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Progressive profiling: The key to unlocking the future of digital marketing

Written by James Sleaford, Chief Growth Officer UK, Incubeta

The future is exciting for digital marketers. Challenging also, no doubt, with the deprecation of third-party cookies and increased focus on data privacy rightfully causing some amount of worry and requiring a fair amount of planning. But the opportunities it presents should be welcomed – providing us with the chance to reset and refocus our strategies, and rebuild the brand/consumer relationship.

In order to rebuild this relationship, however, we need to build an accurate profile of the consumers we are targeting. Arguably, a more accurate portrait than we’ve created so far. And with third-party data having played a large part in how we develop these pictures of our audience, as we head towards a future without cookies, marketers need to find a way of gathering information.
The problem is that we marketers haven’t been great at using the data we’ve collected. We’ve collected more than we needed, then used it ineffectively, which has led to a lack of meaningful insights and a disconnect between the information we’ve taken from the consumer and the ‘targeted’ marketing we’ve returned to them – fuelling growing concerns about how customer data is, and will be, used.

Therefore, as we move away from the easy to obtain third-party data we’ve grown used to, we need to put more care into the way we collect data. We need to be selective, avoid putting customers off by asking for several bits of data at once (as ‘too many questions’ and ‘being asked for useless information’ has been regularly given as reasons for sign-up drop off), and show the value customers will get in return for the data they give us.

Step in progressive profiling. Aka, the future of personalisation.

As the name suggests, it is a method of building a profile progressively, by gathering customer data incrementally instead of asking for a huge amount up front. And by implementing this methodology, you can not only increase conversions, but will also find yourself holding more relevant profiles built on up-to-date, and considerably more accurate, information.
Why use progressive profiling?

While there are numerous reasons for implementing a progressive profiling strategy, they all boil down to the same thing. Namely, it is better for the consumer.

By collecting data over time, which is the central idea of progressive profiling, you reduce the amount of input required from your customers during each point of contact. This prevents unnecessary friction, streamlines the user journey, and makes any interaction with your brand a far more manageable experience – particularly if the customer is using a device while out and about or watching something on Netflix.

Not only that, but by developing a progressive profiling strategy you can build a stronger and more complete picture of your customers. Third-party data may have been easy to gather without the need for direct interaction, but it was unreliable, incomplete and often out-of-date. Collecting data directly, and progressively, means you have access to information that has been provided willingly, which can be constantly updated over time – which is far more likely to be accurate and relevant to the products and services you offer.

A fashion brand, for example, could periodically request updates on style and size preferences, which would paint a much more genuine portrait of a customer and the recommendations they might want to see than you would get from potentially out-of-date, indirect third-party data.

This, in turn, allows you to increase the personalisation of your marketing efforts and provide a better, more tailored, user experience with a deeper understanding of the current needs of your consumer base. And by providing this more tailored user experience, along a manageable, frictionless user journey, you will then see an increase in customer satisfaction, loyalty and conversion rates – ultimately helping to boost the brands reputation and overall revenue.

How to successfully implement progressive profiling

As great a strategy as progressive profiling may be, it is not without its challenges. It requires the ability to process, build and use data incrementally, may need work to integrate into existing systems and will require forward planning to understand what data you’ll need and when. Not to mention the additional difficulty imposed by convincing your customers to part with their information in the first place.

For starters, while the majority of organizations will have a customer relationship management (CRM) system in place – which is an absolute necessity for progressive profiling – these systems might not be designed to handle breathable segmentation that shifts over time. If that is the case, then the data being added incrementally will be worthless, providing little to no actionable intel.
The easiest way for brands to overcome this, however, is to work in partnership with digital marketing specialists that have experience in integrating new systems and processes with existing infrastructures – thereby minimizing disruption and maximizing potential.

Secondly, for customers to be willing to continually hand over their information, you need to be providing them with value in exchange, showing that their data is being used effectively and to improve their own experience. While offering incentives may have been a tool used in the past, it isn’t always effective, on the contrary it has been shown that it can actually do more damage than good. Instead, only take the data you need, when you need it, and evidence the benefits of your brand holding this information through the user experience you provide.

A new age of marketing

So, as we start to close the door on third-party marketing strategies and move towards the privacy-first marketing of the future, it is time to find a new way of engaging our audiences. Progressive profiling provides a great strategy in which to collect high quality, zero-party data that can lead to actionable insights and increased personalization – so long as it’s carried out correctly.
By being up front with consumers about the data being collected and how it will be used, then demonstrating the value to them for providing it, we can establish more trust with the consumer and develop tailored experiences for the benefit of both parties.

This in turn will lead to better engagement, with more creative messaging directed towards the consumers who want to see it, and a stronger relationship between brands and their customers.