Customer Insights -- Real-Time Vs. Near-Real-Time

Whether you like it or not, we still live in a world of broadcast media, one of which is the email channel.  We can argue that we are moving to personalized, coordinated engagements that all drive a unique value to the consumer and that email is a catalyst to connecting these engagements.  I’ve bought into this story for years, and tried to shape solutions to help deliver it. The challenge is there is really no business concept for “real time” and “marketing intelligence” in the same sentence. Yet, how do we reconcile marketing intelligence and real time to execute on the best, most relevant customer insight?

We should recognize what needs to be real time and what needs to be near real time and the rules of automation and personalization that we can deliver upon sufficiently at scale. 

Real-time data, in my opinion is data that has an expiration data. It is transient in value, and both longitudinal and contextual in nature (meaning it can be used to extend your view of one point in time or used to inform the context of an engagement). I personally don’t think ecommerce data is real-time, but near-real-time).   Today it’s evolved to mobile engagement (app and mobile web), social and response data (both service-oriented and network driven), online behavioral data (cookie-based).  



The value of real-time data for the email channel is primarily focused on interaction-driven communications or testing/optimization.   But it comes with its challenges.  First, real-time data is anonymous in some forms, PII in other forms.  It has many formats (structured and unstructured), and not many organizations have been able to standardize these formats into a real-time decision process.

Near-real-time data, on the other hand, is data that has the characteristics of real time but more shelf life. Making payments online is near-real time, so the information needed to support that engagement point is not critically reliant on vast sources of behavioral insight to form a process decision.  Some marketing data is near- real time, for instance credit scores.   It is used to form how credit products are developed, displayed and the paths consumers take on the web in call centers and even the offers that go out, but it’s not real time and the requirements for processing are different than that of linear views of web engagement, behaviors on sites, mobile app interactions and mCommerce. 

Why even talk about the division of real time and near-real time?   We can’t possibly store every bit of information.  We can’t possibly address every interaction and expect to scale how we construct marketing and engagement around it.  We are being introduced to more data in more forms and continually reacting to the consumers’ interaction.   But If you don’t think strategically about the data you want to use to inform your business today and what it will be in the future, how you want to tie the online world to your view of the customer, you will struggle to derive actionable insights that have any scale to your operations, regardless of channel.  The online advertising industry is a perfect example of too much transient data and not enough business discipline for how to action on it cross-channel – in scale.

The moral of the story is this, best articulated through a quote from Tyron Edwards:   “Thoughts lead on to purposes; purposes go forth in action; actions form habits; habits decide character; and character fixes our destiny.” 

We must challenge how we do things today, must test what is actionable and possible to scale. At times these are in conflict.  We must develop processes to extend our business habits (not chasing acquisition and bad practices for the sake of the “increment), yet balancing this with the “conditioning” we hope to project on our customers.  Insights are the essence of how we get there, some more valuable in near-real time, some in real time.   Challenge your view of what you track, manage, and use today vs. what it will look like in 3 years.  Transient data can have as much negative impact on your business as positive if you can’t manage, govern , program and combine to produce the most relevant action. 




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