“There is no brand loyalty any longer,” contends Jerry Rocha, Business Intelligence Executive for Media, Advertising and Consumer Behavior for Estée Lauder. It’s an ominous thought, but not an unrealistic one. With consumers being flooded every day with an ever-growing number of options offering faster, better and more sophisticated solutions to their wants and needs, brand loyalty is being slowly replaced for “what serves best right now.”

In a highly competitive market giving consumers the power to dictate when, where and how they interact with a brand, first-party data can make the difference between a one-off purchase and becoming a customer’s go-to favorite. However, for those experiences to be successful, brands need to thoroughly understand each individual customer and each individual customer journey. They need to control the single truth of each customer, consider how much value they retain and aggregate over the course of the relationship, and understand how to optimize that insight to earn trust and repeat business.

At the recent CMO Club Summit in New York, I had the opportunity to discuss with the aforementioned Jerry Rocha and Jay Sears, Group Head/SVP, Mastercard Ad Intelligence at Mastercard, the future of customer retention and the pivotal role data plays in crafting unique experiences that foster long-term brand advocacy and loyalty. There was a clear consensus: customer-centric experiences are the most effective way to build lifetime consumer relationships. But customer centricity needs to be data-driven… and it can be painfully difficult to pinpoint the data you need.

Where’s the Data?

After Procter & Gamble reportedly sliced its digital ad spend by $140 million only to see its sales rise, multiple other brands followed suit — and with good reason. The digital adtech landscape has buried and obscured data to the point where brands are unable to properly determine attribution and are locked out of their first-party information.

The data isn’t lost, of course. It’s trapped behind walled gardens like Google, Facebook and Amazon. “At the bottom of the conversion funnel for the last decade was Google. Today it’s Amazon, particularly in retail,” said Sears, adding “I don’t know what Amazon knows, and we have to challenge that.”

Brands need to rethink how they operate to accommodate these walled gardens and feed data back into the organization, so they can operate and control their own channels and find ways to do so more cost-effectively, without sacrificing quality or value.

Taking Back Control of the Customer Relationship

P&G has found that even if a vendor has sequestered data, effectively cutting the brand out of the equation, there’s still a host of direct interactions between brand and client. And that’s the foundation of the intelligence necessary to build brand/customer relationships that grow richer and deeper with each engagement.

Estee Lauder is pursuing a similar approach. “We’ve changed customer sentiment about how/where they buy a product, and consumers now have the power to say ‘This is the product I want, the time I want and the price I want to pay for it,’” Rocha argued. Using first-, second- and third-party data, brands can determine exactly where those touchpoints are, define an individualized buyer journey and mine that data to engage customers for repeat business. It’s personalizing experiences — offering customers what they need, wherever they are and whenever they want to be reached.

Data allows you to:

  • Determine when you’re communicating with customers
  • Define the platforms they’re using the most, as well as why and how
  • Marry insights from both online interactions and offline engagements
  • Individualize marketing efforts, improving upsell opportunities while minimizing wasted spend
  • Gain intelligence informing new products, superior customer service and fulfillment strategies, and future investments

The Takeaway:

As consumers become more educated, selective and individualized, they lose interest in brand loyalty, instead directing their attention to the newest, shiniest option. The best way to retain customers: provide such an outstanding experience that the brand remains unchallenged, leveraging personal data to craft engagements delivering exactly what they want, when and how they want it, in individualized formats. But it can’t happen unless brands reclaim control over their most precious asset: first-party customer data.