At OMMA, Sears Shows How It Uses Data To Build Relationships

Consumer relationships are a lot like personal relationships. Some are deeper than others, and the more information participants know about each other, the more rewarding the relationship can be. 

In a keynote presentation at “OMMA Chicago: The Art & Science of Digital Advertising,” Sears Holdings Corp. executives Peter Briggs and Courtney Nagle illustrated the retailer’s (which owns the Sears and Kmart brands) approach to data and creating customized marketing on a few different levels. 

“In order to be personalized, you have to know a lot about your customers, and in order to know about your customer, you have to have a system that allows you to collect customer insights,” said Nagle, who is senior director of digital marketing at Sears Holdings. “You can use those insights to create explicit or implicit signals about your customer. Those can help predict what they’re going to do next or maybe what they’re going to buy next.”



At Sears Holdings, the company breaks down its customers into three categories that determine the depth of communication with customers, and the metrics upon which those communications are judged. The relationship, Briggs noted, is akin to something one might have in their personal life: unknown (or barely known), acquaintance (able to have discussion about shared interests or experiences), and a deeper friendship, someone with whom you might share deep secrets.

At the company, Sears Holdings labels the first level “Discovery.” The company doesn’t know much about the consumer, and the goal should be learning more. “A little bit of data can go a long way,” said Briggs, who is director of digital marketing at Sears Holdings. “We try to utilize data we get to personalize to some degree.”

The next level is “Customized,” which means Sears Holdings has some basic purchase information about products the consumer has shown a past interest in and promotions (such as a sweepstakes) that can lead to more insights about those interest levels. 

The deepest relationship is “Personalized.” This means the company knows the consumer is directly in the market for a specific product. (Such as visiting Sears’ website and viewing only refrigerators each time.) 

For marketers looking to develop these deeper relationships, they need to follow four basic steps:

  • Align the organization along the same goals for customers
  • Use all the data that is available. (“Even the smallest things, like a click on an email is valuable,” Briggs said.)
  • Create scorecards upon which you can grade personalization
  • Stay relevant across all channels.

Finally, marketers (particularly retailers) need to embrace an omnichannel experience, ensuring that customers — particularly those in the personal lane —  get the same deals through digital and brick-and-mortar channels, Nagle said. “We put a lot of focus on letting associates have the ability to collect customer data,” she said.

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