Rather than focusing on ensuring that offers are personalised and relevant to consumers, we receive the usual flood of generic and uninspiring emails. The antithesis of personalised marketing. This seems very confusing to me; you would think this would present an easy opportunity for retailers to demonstrate to their customers that they understand their shopping needs and are able to provide them with a bespoke experience.

Data, data everywhere…

With the wealth of data available these days there really is no excuse. Purchase history and abandoned cart information should be used effectively to ensure that the products being offered on a Black Friday email are items that the customer is actually likely to buy. For example, an email that merely advertises that there are discounts across the range is far less likely to lead to a conversion than one that points me to those boots I’ve been weighing-up buying for the past few weeks…and now they’re 30% off? Yes please!

Prime position

A few years ago, Amazon essentially introduced its own discount period that operates with a similar prospect to Black Friday – Prime Day. Numerous discounts are available for a limited window of time to members of their Prime subscription service. The event has grown in prominence since it was first introduced in 2015, and Amazon announced that this year’s event had seen higher sales than those of Black Friday and Cyber Monday combined!

Amazon, perhaps unsurprisingly, does seem to be differentiating in its use of personalised communications to customers. While it must be said that sometimes the suggested products are a little off the mark – just because I purchased a toilet seat from Amazon once doesn’t mean I’ll be interested in buying one every week – at least previous purchase information is being used!

On the way out?

Some are sceptical that Black Friday is becoming outdated and will soon fail to garner the interest of consumers (although last year UK shoppers spent a whopping £1.23 billion over Black Friday weekend, so that’s definitely not the case as yet!). However, if this does turn out to be the case, Amazon is ensuring that they are offering consumers a similar opportunity, while also adding extra incentive for their Prime membership.

Many brands are still rebuilding their contact lists after GDPR’s introduction last May – this makes it even more important for the engagement from this smaller pool of contacts to be high! When our inboxes are bombarded with generic offers on Friday 29th, it will be the tailored and personalised emails that really grab attention and not only encourage us to purchase – but potentially impress us enough to be loyal to this brand in the future.

Perhaps I am being too cynical – maybe I’ll be greeted by a host of highly relevant offers when I check my email come Black Friday morn… I’d love to be proved wrong!

4 loyalty cards on pink background

By Scott Logie, MD, Insight at REaD Group

Tesco have always been ahead of the game when it comes to loyalty schemes – introducing the Clubcard back in 1995 before any other supermarket. This has always stood them in good stead when it comes to loyalty and trust with consumers. Our Retail Trend Report in 2017 found that consumers trusted Tesco ahead of any other retailer (besides Amazon…) when it came to using their personal data.

84% of consumers are more likely to choose retailers that offer customer loyalty programs. Get with the program: Perspectives on Retail Loyalty Program Participation and Perks. Nielsen, [November 2016]

Loyalty…but at a price

This week they are once again breaking new ground for supermarkets by launching the ‘Clubcard Plus’ – an exclusive subscription offering perks such as discounted shopping – all for a monthly cost of £7.99. Only time will tell whether this move pays off. It would seem to be a direct response to Amazon’s Prime service (even the monthly cost is the same!) as Tesco makes a bid to increase its customer loyalty. Research in the US recently found that Prime members were 8 times less likely to shop elsewhere in a session – that’s impressive!

However, the actual benefits on offer do seem somewhat underwhelming to say the least. The 10% discount off two shops up to £200 sounds good in theory, but in practice in order to break even you would need to spend at least £80 on your groceries every month. Tesco Finest Croquembouche anyone? That said, Christmas is fast approaching and families especially are regularly spending more than usual on shopping in the lead-up. But will subscriptions carry over once the festivities have ended? The double data offering for Tesco Mobile users equally isn’t that appealing – there are many cheap pay-as-you-go deals available now offering a large data allowance for a small monthly fee.

