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With great customer data comes great opportunity. Today's retailers have access to more data than they've ever had before, and smart use of it can give them an invaluable competitive edge in challenging conditions.

But if you're thinking of developing a new data monetisation strategy, or overhauling an existing one, it's worth assessing your starting point first. Understanding the critical components of good data monetisation can make all the difference to the success of your strategy.

You'll also need to understand how your data will support the decisions you want to make and execute against, plus the role of CPGs in key decisions like ranging, promotions planning and in-store and online media.

The most effective data monetisation strategies are built on four key pillars. Get these in place and you can move forward with confidence.

1. Data

The best strategies are driven by insights into customer behaviour, not just sales data. Everything from how often they're shopping and how much they're buying, to how many premium products they're opting for. The more you know about what your customers are doing in-store and online, the more customer-centric the resulting recommendations will be. You can't build a data monetisation strategy that will transform your business on transactional sales data alone.

This means that the first thing you've really got to get in place is the right data. Ideally this will have been collected through a CRM programme, such as a loyalty card with a coverage of at least 50% of customer base.

Once collected, you'll get the most from your data by merging it into a single database. This means information from different categories and locations can be analysed together, creating a consistent data-driven customer language. You and your CPGs can then use this consistent language when talking about category and brand performance, and use consistent KPIs to track and measure success.

Used correctly, your data will provide a framework for shared workstreams to better meet the needs of your customers.

2. Culture

As we've discussed previously, the retailers competing most strongly at the moment are those who are putting customer needs first. If you have a customer-centric culture embedded from the top of your organisation to the bottom, you'll find it significantly easier to get the most out of data monetisation. This is because your whole organisation – including buyers, category management and insight teams, and merchandisers – needs to focus on understanding customers, not just sales and margins. It can't just be the responsibility of one team.

Monetisation strategies are successful when they equip the retailer and their suppliers with the insights to work together to achieve category level objectives. As a retailer, if your working relationship with your suppliers is already based on trust, transparency and collaboration, rather than the traditional 'them vs us' dynamic, you'll find this comes easily.

Some retailers have concerns about transparency – not wanting to share category insights with CPGs or fearing that doing so reduces their power in the relationships. But at dunnhumby, we always argue that the CPG needs to see the insights for the whole category, not just their product. This enables them to really understand how they can support the performance of the category and align their brand portfolio to meet this objective.

Together, you can collaborate to:

  • Ensure trade planning focuses on promoting products that generate sales uplift for the category, instead of negotiating the funding of promotions
  • Ensure range planning meets the needs of customers, rather than focussing on increasing space for margin-driving SKUs for a single brand

Processes are another area where retailers can give themselves a head-start. If you have a properly documented category management process in place that's compliant and used across your category teams, the tools of data monetisation will be much easier to use.

If you also bring CPGs into the process, you'll benefit from an external view, category expertise and a competitor retail perspective. Empowering one or two key suppliers in the category as 'category captains' can ensure you're making full use of their experience, resource and knowledge. When customer data is embedded into a work plan supported by an end-to-end, 'insight to execution' process, your successful customer-led category strategy will be easier to realise.

3. People

Is someone in your organisation leading the commercial workstreams related to your customer data? Your chances of success will be greatly helped by having people dedicated to the workstream.

Within retailers with successful data monetisation strategies, we're increasingly seeing Heads of Marketing Strategy or Heads of Monetisation being appointed to lead the initiatives. Whatever their title, to drive a successful strategy you need someone in charge who is less focused on getting product to shelf and more aligned with innovative revenue streams.

Once your monetisation strategy has been defined, it's crucial this is led by the head of buying or category management and executed by every category buying and management team. It's here that the day-to-day working relationships with CPGs will be formed, shared work plans created, KPIs for success defined and the insight to activation executed.

You may also need to look at your skillset within data management. Customer data is much more sophisticated than sales data. Your staff may not have the skills right now – but upskilling them will help you cut through the noise in the data and ensure the right insights are used.

4. Technology

Assessing your organisation's technology against a few key questions will decide whether you are better off bringing in an external specialist:

  1. Have I made the right investments, in CRM or loyalty programmes, to generate the data I'm going to need? Am I therefore collecting the right data?
  2. Am I managing the data I've collected effectively by storing it centrally and enabling analysis and other value-add insights?
  3. Is my business able to access the data and output of analysis, and use it to make better business decisions?

If you're not confident that your in-house technology meets these criteria, outsourcing to a specialist can save you considerable time and money. That way, you'll also benefit from the best-in-class tools.

When you're building a monetisation strategy and assessing your capabilities against these four pillars, it's crucial you keep your CPGs in mind. How will you embed them into the process? Which insight solutions will you make available to them? And what decisions would you like your CPGs to be involved with?

