People 'n' Issues

Big data must put customers before technology

April 13th, 2016
Having access to so much data can be daunting – as a business it is important to learn how to use it to your advantage but always remembering to keep the customer at the heart of it, says RICHARD MULLINS, MD of MEA at Acceleration.
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Data works in two directions. Firstly, it gives businesses access to unprecedented volumes of real-time data about customer behaviour, preferences and context. It also provides consumers with information about where they should go for the best product range, experience, and pricing.

Thanks to smartphones, consumers have this information at hand whenever they research purchases, shop, and interact with brands.

Consider, for example, someone in a mall looking for the best nearby restaurant. He or she will look up nearby pizzerias on Apple or Google Maps or look up best restaurants on Zomato’s app. This provides the local owner of a pizzeria to target him or her with a contextual ad and perhaps an offer for a complimentary drink.

Think about someone trying on a jacket in a clothing store – having checked out the colour and the fit, he or she may decide to find the cheapest price and order it online. This may be done via their mobile phone, a mobile app or a tablet, for next day delivery. Why not offer to match pricing from the biggest online competitors in a PPC ad when the customer does his or her mobile search on Google?

The trail of behavioural, location, demographic and even psychographic data customers leave behind as they use mobile search and social media enables us to understand consumer behaviour and personalise messaging and right place right offer opportunity. Bear in mind that is aggregated customer data rather than information that identifies them personally.

Personalised experiences
To thrive in a world where smartphones make nearly every shopping experience a digital one, brands must learn to use data across their touch points to deliver a clear and personalised experience to each customer. Luckily, marketers have unprecedented volumes of data that they can use to understand and influence consumer behaviour in real-time.

The problem with trying to wrap one’s head around all this data, however, is that it can be hard to capture, analyse and segment. Most organisations have a plethora of information scattered across numerous logistical, transactional and marketing systems. The marketing systems include the likes of CRM databases, ad-servers, social media platforms, search, third-party data providers and more – and most companies have no idea how to bring it all together to create a single view of the customer. Some large enterprises have been struggling to reach this Holy Grail for decades.

What’s more, in the South African context, data isn’t as big as it is in the US or Europe. Outside a few of the large banks and telcos, most local companies don’t have deep pools of customer data to mine for statistical insight as, for example, Amazon. Lacking the volume of data, they will not achieve the same results as a player with Amazon’s scale even if they apply the same algorithms and analytics tools.

Think smart rather than big
We recommend that marketers ignore the buzz about big data and begin by asking a simple question: “What information will enable us to offer relevant messages and experiences to our customers?” Once they have identified that piece of information, they can begin to think about where and how they can access the data and how they will activate it with the customer.

For us, it’s not about big data. It’s about smart and usable data. Data that enables us to align the right message, service and product with the right customer at the right time. Rather than starting off with a complex data technology solution, marketers should step back and ask: “What data do we need, what data do we have, where does our data sit, and who owns and controls it?”

Understanding the answers to these questions will help the brand create a strategy for accessing the data it needs to serve customers better. Most South African brands have a wealth of transactional data at their fingertips – the next step is to start gathering and leveraging data about the customer context and journey more effectively.

The point is to start with the customers: what do we know about them and how do we serve them better? They should look at specific questions – “We have customers who purchase from us twice a year. How could we entice them to double their purchases?” – and seek equally specific answers.

A focused approach is the key to reaping an investment from customer data.

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