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Big Data Makes Sense (and Cents) and Dollars

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Irresistible wordplay: Big Data makes big cents.
Irresistible wordplay: Big Data makes big cents.

Whether you run a dentist's office or a Fortune 500 company, data needs to be a part of the conversation. Such was the sentiment expressed at the Direct Marketing Club luncheon on March 13, where execs from Citibank, Hearst Magazines, and Forrester gathered to answer this question: “The New Analytics: Sense or Nonsense?”

The answer is, of course, a resounding “SENSE,”—if you have any desire to relate to your customers in a relevant way and make money, that is.

According to Forrester, companies that include data as part of their overall marketing strategy are able to implement their plans three times as fast and up to twice as profitably. Not bad.

Data drives modern marketing; no one disagrees with that. The question is less, “Should I use data?” and more, “What data should I pay attention to and how should I use it?”

Most marketers are still in what Citibank chief analytics and database marketing officer for consumer and small decision management Tony Branda, refers to as “research and development mode,” meaning they're still trying to figure out how to operationalize Big Data, especially unstructured data, to attract and deepen relationships.

“In this world of digital footprints and customer-engaged, customer-driven multichannel marketing, there's no social data infrastructure yet,” Branda said. “We're still trying to integrate our infrastructure with all of the unstructured data coming out of Big Data.”

Step one is asking yourself what you want to get out of your data, noted Sheryl Pattek, Forrester VP and principal analyst serving CMOs.

“Data has been so over-spoken about in the industry as a whole, but many of our clients are not quite sure what to do with it [because] they see it as this huge, overwhelming mass of stuff,” Pattek said. “But there's possibility in being pragmatic; focus on what specific questions you want answered and what data is going to help you answer those questions.”

Data is less overwhelming when you view it through the window of practical strategy. If you think of data as a way to help you increase customer acquisition by 10% or bump up cross-sell by 3% rather than as a general panacea (or implacable monster), you'll see results.

It also doesn't hurt to listen. Dell, for example, uses its social media command center as a listening device to keep tabs on what its customers are saying about the brand in the social space. At one point, after a recent launch, Dell noticed that people were complaining about the high price of its new product. Dell was able to bring that feedback to the product management department and take an action that not only mitigated the trash talk, but also boosted sales.

The more channel-agnostic consumers become, the more integrated marketers need to be. If someone hears about a product on social, researches it on their phone, then visits the company website, opts in to email, finally buys the product on a desktop, and then goes back to social to tweet about their satisfaction or dissatisfaction with the whole process—why does their final key stroke (or tap) matter? It's time to toss last click attribution out the window.

“We need to move away from channel attribution because the channel basically doesn't matter anymore,” Pattek said. “If you optimize a single channel, you might be missing an important part of the buying journey.”

Because it's a whole new world out there—one in which a single tweet is all it takes to make a magazine fly off the shelves, as was the case with Miley Cyrus and the March 2013 issue of Cosmo:

“Everyone did it and sales went through the roof,” said Charles Swift, VP of strategy and marketing operations at Hearst Magazines. “Now the challenge for us is, ‘How do we make that happen again?'”

It's a good question, considering Miley tweeted that on her own, not as the result of a directive from Hearst.

“We spend a lot of time testing social media, but it's new for us,” Swift said. “Now that we've seen some evidence of success, it's hard to say what we have to do to repeat it.”

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