Big Data and analytics: How do we get to the ‘market of one’?

The promise of Big Data is enormous; it’s the key to the vision we’ve had for some time: that elusive ability to tailor messaging down to the individual customer level, that whole tantalising ‘market of one’ formerly known as one-to-one marketing.

Today, that promise is actually within reach. With the appropriate analytics tools coming on to the market; software that supports analysis of trends and anomalies and leads to personalised insights – soon (if not already, as in some sectors such as finance) we’ll be able to deliver those insights on a personalised, individualised level. We’ll be able to “speak” to our customers in their language, thereby delivering the goods and services they actually want and need to buy.

Customers will finally receive only relevant, germane messages, offers and outreach, stuff that will have been sent to them because we – as marketers – know that they actually want it, that they’ll welcome it instead of wanting to bin it, and that it instantly will be clear to them that it can make their lives easier. So, think weather forecasts, useful restaurant or accommodation recommendations on your phone when you reach your holiday destination, your future fridge that will talk you through a great new recipe based on what contents your fridge already contains and on your family’s meal preferences.

And as we all know, the benefit to brands with the one-to-one targeted approach is the ability to enhance the whole customer experience and therefore increase loyalty, boost total lifetime spend and deliver many other positives to the business as well as to the customer. With the ‘market of one,’ the possibilities are genuinely exciting.

Execution not objective

Indeed, the problem is one of execution, not of objective.

That means for marketing leaders and professionals a ‘mindshift’ has to happen, based on embracing Big Data analytics and taking a risk or two along the way.

These leaders need to consider multiple future scenarios, instead of just thinking about and analysing what happened yesterday or during the last quarter, which is the traditional method in which analytics and business intelligence has been used.

Of course, marketers don’t always know what they want or need to know. It’s a bit like a fish in a goldfish bowl thinking, ‘I’m thirsty.’ In order to mine the right information from myriad data sources, marketers need to know which questions they need to ask.And these questions in the context of advanced analytics can be very different than the questions asked and answered by earlier BI technology. Sometimes, marketers need to be shown a sample of what’s possible before they can even begin to articulate their desires.

To help, they need a way to work with data that makes it really simple to access meaningful information to deliver insight and so inspire new questions and soon new ways of working and solutions. Think of it as an analytical loop, or lifecycle: ask the question, the software visualises the analysis of the data, which leads to asking another question, which leads to another visualisation, which then may lead to a light bulb popping in one’s head. ‘Look at that correlation! If that’s true, and the data tells me it is, then just imagine what kind of results we could achieve with a marketing campaign that offered X!’ And the one key factor in delivering that capability is clever, predictive analytics for self-service.

Analytic statistics

Systems like this act as sophisticated, powerful tools for business improvement and planning. They allow marketers to work out – without reliance on IT – what the impact of a change in a product/service or message will be before it is implemented: they also allow marketers to model anything that can happen in the business, e.g. the impact of changes in resources all the way to mapping the impact of adding new products and services, and even the fine grain of changing the way a marketing campaign is run.

Predictive analytics software solutions also help marketing managers create marketing and product/service launch plans and fine-tune the implementation of their brand messages. This are tools, based on the power of Big Data, which marketers have needed for some time.

To be clear: this is a story about enablement. IT needs to open up the doors to marketing via technology. Dashboards and drill-down facilities can work well on a browser on a PC or laptop – but on the smaller screen of a mobile device, an interface that works with touch and gestures is far more effective and appreciated.

A marketing team member must be able to access relevant, timely insights anytime and anywhere – whether on the office desktop, their home laptop, work tablet or iPhone, Surface, Nexus or other device. Similarly, even if a massive online data storage and processing infrastructure like Hadoop is part of the picture, the chances are that other contributing sources of content will exist in tandem with it, almost certainly in the form of ‘traditional’ relational databases and document archive formats. All of this rich data legacy must be catered for to help deliver the framework the company needs to get to ‘market of one’ style marketing. Remember, we need to do a lot of work to make this straightforward, so that marketing professionals can work with Big Data without the need of a Doctorate in Advanced Statistics and an enormous IT organisation spending extraneous cycles to support them.

Don’t forget the basis of this Big Data enabled vision of one-to-one marketing: a visualisation and analytics platform to act as the rock-solid foundation for all this great work; one that is as dynamic, responsive, flexible and scalable as the chosen data storage and processing infrastructure requires; and one that doesn’t need to be pre-programmed, but rather can react to the questions users are asking – real time – as they view the visualisations – to serve up actionable, valuable, personalised insights.

After all, without a dynamic visualisation layer and the ability to run predictive models, data – no matter how Big or small – is a lot like all that money in locked-out current accounts being discussed in the news just now: great in the abstract, but useless if you can’t access it.

A real promise

There is no doubt that data content is expanding and diversifying at a startling rate, now comprising assets that take multiple different forms. Nor is there any doubt that all this data needs to be amalgamated, analysed and served back to marketers and customers in a meaningful way that’s of timely value. Customers expect it – and amidst the competitive pressures in our globalised, de-regulated world of the 21st century’s second decade – customers demand it.

So how near are we to the promise of usable one-to-one marketing right now, today? I suspect a lot further than we let ourselves know. The technology isn’t quite there yet; certainly not integrated to a point where marketers are going to be able to use it easily. But it’s not far off, and some of the solutions on the market already can give marketers a platform and a jumping off point that will allow them to build on what they have as data sources continue to diversify.

At the same time, we know that Big Data’s promise is real and is becoming more realised every day. Knowing more about your customers, one by one, really is going to help you serve your customers better, both now and in the future.

Josep Arroyo is VP of analytic solutions at Actuate, makers of BIRT Analytics. Follow Josep @joseparroyo

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