Big Brands on Big Data: Bigger Marketing Is Not Better

With so much data and automation technology available to marketers, there is a temptation to do more, more often. Yet, the most effective uses of big data are usually not bigger marketing, but leaner, more efficient marketing.

The biggest challenge now is to wrestle big data down into actionable insights. We need to get to the data that counts. Grazia Ochoa, director of global digital marketing at Starwood Hotels and Resorts said in a recent panel on data-driven marketing that I was lucky enough to moderate here in New York City, “We view consumer behavior in multiple models in order to understand the full experience in each visit in a particular property, but also over time to see how we can improve the return rate. If I can move a guest from four visits a year to six, that is better than just optimizing the four visits we already have. We strive to do both.”

Similarly, Charlie Swift, VP of marketing analysis and operations at Hearst says, “As we move forward inventing the new world of publishing – between digital editions of our magazines and the shift to deeper consumer relationships – data is at the heart of our ability to learn and react faster to the market dynamics. Speed to learn and change is critical to our long-term success.”

“We use data to drive efficiency in our marketing organizations,” Charlie continues. “We try to link subscribers together with a 360-degree view. It also transforms our language – the way we connect with subscribers and advertisers and how much more able we are to understand them, to speak to both audiences in ways that resonate.”

No matter the industry or market share, marketers everywhere are stewards of consumer data. It is our actions and abilities – and care and attention – that enable brands to responsibly use all the data we have – big and otherwise – to delight customers, and engage them with our brands.

Steve Ireland, executive director, advertising strategy and platforms at JPMorgan Chase adds, “We are trying to be more intelligent about data. It’s not about targeting the minutia; it’s about trying to identify what is really important and relevant. For us, we have 50 to 60 products to present to customers, each with different value drivers and value components.”

Grazia with Starwood explains the need to view this as an analytics continuum – from data to knowledge to intelligence to action (and repeat). “For example,” she says, “global personalization is a major initiative, and it covers both ‘marketing’ and ‘product’ (the hotel visit) throughout the experience. We use lots of social and other clickstream data to make those personalized experiences possible. This might include reviews from like-minded travelers, requirement on beverages in the room, and offers at check-in (like restaurants or spa) based on interests and experiences.”

At the end of the day, big data is meaningless – as is small data or any other form! – if it doesn’t help us create more meaningful and relevant customer experiences. Our data-driven lifestyle is so ingrained today, that we hardly notice what marketers make happen – like recognizing me when I check in to a hotel or airport, or sending me offers for things I regularly purchase (or might like to try), or helping me connect with friends over a common interest. The responsible use of data in any organization is about making those connections between consumer-brand and consumer-consumer.

Grazia agrees. “We use data to be more relevant in our messaging – so that creates a better value for travelers. We also use it to make sure that we use the right metrics. For example, we track relevancy in our conversion rates on both owned and paid media.”

Being able to use more data more efficiently enables new segmentation models. Steve with JPMorgan Chase notes that the relationship between consumers and their bank is constantly evolving. “The number of interactions is enormous – just think about the number of times you use your mobile device to check stocks or your balance or to move money around,” he says. “There is an increase of digital interactions vs. human interactions, which we believe consumers find beneficial because they control them.”

Ceding some of the control to consumers over content, interests, and timing is essential to being an authentic brand. At the same time, marketers still must delight consumers with new ideas and connections. Julie Bernard, group VP, customer centricity, direct marketing, and loyalty at Macy’s calls this the “wow” factor. “We strive to balance the use of customer data to inform content relevancy with the use of consumer insights to ensure that the relevancy is coupled with a sense of discovery and inspiration. A fashion business must deliver relevancy alongside a great experience, ensuring we leave room for the surprise, the ‘wow.’ Knowing so much about our customers helps us remove the clutter so that we may focus on communicating information and experiences that truly ‘wow’ her.”

Data stewardship is the central task of using big data responsibly and effectively. Marketing has always been the advocate of the consumer. Now, we are much more responsible for the entire customer experience.

However, there are additional complexities in using data responsibly. “Marketers must now be versed in legal and technology conversations at a greater level of depth than ever before,” Julie says. “Data-driven marketing is under the microscope from a variety of third parties – including regulatory agencies. As such, the marketing leaders must think about what Congress is likely to do as relates to our strategies to drive revenue and consumer value.”

The real-time nature of the Internet makes is harder than ever to identify the right data, and use it effectively. We often consider consumer data to be dynamic and perishable. However, the data is simply a means to an end. “It’s the moment, not the data that is perishable. That single moment you have to connect with someone,” Charlie from Hearst says. Big data help us capture that moment.

How are you using big data to innovate your marketing practices, processes, and customer experiences? Please share in the comments section below.

Big Data image on home page via Shutterstock.

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