Bashar Hafez is the Co-founder and Managing Director at E-Cens. He is a seasoned global technology executive with nearly 20 years of experience leading software, product development and analytics at Fortune 500 companies, regional and global brands.
Bashar works closely with Google, Tealium and industry-leading technology partners to offer best-in-class data and optimisation services. He has led e-Cens key client engagements with marquee clients including MBC, Emaar, OSN, Saudia Airlines, Jarir, and Publics Group, among others. Furthermore, Bashar launched the Smartpreneur program, a collaboration between the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Smart Dubai Government.
In an interview with MarTech Vibe, Bashar discusses the growing trend in Customer Data Platforms (CDP), the challenges with data fragmentation and how marketers need to analyse data and target prospects, personalise their experiences and encourage them to be loyal customers in the long term.
1. Despite strong internet penetration, only 15 per cent of businesses in the Middle East have an e-commerce presence, and only 2 per cent of retail purchases are made online. How can this change?
We think that the business needs to go to where the customers are going to be. If you think about e-commerce trends in internet developed countries, like the US, mobile is the new shopping mall. People order online and depend on delivery to the door or pick up in a brick and mortar store. This logistics and delivery infrastructure is a key component to the success of e-commerce.
In the Middle East, especially the Gulf States, smartphone usage has taken off and even more commonplace than home internet. According to research conducted in Saudi Arabia by the General Authority of Statistics, home internet usage was about 30 per cent of all families in 2018. Smartphone usage among families was a staggering 92 per cent.
We believe that companies who invest in mobile e-commerce and analytics will be able to benefit from these trends. Harnessing the power of data is the dividing line between forward-thinking e-commerce companies and second-tier players. Companies like Amazon are providing a real-life teaching experience to marketers who want to use data to analyse and target prospects, personalise their experiences and encourage them to be loyal customers in the long term.
Behavioural analytics, customer segmentation, retargeting, and respectful marketing outreach are the main elements that organisations seeking to be successful in e-commerce should be striving towards.
2. Customer experience has become a brand priority; everyone speaks about it. Yet, we do not find marketers making an effort to provide exceptional customer experience throughout their journey. What are your thoughts on this? How can marketers offer a better customer experience?
In all fairness to marketers, especially those who we work with, marketers do the best they can with the tools and budgets at hand. While we think of online as omnipresent, it is still a very new industry – only 20 years old. I say this because the technology platforms that are available to learn about your customer have been evolving slowly through the years. Data has been living in silos in a variety of channels such as emails, websites, mobile applications, digital advertising, and search. And this doesn’t even touch on the interactions that occur in the physical world, such as through your call centre or your sales and event teams. Hence, trying to customise experiences has been extremely challenging.
What we are excited about is how technology is now catching up to what marketers want to do to improve the customer experience.
The foundation for this improvement is through better collection, integration and use of data to customise and focus messaging, content and communications. This is made possible through Customer Data Platforms (CDPs). While it is true that combining customer data from all channels and touchpoints has long been the dream of marketers, we see significant investment from global companies. According to the Customer Data Platform Institute, the industry grew 65% from 2017 to 2018, with revenue reaching $740 million. Revenue for 2019 is expected to be over $1 billion.
3. Why should companies pay attention to improving customer experience? Is it imperative for brands to adopt a CX-driven culture? Is personalisation going to be the answer for them?
Improving customer experience is a “given” for any company, isn’t it? What do you gain by making your customers happy? Loyalty, strong relationships, ambassadors for your brand, and of course, higher revenue.
Is CX-driven culture absolutely necessary to adopt? There are benefits to your customers and to your employees. Clearly, if you make decisions that result in better customer experience, your customers will reward you. Interestingly, studies show that CX-driven culture can result in more engaged employees, according to the qualitative analytics firm, Qualtrics. While financial incentives are important, focusing on the customer provides your employees with a sense of mission that enables them to give value and benefit. It helps build an awareness that emphasises the importance of building long term customer relationship. This is what builds customer lifetime value.
Personalisation may help your organisation achieve CX goals. It is important to note when evaluating personalisation, you realise that it comprises a suite of capabilities and tools that enable the best experiences. This includes content management, customer relationship management, analytics and testing. Personalisation requires the development of a well-reasoned strategy and the implementation of core technology, such as content management and analytics, before the testing and personalisation components are introduced.
4. In the ongoing debate about privacy and personalisation, how can brands reach out to their target audience without compromising their privacy?
Though the debate rages on about privacy and no doubt will continue long after this is published, we are fortunate that there is significant guidance on how to ensure that you do the right thing about privacy. The General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR, was launched in Europe in May 2018. Its purpose is to guide how businesses manage the information of their customers.
Although privacy guidelines may not be as strict in the Middle East as Europe, this is a best practice that elevates your brand reputation as an organisation that will do the right thing for your customers. No doubt, privacy will become a bigger issue in our region, and we need to be prepared.
5. What is the future of CDP in the Middle East? Why are more marketers talking about CDP now more than before?
As we noted in one of our answers to question 2, the investment in CDPs will continue to grow. All organisations want to have more data that is more accessible and with more power to analyse and forecast how to best use this data for sales and marketing. Yes, there is a certain buzz about CDP right now, hence the groundswell of popularity. Marketers need to approach the opportunity with clarity and not be distracted by the promise. Rather, now is the time to start having a dialogue about why a CDP will make a difference. Identify the scenarios that you can apply a CDP and the analytics. We recommend going through a strategic exercise to understand your current analytics and data baseline and then identify the gaps between where you are now and where you want to be. This will help you justify investment in a CDP and more importantly start to identify the functions, features and services that you need to consider when purchasing this platform.
6. How does a CDP help address customer data fragmentation?
CDPs are designed to enable you to centralise data from multiple sources – Customer Relationship Management (CRM), web, email, events, advertising, mobile, product, customer purchase history, and so forth.
Fragmentation has existed because it is a challenge to know easily how you are managing efforts and how you are performing across channels. The promise of the CDP is that you will be able to see across channels and know how your campaigns performed on a segment-level basis. You will then be able to create new segments based on behaviour and performance and test out the best tactics. Not to be trivialised is the control you will have on the frequency of campaign to customers. This means that you will be able to control how often you are contacting customers and through the combination of channels that you are using. This will reduce the marketing fatigue that customers experience; a factor that leads to poor customer experience.
7. What are the key technologies pivotal to help marketing campaigns be nimble and also efficient?
It is easy to get excited about technology. We believe that you can do a great deal with a considered and well-integrated marketing technology stack. We recommend to many of our clients who want a powerful and scalable toolset to concentrate on these core platforms:
- Google Analytics & Firebase for Web and Mobile Analytics
- Google Marketing Cloud for digital display and search advertising; predictive analytics
- Web Optimisation Tools such as ContentSquare
- Tealium CDP for centralising and integrating data
- UseInsider for Conversion Rate Optimisation
- Salesforce CRM for customer profile data, email and lead tracking and closing; integrates with Google Analytics and Marketing Cloud