Customer Journeys Part 1: The Power of De-Anonymization

December 11, 2019

(No time to read the full article? Check out the Key Takeaways at the bottom.)

 More and more organizations are beginning to think of their fan interactions as part of an interconnected web of channels and systems along a timeline – a journey. Organizations are also aspirational in their desire to use these journeys to better inform marketing and sales efforts. However, for most, knowing where to start and how to put the first pieces of the puzzle into action can be a stumbling block. In this 3-part series, we’ll explore some of the first steps teams can take to begin stitching together customer journeys and ways to begin implementing some of the insights generated.

 The first step in any customer journey is the ability to track interactions. In today’s world, customers interact with organizations across various systems (both online and offline). Although the data from these systems are generally siloed, some interactions are easier to track than others. For example, it’s easy to pull a list of last game’s buyers or to track email opens for a newsletter (though it’s manual and time consuming to layer these reports together each time, but we won’t get into that right now). What is less easy to do is capture and track more anonymous interactions like digital ad clicks and website visits. Organizations can track unique overall total visits, clicks, and impressions but that doesn’t help to understand how fans get informed and then buy without the ability to break down interactions and link them to an action (like signing up for a newsletter, filling out a sweepstakes form, or purchasing a ticket). Discovering fan journeys and actioning them starts with the right tools – web pixels and cookies. The ability to track and connect these digital breadcrumbs that fans are leaving for you is the first step to understanding fan journeys and ultimately, engagement.

Which Industry is at the Forefront?

Customer journeys are extremely common and successful in the retail industry. Retail companies have been using Customer Data Platforms (CDPs) for quite a while to help better understand customers and their behavior patterns. Organizations like Netflix and Amazon automate many of the post-purchase follow-up processes and attempt to learn more about your preferences in order to make better informed recommendations. The more these organizations learn about your preferences and your behaviors (based on how you buy, the items you purchase, the shows you watch, etc.), the pages on their website you browse, or what you click on in their emails, the more they can match your profile to other people with similar behaviors/preferences. Once they do that, these companies use tools like CDPs to group similar behaviors together and learn the common attributes and actions of similar people in this group. From there, they are better able to identify areas for improving the buying process and recommending products or experiences to each consumer at the right time. As more interactions take place (both actions and non-actions), these tools recalibrate to make even better recommendations; and the cycle continues.

Admittedly, there are not a lot of teams in the sports industry doing what the Netflix and Amazons of the world are doing in relation to customer journey mapping however, there are teams actively trying to learn from these organizations to better understand and connect with their fans. These teams are asking themselves questions such as, how are fans buying, what paths do they take to engage with my brand, who’s interested in my brand, and how can I start to build a better relationship with them? Generally, these questions are driven by a need to sell tickets and offer different and unique experiences for fans but can also be driven by a host of other reasons. Some of these reasons include: changes in  team performance, changes in how and when fans engage with specific channels, or when organizations want to understand how to provide more unique experiences for their already fully-engaged fan base to build fan affinity beyond team performance. For teams just starting to explore this opportunity, there are a few things to think about to get started.

How To Start

First and foremost, it’s important to recognize that any and all organizations need to be respectful of consumers’ privacy and follow privacy laws. The goal is to learn about customers to provide better experiences, not breach their trust.

As people engage with your property, it’s important to understand which content or touchpoints they’re engaging with and when. Utilizing tracking codes is not a new concept in this industry. You’d be hard pressed to find a major league team who hasn’t cookie-ed their website, but that’s typically where the process stops. Organizations are using this anonymized data to understand what fans are interested in and what gets in their way to build more general segments and audiences, and group similar behaviors together. That’s a great first step. The reason why you want to take it a step further and de-anonymize those cookies (or other tracking tools) is because once you know who these people are, you can use that to make journeys more pleasing and more interesting with content, and targeted recommendations directly for them. This is where true personalization begins.

The reason why you want to go beyond anonymous segmentation is because once you know who people are, you can use that knowledge to make interesting, and targeted recommendations directly to them.

The De-Anonymization Process

The process to de-anonymize customers is complex and difficult to do well by yourself. We recommend that organizations use a mix of tools and expertise. Tools such as Google Analytics or Omniture help you set up tracking codes in the right places on your website. You also want to make sure you have the right pixels for web, mobile, ad and social interactions. Imagine John Smith, a historical multi-purchase buyer each season, visiting your website on his tablet, logging into the team app, and clicking on a digital ad from Google on his laptop. Tools like the ones mentioned above help you connect all those interactions to John Smith – without knowing it’s John Smith yet. In order to uncover who John Smith is, organizations should collect personal information with consent. Some examples of how to do this include social sign on in the team app, newsletter sign up or form submissions on a team website or even a member sign-on section within the team website.

The most important piece is to have someone who can set up these tracking codes correctly – without proper set up, your data will be useless. Generally, marketing agencies have good experience setting up pixels. The best way to know that your tracking codes have been set up correctly though is to connect them to a Customer Data Platform (we’re biased about ours, but here’s a resource to learn more about how they fit into your tech stack). Once the automated data set is flowing through a CDP, any gaps will be exposed. Without a CDP, organizations can also identify issues via attempts to understand ad spend. Without good or complete tracking, ad spend attribution is further complicated.

Key Takeaways:

  1. Get started: Connect the data you have about your known fans (i.e. those who have provided their name and email address to you in some way).

  2. Start to enrich your data by setting up tracking codes online (website, social, app, etc.): Make sure you have the right expertise and tools to help you set up tracking codes to begin understanding how fans engage (marketing agencies are typically well versed in how to best set up tracking codes and tools like Google Analytics and Omniture are great examples).

  3. Start to de-anonymize these tracked interactions: Encourage customers and potential customers to sign up or check-in to your website or app (you can do this through social sign on, newsletter sign up call out boxes, form submissions, etc.). This gives you the ability to give targeted recommendations directly to your customers.

  4. Uncover Insights: Use a tool like a CDP to begin uncovering patterns and to expose any missing data.

In part 2 of our customer journey series, we’ll talk more about tying these journeys back to the customer after the de-anonymization process.

In the meantime, reach out to us with questions or to learn more about how we’re powering these journeys for sports & entertainment organizations.

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