Waste not want not

The assumption from Tesco’s perspective may be that by offering this service, consumers will feel more obliged to shop with them as they are paying for it and therefore don’t want to waste it. A similar mentality to many gym users the world over…though many of us still don’t go! It is a widely accepted stat that it is cheaper to retain customers than it is to acquire them, and as a strategy focusing on retention it makes perfect sense. The real question will be – is the incentive strong enough to increase loyalty?

The data that such loyalty schemes provide can be an immensely useful asset in itself. Knowing that an individual is more likely to buy pizzas from you on a certain night of the week or the type of chocolate they frequently buy could be invaluable from a marketing perspective. It’s Tuesday at 5pm, the hanger has hit, all thoughts of cooking are out the window – email from Tesco: Two ham and pineapple (this is purely theoretical) pizzas for £5 tonight! Job done.

Getting Personal  

Consumers now recognise the value of personalisation and appreciate receiving deals that have been intelligently tailored to their shopping habits. Retailers therefore need to ensure they are segmenting their customer data and analysing it to make sure they are building and engendering trust and anticipating customers’ needs.

Brands must demonstrate through these retail loyalty schemes that customers that consent to share their data stand to be rewarded for their loyalty and custom. And for those brands with long standing schemes already in place – now is not the time to abandon them! They’re a key means of understanding customer habits and maintaining valuable patrons.

Loyalty schemes have become an expected norm, and retailers are now feeling the need to differentiate and experiment. Where Tesco’s new loyalty subscription is concerned, as long as consumers feel adequately rewarded and incentivised to keep a running subscription – they might be on to a winner.

cartoon man hugging a giant red heart that says 'Miss you already'

By Scott Logie, MD, Insight at REaD Group

We are being encouraged more and more to consider switching – our insurance policies, banks, mobile providers, our tea bags and the milk we make the tea with. The government is putting rules in place to make it easier and new companies are appearing every day to help us compare prices and choose a new provider.

For those providers we are leaving this means having to let the customer go in a dignified manner and in a way that ensures they might consider you when the next switch happens.

My recent switch

We have very recently, and somewhat reluctantly, switched broadband provider. My wife and I live in the countryside. We have been with EE for a number of years and have always struggled with bandwidth.  We are promised 10Mb/sec but rarely get close to 5. To be fair to EE we have tried a number of providers and always had the same issue. For you kids living in London or Manchester, imagine having to choose Netflix or Instagram, Amazon Prime or Youtube. Well, that’s us.  If we second screen we lose the first one.  We still occasionally see the buffering %!

However, joy is unbounded.  Fibre optic broadband has come to the neighbourhood. The downside; you can only buy it from BT. And we pretty much hate BT.  We have been a customer before and their customer service last time was awful, trying to communicate with them – ironically – is pretty impossible and something always goes wrong in the transfer.  When we moved into our house, they cut our neighbours phone line off, on Christmas Eve, in a household with 4 boys. We were not popular!

After some annoying phone calls and much soul-searching we decided to switch. And it has gone pretty well, the difference in what we can do is incredible (Facebook and download music at the same time!) and we have only had one minor problem – don’t try calling us at home at the moment is all I will say.

What not to do

However, this is not a tale about BT, this is about EE. Obviously they got notified about the change with a month’s notice more or less as we had to get the fibre optic cable brought to the house. So they had plenty of time to get in touch and see what they could do. They can’t currently offer the same option so we were always going to move. However, we would have gone back as soon as our contract is over and they can provide the same service.  And then this arrived:

 

It’s a nice enough letter, and a pretty good offer. Sadly, the end date to the offer was 4 days before the letter was sent. What happens in companies for this sort of thing to happen? And do they even think about the implications?  Instead of leaving EE with a wistful goodbye and a hope of re-uniting in the future I now think of them as a bit of a joke and wonder if they are inept.  Doing nothing would have been better than doing something in this case.

