Customers are empowered and do not have to settle for a one-size-fits-none experience. It is a shop-whenever/wherever consumer. It is an “order today, get it today, mail it back free if it isn't the right shade of teal” world. You may be doing things that much better than last year, but the ecosystem is evolving fast and your customers’ expectations are set in the world at large and not solely by your store or website. Customization is exploding.

Marketing has to make sense in this environment, and a lot of it no longer does. The expectation is a customized experience, but the reality is often a blaring banner for a sale on something you don't care about. How are you going to close the expectations gap?

Williams-Sonoma is taking meaningful steps to an approach that is both relevant and brand-aware. We’ve partnered with DataSong to build a state-of-the-customer engine, an integration platform where all of the customer behavior can be pulled together on a continual basis. The integrated data are then examined for the signature of an online or offline event in the customer's life or for interactions with our brands.

There are so many customer behaviors that can be addressed. You can react to web behavior and purchases, sure, but why stop there? Customers make returns, write reviews, send gifts, lapse into inactivity, request a swatch, or attend a cooking class.

The inputs need to be prioritized and assessed around a number of questions. Which behaviors are most important? How should we respond? Which touch point is the best way to deliver the optimal message? Will this be the first or the tenth email that we are going to send?

The platform has to be able to handle massive volumes on Day 1 and scale thereafter both in terms of processing and storage/retrieval. The platform then drives an omnichannel marketing stream—i.e., a seamlessly integrated customer experience across all channels of interactions. We match customer interests to informative content, product ideas, and targeted offers that align with said customer's preferences.

To do the heavy lifting, you need to bring together the key data inputs about your customer, such as channel preference, internal or external segmentation, model scores, and cross-brand behavior.

Then, think about what you need to plan a marketing response—inventory, promotional material, content on product care, store events, and so on. You also need to know all the marketing that is touching the customer.

Customers know about marketing and that they are being marketed to. The effort to personalize that communication is well worth it. Developing skill and capacity in this space is essential.