Traditionally, the computer nerds from the IT department and the movers and shakers from the marketing department avoid each other whenever possible – but, it is becoming very important that IT and marketing should form a partnership, Marcel Matodes, Google Marketing Platform Lead for Sub-Saharan Africa said at a Google Cloud for Retail event in Cape Town.

Breaking down the various individual silos that come with separate departments and encouraging them to work together, instead of as independent entities, is the key to moving your business forward, several speakers told guests at the event. Examples of such silos are marketing, customer service, billing and purchases, point of sale, distribution, social media, etc.

In a big company, the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) and Chief Information Officer (CIO) usually have the same goal, but different approaches, Matodes explained. The CIO is chiefly concerned with data while the CMO focuses on activation. Bring them together and they can talk about what’s both technically and practically possible for the benefit of the company.

With Cloud for Marketing you can have all of the information in one place, Brad Whittington, Superbalist’s Chief Technology Officer, pointed out. Many of their teams work on this data, so this is important. “It all comes down to people and how teams can collaborate, as well as share and understand each other’s goals.”

Being a big group means they have several silos, said Michael Yelland, Digital Transformation Lead for Pepkor. Their challenge was to work out how to break down these silos and utilise external data. By using the Cloud services available, the team was able to go on a transformation journey and take smaller risks to show others within the company how things could work and to get their buy-in to the process. It’s a learning curve, he added, during which there were some problems, but once they started to show benefits they were able to get the buy-in from senior level.

Moving to the Cloud is a journey and any journey has its challenges, added Daniel Acton, Regional Tech Lead for Google Cloud in Sub-Saharan Africa. “The driver is not always obvious or easy and companies have a lot of fears.”

Marcel Matodes, Google Marketing Platform Lead for Sub-Saharan Africa. Photo: supplied.

The biggest challenge for moving to Cloud is changing minds, said Yelland. “People think that the way they are currently doing things is the best and right way.” To move forward, his department had to show the benefits it would make – such as that you can run reports that used to take hours, within a few minutes.

It’s also not just about Artificial Intelligence (AI) or Machine Learning (ML), he added. There are a lot of people involved in a company and they also need attention. The Pepkor group, for example, consists of many stores and all of these had to be shown the benefits of the new system and taken along on the transformation journey.

Pepkor’s retailers initially fought against moving to Cloud, but moving has democratised the data in that it’s now available to more within the company and they can now work more efficiently. In order to help them, they are now running sessions to show retailers how they can benefit.

Showing the value and taking your retailers with you is important. “Transformation isn’t just about the technology! Cloud is a way to innovate how business works,” said Acton.

Understanding customers

The biggest challenges are to understand the customer journey (trendspotting, analytics, etc.), predict marketing outcomes (lifetime value prediction, purchase prediction) and how to personalise the customer experience (monitor sentiments, data-driven segmentation, etc.).

It’s important to reach the consumer effectively: don’t worry about the people who are just browsing and not buying! Focus on the ones who are buying.

“Consider everything that retailers already know about their customers,” said Matodes. They know what consumers are buying at their stores (traceable through store or loyalty cards), what they’re returning, etc.

Many marketers expect to be competing mostly – or completely – on the basis of customer experience, he said. And experience includes the emails they receive – not just the website they visit.

Put your consumer at the centre of your attention. Try to predict how much they’ll spend in the future, and if they’re likely to buy from you again. Determine if you should send them recommendations for other products, if you should send them retention offers, etc.

Linah Maigurina, Head of Retail of Google Cloud in Sub-Saharan Africa. Photo: supplied.

Online leads to offline shopping

Even though online shopping is growing, the reality is that in South Africa 98% of consumer sales is still done through brick-and-mortar stores, Linah Maigurina, Head of Retail of Google Cloud in Sub-Saharan Africa, pointed out. There is, however, a strong digital influence on the path leading up to the point of purchase: 60% of retail sales will be digitally influenced by the end of this year.

“Online to offline is becoming single channel.” The fundamentals of shopping stay the same since the consumer wants to shop, but it’s important for retail to use the data available to you to understand customers and what they want.

When Makro, for example, started to use Google Cloud to link their online to offline data to optimise their marketing investments, they found that 55% of offline purchases had a mobile first touch interaction. Consumers want to be able to do their research online before buying the product in store.

There’s a rise of the empowered consumer, said Maigurina. “Retailers are being challenged by consumers who already know what they want, but still expect good service when they’re in store.”

The consumer is becoming more curious and demanding, with one in three expecting a recommendation for an appropriate product that will suit them and their needs.

Keep an eye out for more from the Google Cloud for Retail event in the forthcoming article.