Rise of the challenger brands

From the most recent DMA research on switching we see a lot of customers moving from the traditional providers in supermarkets, banks and mobile providers. In fact, in general, the newer providers are net increasing while the more established brands are net decreasing.

People will always want to try the new kid on the block; the new brand or the new product. It doesn’t always work though, and when things go wrong, returning to the safety of a well-known brand who are reliable and can be trusted is the natural outcome. The big banks might be missing out to customers moving to Starling or Monzo but if something goes wrong, with the company or the service, they will be looking to move again and bigger sometimes does look better.

Sometimes bye is best

Of course, for some customers, it might be best to let them go. The serial switchers who are draining cost; the constant contactors who cost us in service fees; the buy two and return one types who are always marginal.  Understanding current and future value clearly helps us decide where to spend our retention budgets and also who to not worry too much about them leaving.

But for others, we really want them to come back.  However, making that decision may well depend on how well they have been treated when they moved. My mum always used to say “never burn bridges” and that is as true for brands as it is in life. A “sorry to see you go, we will be glad to welcome you back and here is an offer open for a couple of years” message might not seem the best thing when someone is leaving but separating on good terms is often as good for the brand as it is for the consumer.

 

Want to know more about how to effectively engage with your customers? Contact us today

'Bot or not - and does it matter? in Back to the Future style writing

By Scott Logie, MD, Insight at REaD Group

We are living in the age of machines. What used to be thought of as science fiction is now simply taken as fact. Electric cars, payment by watch and tv on the go are all being used by everyone every day. In addition, thought controlled bionic arms, space travel and waste blasting toilets without the need for a sewer are all being trialled right now. Surely teleportation isn’t too far away and we can all go Back to the Future.

Technology on the rise

In the world that we inhabit – the world of marketing and building customer engagement – machines are already common place. Machine learning models, chatbots and AR/VR based content are being used, and are being well received, by the end customer. In fact, there are areas, such as gamification, where consumer demand is greater than the usage at present.  As a Fitbit obsessive, if someone ties my daily step count with rewards in exchange for data then I would sign up immediately.

One of the many debates this creates is around whether it is necessary to inform the end customer that they are engaging with a machine. From a personal point of view, I’m not sure this is needed. For me, the bigger issue is ensuring that the right combination of person and machine is in place.

Balancing act

Research shows, for example, that people really want to talk to people when the request is complex or where there is a need for a complaint to be made.  Making sure that the conversation can be identified as moving in a particular direction and the right intervention is in place feels more vital than the end individual knowing if the operative is real or not.

74% of consumers admit they would sooner complain about a product or service to a human rather than a chatbot [DMA Customer Engagement 2019 – Facing the future: how consumers and brands view new technology]

Rage against the machine!

Certain AI platforms, such as the financial assistant, Plum, are now being programmed to deal with abusive messages such as those containing swearing, rudeness and sexism. This has seen a positive impact from a customer perspective, as witty and humorous responses from the AI have often helped to defuse a situation and reassure the consumer that they are dealing with an intelligent entity.

And in reality, it isn’t too long until we allow our own machines, home assistants or phones or even our fridge, to engage with the brands machines and make decisions for us making the identification moot.

Data is vital

Of course, at the end of the day, there are some constants that always need to be in place.  The first is identifying who the customer or prospect is and being confident that you have the right person and the second is having enough data of interest to make the interaction relevant. In amongst all the chat about AI, VR, AR and machine learning it is vital to remember that it’s the data that fuels the success – or otherwise – of these technologies.

At REaD Group we often talk about giving brands the right to be personal. That is never more real than when there is a combination of machine and person doing the engagement.  Not having the data infrastructure, or indeed the base data, in place means that the discussion about machine v person is irrelevant. Ultimately, having a clean, up to date, enriched dataset is vital to the success of any AI, chatbot or other technology-based pilot.

robot dancing with disco ball , title - The Future is Now?

