Customer Stories

Three Rules for Acquiring Declared First-Party Data

Express’ Tony Zubek explains the guiding principles that have allowed his team to collect consented first-party data directly from consumers.

Tony Zubek, Senior Manager of Loyalty Strategy at Express, one of the largest fashion retailers in the US, had an epiphany one day while scrolling through Facebook.

“So, as I was Facebooking one day—this is a legitimate story,” he assures the audience at Declared 2019, Jebbit’s annual conference, “I got this little quiz. It said, ‘What Avenger are you?’” A few questions later (“Do you like to get resolution by either smashing things or thinking through it?”), Tony got his result: “Hot damn, I’m Black Panther!”

As frivolous as the personality quiz was, it stuck in his brain—what if he could use this format to engage Express customers in a way that was inventive and exciting? And what if he could use those quizzes to also learn about that audience?

Engagement Leads to Customer Data; Customer Data Leads to Marketing Personalization

Before Tony was finding inspiration in Avengers-themed personality quizzes, he was entrenched in an issue familiar to loyalty marketing teams. While Express Next, their loyalty rewards program, was growing in membership, they weren’t seeing a corresponding growth in sales per customer. Tony was willing to bet that a more personalized and relevant experience would deliver that sales growth, but delivering that experience required reliable customer data.

The loyalty team did have plenty of customer data from Express Next members’ purchase history and profiles, but, says Tony, “they’re one-time moments, giving us information…that does have a tendency to get stale.” They needed to refresh and validate crucial data on a regular basis, which meant they needed to engage customers regularly, including during “non-shoppable moments,” and create frictionless opportunities for those customers to share information.

Into this void walked a silly Avengers quiz, the spark for what would become a denim fit finder quiz that matched customers with the right style of jeans for them.

The initial denim fit finder was not an unqualified success. Says Tony, “It really did not have any kind of entertainment value, it was very direct, there was no brand communication, there was no brand voice involved.” But after returning to the drawing board, they eventually hit on a winning formula, driving seven figures in direct and incremental revenue through their first successful quiz alone. They’ve gone on to create new quizzes, or “style challenges,” on a monthly cadence, refining their strategy each time.

Three Rules for Collecting Declared Data (According to Tony Zubek)

Tony ascribes their success collecting declared data to three principles that guide every campaign.

1. Make It Relevant and Fun

“Make sure it’s relevant and fun,” Tony gently admonishes. “You can’t ask a question—one cannot ask a question—that sounds like it’s a survey. One thing I want to make perfectly clear is that when we look at Jebbit, we’re not looking at them as a survey; we’re looking at them as an engagement experience for our customers. So make sure that you’re talking to them in the tone that they want. Make sure that you’re having a good quality experience with them. And make sure you’re making it really relevant and fun.”

For Express, this principle comes to life through great creative that blends seamlessly with the rest of the brand experience and through questions that mix the straightforward (whether they are shopping for men’s or women’s clothing, for example) with the fun (say, whether you’ll find them networking over drinks or having coffee with their mentor).

2. Deliver Immediate Benefit

“Probably the best part,” Tony says, “once they get to the end of the experience, we identify them.” (You’ll recall his delight over being Black Panther.)

Behind the scenes, the brand is identifying each person who completes the experience with a customer persona for future personalized messaging, but what the customer sees instead is a fun name and descriptor: “No-Nonsense Negotiator” or “Creative Mastermind” for a workwear finder, for example.

The icing on the cake is that, after they receive their results, quiz-takers are directed to a curated look of nine to twelve items based on their answers. When an e-retail site can easily run to hundreds or thousands of available items, those personalized product recommendations create a frictionless experience that saves the customer time and helps them discover the perfect purchase.

3. Keep It Quick

“We have between five and seven questions,” Tony explains. “You have to keep it quick.”

Given how their typical consumer is engaging—probably on a smartphone, as likely doing a spur-of-the-moment browse as an in-depth shopping session—Tony prioritizes experiences that provide near-instant gratification in order not to exceed the consumers’ window of attention. 

“When they are experiencing this quiz,” he says, “it’s got to be something that’s fast paced, especially with people who are millennials or have a younger mindset.”

Declared Data Beyond the Retail Sector

Tony is confident that his three rules aren’t specific to his industry. ”Not everyone else is trying to sell a sweater,” he jokes.

Whether in the retail sector or beyond, uncovering the “why” behind the buy is a potential goldmine. Tony counsels marketers to ask themselves, “Why did they buy those different items? Is there any way that we can find out through any experience?” Asking questions that elicit a customer’s self-declared motivations, preferences, or intentions contextualizes and enriches purely transactional data.

Leveraging those insights to create a more personalized and relevant brand experience is a goal that any marketer, regardless of industry, can get behind.

Published June 27, 2019

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