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What do rogue animals crossing a chaotic highway and rapid-fire mouse clicks have in common? More than you may think.

When I was visiting India a couple of years ago, I made sure to keep my wits about me whenever I crossed a street since pedestrians, bicyclists, all kinds of vehicles, and, of course, livestock all share the road. Few traffic laws exist, and even fewer are obeyed. No one on the road is paying attention to anyone other than themselves, much less the color of the nearest traffic signal. It’s chaotic and, yes, a little frightening.

But digital marketers go through something similar every day on the job. The digital signals from our online visitors fly at us from all directions as we do our best to decipher who each visitor is and what they are looking for. We’ve got to keep our eyes wide open and react quickly, lest we become the next roadkill: an irrelevant brand.

The challenge of the digital traffic cop

On average, there are more than 53 million unique monthly visitors to each of the top 10 retail websites in the U.S.. If you’re a marketer at one of these top sites, you’re also challenged to provide a unique and personalized experience to your visitors to drive them to convert and to return again and again. Consider the countless digital signals sent by just one of these visitors to your website, mobile site, or mobile app.

In its State of Mobile Benchmark Report last year, the Adobe Digital Index found that users prefer tablets for browsing and shopping on retail, auto, travel, and hospitality sites. In contrast, smartphone users are more apt to look for quick, on-demand information like price comparisons and nearby store locations. And while current conversion rates on tablets are three times higher than those on smartphones, they still don’t match desktop conversion rates.

Data released late last year by NPD DisplaySearch, a global market supply chain research group, projected that touch-enabled notebook PCs would account for roughly 11 percent of all notebooks shipped in 2013 and are expected to reach 40 percent of all notebook shipments in 2017. What will the continued blending of all of these devices and the resulting complexity mean for marketing personalization?

Not to mention mobile operating systems. Android and iOS are, of course, the most used; but marketers can’t forget about personalizing mobile experiences for consumers using BlackBerry or Windows smartphones. Following the most recent Consumer Electronics Show in January, there are now more than 25 Samsung Android device screen sizes being sold. Talk about the paradox of choice!

How can we efficiently distill this constant barrage of digital signals to return a truly relevant and personalized experience? Wouldn’t it be great to develop a 360-degree view of each individual visitor, however they choose to interact with your brand, regardless of whether it’s the first time they’ve visited or the fifth? Well, the solution to this marketing pain point is now well within reach.

Deciphering digital signals in the blink of an eye

The good news is that digital visitors interact with your brand constantly. they click, swipe, search, browse, pin, Like and tag. And with each of these actions come a trail of digital breadcrumbs for you to devour. Picking up on these signals and taking action on them in real time will ensure you are in lock step with consumers as they continue to interact with you.

The bad news is these same consumers have fleeting attention spans. This means marketers have only about 300 milliseconds, or the time it takes to blink an eye, to understand and analyze the signals visitors are sending and immediately deliver a meaningful and personalized digital experience to drive online conversion. Anything less, and we risk losing a visitor’s interest forever.

Much of the success of your marketing program depends on how well you know and understand your visitors and how quickly you can pull together the right personalized digital experiences for them, regardless of the device type or method they use to interact with you.

The right system sets you up for success

Marketers need an integrated analytics and personalization system that can develop a dynamic master marketing profile based on a global ID unique to each person. Think of this master marketing profile as a digital thumbprint, only this is a thumbprint that evolves and grows with each new signal the visitor sends. This profile can constantly be enriched by anonymous and authenticated customer data such as clickstream data, behavioral information such as past purchases, brand and category affinity, known customer data, and even social signals such as Likes and pins.

Analytics as a core part of a digital marketing system gives marketers the algorithmic capability to derive meaning from all this raw data and take action on it.

For example, you could algorithmically wade through 20 kilobytes of raw clickstream data to quickly classify a particular visitor as a “high net-worth individual who abandoned their shopping cart.” Funneling additional digital touchpoints and interactions into the digital thumbprint creates a richer attribute set for any given user, offering marketers a better understanding of their highest-value segments, those with the highest propensity to visit the site, those least likely to convert, those most receptive to email follow ups, etc.

Marketers can also pull in authenticated customer data from their CRM systems as well as a variety of third-party anonymous data sources such as Bizo, eXelate, Acxiom, and Epsilon with a data management platform (DMP). This brings in anonymous yet key demographic attributes such as gender, education, income level, marital status, etc. to the digital thumbprint or master marketing profile to round out your understanding of each visitor further. Combining first-party data, existing customer data and anonymous third-party data into one shared profile helps build a stronger understanding of a visitor and gives marketers powerful leverage to then deliver a highly personalized experience, across devices, screen sizes, locations and more. Drawing on historical and present data surrounding an individual helps us predict with a very high degree of accuracy what content, products, or offers will be most appealing to any given user combined with what is likely to generate the desired lift in conversion or other marketer-defined performance indicators.

Middle of the road

If asked, most consumers will maintain that they want value and convenience when shopping online, but at the same time, they may be reticent to give up some of their privacy in exchange. We encountered such a situation with the introduction of credit cards in the middle of the twentieth century. Credit cards offered the promise of convenience and increased purchasing power for consumers while requiring some of their personal information in return. Similarly, personalized online ads and offers may at first seem too personal, but this content undeniably drives higher click-throughs and conversion rates. As long as the rules of the road are clearly marked, with brands recognizing consumer privacy expectations and being transparent about how consumer data is used to ultimately create the best experience, the trade-off becomes very achievable.

Each side — marketers and consumers — will need to evolve by meeting in the middle.

Regardless of where you stand, as digital marketers, we have no excuse not to woo an online visitor from their very first click, swipe, or other digital interaction with our brand. The technology already exists, and it’s our job to bring it on board by evangelizing its use within our organizations. In the meantime, stay safe out there on the road – whether it be real or digital.

Aseem Chandra is vice president of Adobe Experience Manager and Adobe Target for Adobe’s Digital Marketing business. He has 20 years of general technology management, marketing, partnering, and mergers-and-acquisitions experience. Chandra is on the board of Gaja Capital, a private equity fund based in Mumbai, India, and Hydrocephalus Association, a non-profit organization that advocates and directs research on behalf of those affected by brain injuries. 

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