By Scott Logie, Chair of the DMA Customer Engagement Committee and MD, Insight at REaD Group

I recently had the privilege to chair the DMA’s Future of Customer Engagement event in Bristol. I lived in Bristol for nearly 10 years, loved the city and still do. It’s a vibrant, cultural hub with great art galleries, restaurants and gig venues. It also has a very active marketing community and that was evident both in terms of the 60 plus people who came along and also the wide range of speakers at the event itself.

The event was built around some research we have done as the Customer Engagement Committee. We’ve done a lot of research over the last few years and in all the studies have taken some time to focus on what the likely future trends are in terms of areas that consumers would like to use to engage with brands. Tim Bond, from the DMA research team picked out 4 key trends:

Chatbots – those virtual assistants who help you on-line. One of the key stats that Tim shared was that men were more likely to want to engage with chatbots than women (36% v 26%). As a middle-aged man, this didn’t surprise me, anything to avoid talking to real people. The sooner these are used to replace doctors, customer support teams and dental nurses the better!

Voice – generally seen as Alexa or Siri but really any voice activated device at home or on the move. The key reason given for using voice commands was convenience which makes sense. My worry here is how freedom of choice is retained as more and more decisions are left to devices to make.

Virtual Reality or Augmented Reality – using devices to bring locations or products alive. This is clearly one of the most exciting aspects to consider when looking at any future trends. Something we all (‘we’ two thirds of us) express interest in but the challenge here is how you move from something that is a gimmick to something that adds value.

Gamification – using competition, goals and targets to incentivise customers to change behaviour. As a Fitbit obsessive I really get this but haven’t linked any of my goals to a product yet. There are insurance companies, and banks as well, giving rewards to customers who can prove behaviour change – live healthy and pay less for insurance – why not!

In addition to the research we had a panel discussion around these four topics that drew out lots of areas for discussion, but for me the key point was that while tech is maybe driving some of the change we are seeing, tech alone is not the answer. This then brought us back to one of the main principles of the whole Customer Engagement campaign – to show that the brands that will win in terms of building long term loyal relationships will combine tech, data and creativity to achieve this.

The next three sessions were really testament to this. First of all, Ian Hughes from Consumer Intelligence showed how insurance companies from around the world are, right now, breaking down barriers and allowing consumers to buy insurance in ways that suit them. The main driver for this is putting the customer in control – so no more need to buy a large one-off insurance policy for your car when you only use it 3 hours a week; or using life insurance to purchase policies that can provide a real-life event for those left behind rather than just paying for the funeral. Interestingly, most of the innovation was being driven from outside of Europe and North America.

Neil Mackin from Amazon Web Services then presented on two topics. The first centred around how AI and Machine learning are impacting on lots of areas within Amazon – from distribution and warehousing to recommendation engines and next best offers. The second was what Amazon are doing to make a lot of the algorithms they develop available for use by brands, universities and just ordinary people. They are often derided as being the example of all that is bad with online retailing, killing our high street. However, the impression I was left with was one of a book retailer becoming a tech giant and using the work they do responsibly and sharing the learning.

The fun and informative final presentation was from Lovehoney, the UK’s largest on-line retailer for sex toys and lingerie. They are a real South West success story and grew out of observations made by marketers on what products were going to sell in the future and, guess what, sex sells! In addition to being probably the only presentation I have sat through where a full range of wild and unmentionable *ahem* toys were discussed repeatedly, the thrust of the session was really how well structured Lovehoney are around the customer – from staff training, product reviews, product testing, email comms and on-line interaction they showed how the customer is key to everything that they do.

In many ways that summed up for me the key takeaway from the really excellent afternoon, which is that all the tech in the world is useless unless you know the customer, know what they are like, what they want and then provide that to them in the most convenient way possible. As the world changes and what we see as traditional marketing dies away, the winners will be the brands, and the suppliers and agencies that support them, who really take that lesson to heart. Being personal is knowing the end customer, and ensuring the engagement matches their preferences using whatever technology and content that is available to do so.