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Widening the Competitive Advantage by Closing the Analysis Gap

In this era of regulatory demands, rapid product life cycles, safety concerns and price pressure, finding a sustainable competitive edge remains the single preoccupation of successful enterprises. Organizations had hoped to gain an advantage by investing in product and customer information.

The American Marketing Association finds that a majority of U.S.-based companies have two to three times more customer data than they had a year ago. One would think this avalanche of data would be delivering huge benefits, but executives say they are no closer to making good use of this mountain of information. The information advantage over the competition has yet to be realized.

The key to an information advantage is squeezing the unrealized value out of this data and putting that knowledge to work across all major business processes — research, manufacturing, marketing and sales. To reach this point, companies must overcome the “analysis gap” — between sophisticated tools usable only by a few experts and inflexible query and reporting products for everybody else. When these tools fall short, companies often try to fill the gap with homegrown, spreadsheet-based applications:

· Most companies cite spreadsheets as their business intelligence platform.

· The most popular feature request of business intelligence vendors is output to spreadsheets.

· In a crisis, when an immediate, informed answer is required, that decision likely will be made around a set of spreadsheets.

But spreadsheet applications offer little in terms of usability, visualization and scalability.

Brand management is one discipline plagued by the analysis gap. Brand management requires an intimate understanding of changes to market, product, customer and channel data, and the need to communicate it. Companies spend billions of dollars to obtain data on customer purchasing habits and retail sales data and invest in internal databases, CRM systems, ERP systems and SFA systems to gather more information.

Companies are coming to understand that their current analysis tools are inadequate for finding the opportunities and threats to their business that lie buried in their data. To close the analysis gap, these companies have turned to a new class of visually interactive analysis applications that empower sales and marketing professionals and convert their market intuition into actionable intelligence. Long a staple of such operational areas as research and development and manufacturing, interactive, visual analytics allow marketers to rapidly iterate marketing scenarios and confidently apply fact-based insights to marketing and sales decisions.

Through the use of powerful, visually interactive data analysis, marketers can analyze internal and external data in one, unified environment, freeing them to focus on research instead of pulling together data and building yet another report. Even more important, a user does not have to be a statistician to uncover new customer segments or understand channel performance drivers.

Visual correlations and patterns in every-day data jump off the screen. Any number of questions, whose value are not yet determined, can be asked of the data at no cost, maximizing the possibility of uncovering unanticipated problems or unmasking opportunities. New discoveries soon become best practices for data analysis and can be captured easily and distributed to others. These insights will let companies make faster, more informed decisions and realize an information advantage over their competitors.

These new analytics applications are responsive to changing circumstances, let companies rapidly aggregate critical data without IT involvement and can be applied to forward-looking decisions. Marketers no longer are limited to understanding what already happened — they now can focus on what’s happening and how to take immediate action. With interactive, visual analytics, the following complex marketing and sales questions are easily answered:

· Not just who is my top customer in the segment, but are there customers in new segments who share the profile of my most successful customers?

· Not just what is my best product, but what factors contribute to a category-leading product?

· Not just what is my market share in a category, but are market characteristics forming that would lead to entering or exiting a category?

· Not just how are our promotions performing, but are we running the right promotions in the right markets?

· Not just whether there is a new trend in syndicated data, but how should I redeploy my sales organization to capitalize on it?

As more sales, marketing and industry data become available to companies, having applications in place to maximize the value of this information is essential. Organizations that put visually interactive analytics applications into the hands of sales and marketing professionals stand to gain an advantage over the competition.

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