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Joe Stanhope, principal analyst, Forrester Research
Joe Stanhope, principal analyst, Forrester Research

Real-time data is what marketers want; old-time analytics is what they've got. That's the diagnosis of Forrester Research principal analyst Joe Stanhope, who says too many companies continue to confront Big Data with Web analytics, tracking only basic on-site metrics like page views and click-through rates that force brands to be reactive to unique customer needs.

Yet some forward-thinking companies have embraced comprehensive analytics that evaluate and respond to customers in real time. Online travel broker Orbitz, which declined to comment for this story, uses real-time data for what seems like a counterintuitive practice: sending certain customers to competitors such as Expedia or Cheapflights.

Here's why: Orbitz consults several data buckets to categorize customers on its site. Did they get there via search or typing in the URL? How many times did they redo their itineraries? Have they visited the site before and, if so, what did they book? If Orbitz's data intelligence system determines that a particular customer is a low-value bargain-hunter, who will soon be heading back to a search engine to comparison-shop, it serves that person an ad for a competitor and pockets a media fee.

Ultimately, the key is not just collecting information, it's knowing what information is relevant for a specific question. In the case of Orbitz: How valuable is this prospect? Intent Media, which provides Orbitz's system, siphons 60 or 70 signals of predicted behavior, from thousands of online signals, in order to do this, says Richard Harris, Intent Media's CEO and cofounder.

“Based on a set transaction value threshold,” Harris says, “we'll send someone to another site if the media revenue is greater than the predicted value of the transaction.”

Getting reliable customer data quickly is especially important in the B2B space, where marketers find themselves stuck in small boats in a vast sea of client information. “Reps don't have the time or the will to go onto the Internet and pull out all the information they need,” says Steve Kozek, managing director of commercial information and analysis at GE Capital, at Salesforce's Dreamforce 2012 technology conference.

Kozek's solution was to implement service from B2B analytics provider FirstRain, which scans up to 10,000 online topics that can be customized around the needs of individual reps. The solution presents the information on a daily dashboard of relevant and breaking news about clients, such as new partnerships and events.

“For GE, we are absolutely thinking about data sources that help us paint a better picture of the customer or provide better market intelligence,” says Linda Boff, global executive director of digital, advertising, and design at GE. “But really…it's not about the source. It's about the ability to know what to do with the data. Finding the triggers and actionable insights that give commercial meaning to the data is what we are after. The algorithms and data scientists are most critical.”


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