Q&A: The Power to Act

Erick Brethenoux, director of business analytics and decision management strategy at IBM, explains why data is at the heart of customer centricity.

What kind of data should marketers be tracking that they aren’t yet?

Any organization [can gain] some benefit from using analytics. But the correct type of data to look at is dependent [on the] industry. In spite of the big talk from many organizations, few businesses today take advantage of social media data in their decisions. They talk a lot about it, but not many use it pragmatically. But think about it: If I post five or six reviews on TripAdvisor every year, for example, and so do you, and so does everyone, that’s a lot of information.

Do you find that some marketers aren’t putting their data into action?

When you’re thinking about Big Data, start with a business problem first. That’s one of the key lessons I’ve learned. Show people pragmatically what you can do for them. Some executives don’t seem to realize that with analytics it’s not the ‘what’ but the ‘why’ that’s useful. You don’t need to have a lot of data to do good analytics. We have a motto around here: start small and act fast.

This seems to go beyond just marketing and into customer centricity.

I wholeheartedly agree with that…. It’s all about customer experience management. Personalization is what we do. [In our work with Denihan Hospitality Group] we’re trying to balance what people say in surveys, all that unstructured text—their comments on their loyalty, the frequency of their stays, how much they spend, the price—then personalize their experience. That’s critical.

Do customers today have different expectations?

Today, you’re not going to be loyal to any brand just because of a marketing campaign. How many of us trust what a brand is saying? What do you do when you’re looking for a hotel? You go to TripAdvisor and read reviews…. We listen to people we’ve never met before [about] a brand because we know these people are the same as we are. The only thing that’s going to change our behavior and guarantee our loyalty isn’t a campaign, but reading about what other people have actually experienced. That’s where the real conversation is happening: online.

Has personalization become do-or-die for brands?

I would say it’s the key to staying competitive going forward…. For Denihan it’s about anticipating the needs of its guests. But how can you do that for thousands—or millions—of customers without powerful, precise technology? That’s where technology makes the truly personalized experience at scale viable. I know what you want, yes, but beyond that I know what you prefer and what you want before you even enter the room.

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