Introducing the Self-Service Generation

  |  April 30, 2012   |  Comments

A new trend of consumer intelligence.

Look in the mirror. We are living in the self-service data generation. All ages, from all walks of life, obsessively use the Internet and mobile devices for communication, life management, and purchase decision making. Users have an unprecedented sophistication in using data for personal decisions. Many have grown up with technology at our fingertips, and believe instant access to information is a right. It's not surprising that consumers demand intelligent services and access to our own data from businesses and government agencies. Consumers want to "co-own" the data - no longer desiring or trusting marketers to make decisions about what is desirable to read and experience.

This trend in consumer behavior is creating a need for new "consumer intelligence" aspects of our business data warehousing and management - and putting pressure on the automation software we use. Consumer intelligence expands the field of business intelligence (BI), which has long been the key to understanding marketing data for automating and optimizing decisions about offer selection, placement, and cadence.

Most marketers benefit from BI - using data analytics in understanding sentiment analysis, to map a customer journey, define the path to decision (buy or don't buy, open or cancel an account, renew or replace), and score our highest value customers. As we create, manage, and optimize customer communications and messaging using software that sits closer to the data, we aim to interact with customers and prospects in real time, offering information, ideas, and offers that we hope make sense for that person, in that moment, and through the preferred channel.

In doing so, we use data provided by the consumer - either directly through registration and purchase forms or through behavioral tracking. In fact, personal data is a currency that consumers use to gain access to content, free apps, and loyalty points. Privacy regulations increasingly give consumers the option to refuse online tracking. Certainly, publicity around abuses of personal information and the notice marketers provide before collecting data has made consumers more aware and, in many cases, wary, of handing over the goods and letting marketers make the decisions.

The long-time implicit covenant between consumer and brand is being re-bargained. In the past, the covenant was around a promise to respect consumer data. For example, I give you my email address and preferences, and you, dear marketer, promise to send me information that is interesting and helpful. Consumers know marketers have a lot of data on them. They want us to use it respectfully, and increasingly they want us to give them direct access. They won't hand over the "goods" - accurate data - without the right to use it themselves. The assumption here - which seems to prove out, but may not be fully vetted - is that engaged, informed consumers make better decisions, and stick with the brands and companies that respect and empower them.

It's already happening:

  • More than 30 million American adults have used a mobile device to access healthcare data of some kind. Mobile applications promote healthier lifestyles by encouraging better eating habits, exercise, and adherence to physicians' advice.
  • Leading banks such as Wells Fargo, Discover Financial Services, and Lloyds Banking Group allow retail banking customers to analyze their own data on the web, 24 hours a day. This is very different from traditional banking, where the only option would be to see a personal financial consultant in a bank branch during banking hours.
  • Smart metering sensor devices on residential homes in Southern California and Boulder, Colorado track energy consumption at a detailed level for each consumer household. Consumers can monitor and change behavior.

The proliferation of mobile devices and a new breed of consumers are driving a revolution in requirements for access to business data. Historically, data warehouses provide intelligence to business knowledge workers within large enterprises. This might be hundreds of users running queries, with perhaps single-digit thousands of automated queries running scripts for things like triggered email messages or call center screen updates. Opening that data up to consumers exponentially multiplies the number of users - and the frequency with which they ping the database. Their expectations will be high: demanding for fast response, data freshness, and real-time interaction.

I think this is a huge opportunity to marketers to connect with customers and increase the depth of engagement. It's not going to be cheap, though - not in terms of data warehousing, data access and analytics, and digital experience creation. There may be ways to ease into it, test, and learn - without a huge drain on your systems. Perhaps limit the amount of data to a specific interaction (e.g., am I at risk for diabetes? vs. what health risks do I face?) or the number of customers who can utilize it (e.g., gold members only). Also, consider fees for deeper or more frequent access to data.

Can you think of some ways that you can start to test the value of consumer intelligence with your own program? Talk to your BI team, and of course, listen to your customers.


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Stephanie Miller

Stephanie Miller is a relentless customer advocate and a champion for marketers creating memorable online experiences. A digital marketing expert, she helps responsible data-driven marketers connect with the people, resources, and ideas they need to optimize response and revenue. She speaks and writes regularly and leads many industry initiatives as VP, Member Relations and Chief Listening Officer at the Direct Marketing Association ( Feedback and column ideas most welcome, to smiller AT the-dma DOT org or @stephanieSAM.

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