Having a clear understanding of who your customers are and how they behave doesn't just support better in-store execution of category and promotional workstreams. With this knowledge, you'll be able to activate more relevant, personalised and timely media, both in-store and online, to support your new in-store execution. This means your customers will experience more personalised, relevant offers, your CPGs will benefit from highly targeted, clearly measured campaigns and you'll benefit from the category sales uplift generated from a seamless coordinated multi-channel campaign.

white and blue magnetic card

Photo by Avery Evans on Unsplash

Most companies attempting to drive customer loyalty fail miserably—and few so-called customer-centric companies generate sustainable customer loyalty that drives measurable business results. Why? Because they get three key principles completely wrong, right from the start:

  1. Loyalty is about the company acting loyally to its customers, not vice versa.
  2. It is about a loyalty approach, not a loyalty program.
  3. Loyalty is about the store, not only about the CRM.

1. Loyal to Customers

We start to act loyally to customers when we understand them to a level of detail that ensures that we remain responsive to changes in their behavior, relevant to ever-changing customer needs and rewarding in the way we treat customers.

Acting loyally is about adopting a loyalty mind set of managing customer segments as strategic business units (aligning with how we think about a category management strategy as managing categories as strategic business units). This context demands change that is both incremental and transformational—evolution, but with a bit of manageable revolution.

What customer loyalty is, and is not:

  • Acting loyally (responsive, relevant, rewarding) to our customers; not about customers being loyal to us
  • An overall approach throughout our business; not a proposition or program
  • Earning customer loyalty; not thinking that customers should become loyal
  • Collaborative partnerships to win customers together; not tolerant of internal conflict between areas of the business or with suppliers
  • Transparent; not opaque
  • Driving sales and cash margin; not customers being responsible for percent margin

2. Loyalty Approach vs. Loyalty Program

We demonstrate loyalty to our customers by taking a loyalty approach wherein we commit to rewarding and delighting our customers with products and experiences that meet their wants and needs.

  • We call this putting customers first—when we decide on priorities and actions based on insights from our customer data.
  • By doing so, a retailer becomes an even more prominent choice in the customer's consideration set. This is not a tactic; it is a long-term strategy that makes the customer the focal point of our business decisions and objectives.

The loyalty program is an important element within a loyalty approach, as the key source of the data that enables customer intelligence, and as the channel that enables us to talk to our customers personally. I call the loyalty program the "little l" in loyalty, with the loyalty approach as the "big L."

But a loyalty program is not required to act in a loyal way to customers. Here's how to think of "big L" loyalty:

A loyalty approach, simply put, embeds customer insight throughout the retail organization to enable better, faster decisions and thereby increase sales and profit sustainably. Best-in-class practitioners have seen an incremental sales uplift in the early stages of a loyalty approach of between 1% and 2% and later stages between 3% and 4%, quarter over quarter and year over year.

3. Loyalty Is About the Store, Not Just the CRM

As I used to say to my retail colleagues, "If the store is lousy but we deliver brilliant targeted CRM, the store will still be lousy."

Even if the personalized CRM is perfect, customers need to perceive that tangible changes have been made in the store itself before they will respond by giving more of their custom. We must put customer insights into action within the "hardwiring" of retail practices—pricing, promotion, assortment, adjacencies, new products, the checkout experience and so on.

In a previous article, I shared several examples of being loyal to customers in store by simply making the shopping experience easier—setting the yogurt section by customer need rather than by brand blocks, for example, and by setting product adjacencies according to how customers shop, rather than by how items are sourced in the supply chain.

3 Ways to Activate a True Loyalty Approach

  1. Make better business decision by putting the customer first. Everything is better when you start with the customer. Start with the data you hold on customers—understanding how they shop and behave, what is important to them and how they engage with your business. This insight will identify a number of opportunities for better decisions using the data.
  2. Improve the customer experience by using data-driven insights to improve your retail offering, such as assortment, pricing and promotions. Use insights to connect you to your customer through the store. Think of the mantra "data to insights to actions"—this is how improved like-for-like sales growth and customer loyalty is delivered.
  3. Transform the organization using customer-driven insight to help you better understand, anticipate, measure and continually respond to your customers. This is realized through empowering, aligning and equipping your people with relevant insights, values, goals, strategies and actions.

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[This is the fourth in a series of articles advocating the voice of the Customer in the highly competitive food-retail industry. David Ciancio is Global Customer Strategist for dunnhumby, a pioneer in Customer data science, serving the world's most Customer-centric brands in a number of industries, including retail. David has 48 years experience in retail, 25 of which were in Store Management. He can be reached at].

Treating Customers differently based on their 'profitability' is counter-productive to building loyalty and toward creating a healthy retail Customer Experience.

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Better understand and activate your Shoppers to grow sales.

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