John Tukey, a great thinker in the world of data visualization, once said, "The greatest value of a picture is when it forces us to notice what we never expected to see." Marketers, bloggers, and pundits alike have taken this to heart when it comes to "big data" and personal analytics -- the idea that terabytes of data can uncover previously unseen patterns and insights in human behavior that can transform businesses.
It's easy to understand why. Today, nearly every industry is remaking itself by using personal analytics to change behaviors:
- In financial services, Mint and Lemon organize receipt and financial data to help you track purchases and optimize budgets.
- Tools like FitBit, Strada, Kinect Training, and the iSwing app all track activity levels to help people find their swings, strides, and improved fitness.
- Health-focused apps like Superbetter, Sleepbot, and CaffeineZone monitor everything from how we sleep to how much caffeine we take in.
- Services like Foursquare, TripIt, and Instagram Photo Maps help us track where we've been and what we did.
- Klout, Kred, and Wolfram Alpha are there to help quantify our influence and visualize our personal networks (and sooth our fragile egos).
Once the domain of technology companies, brands now want to get involved in personal analytics -- and for good reason. Their markets are more competitive and customer loyalty feels fleeting. Smart brands know that by creating value with data, they can create more enduring relationships with people who want a closer connection to brands. Additionally, key technologies like 3D accelerometers, radio-frequency identification, high performance storage, and wireless technology are cheaper and easier than ever for brands to deploy.
However, with all this talk about "big data," most brands overlook a key point -- "big data" is about people. The activity we measure gives us a window into what people like, do, buy, need, think, and feel. By tracking people's Facebook "likes," page views, and purchase data without using them to deliver on a higher-order customer need, marketers miss out on opportunities to better understand and learn from those customers.
This is understood by the following brands that are leading in the personal analytics area:
- Progressive has developed Progressive Snapshot, a device that plugs into your car's ODBII port (the same place your mechanic checks the car's computer) and tracks everything about how you drive -- including top speed, time of day, and number of hard brakes -- wirelessly beaming it to Progressive HQ and visualizing it for you through an online dashboard. Progressive uses the information to improve their risk models and tailor people's monthly auto rates to their actual habits. People save up to 30 percent simply by viewing the data and adjusting their driving (including kicking any lingering tailgating habits).
- Similarly, Babolat is reinventing the way people play tennis. With its Play & Connect platform, a sensor in the racquet measures the type of stroke (backhand, forehand), the topspin and power of each stroke, and where the ball hits the racquet. This data is shared wirelessly to a mobile phone or laptop to visualize patterns in performance. Babolat gets in-depth information on how people use its products, which can help up-sell new products as new goals are met or to replenish equipment. Instant feedback and unparalleled detail into a swing help improve anyone's game.
So as a brand, how can you get involved?
Start by asking yourself three questions:
What type of relationship do you want to have with your customers?
The easiest way to answer this is to start with your loyalists and build around them. How would you respond, recognize, and reward people who are your best customers? What higher-order benefit can you satisfy? Babolat focuses on improving your tennis swing. Progressive focuses on getting the most value for your insurance. Determine how can you deliver value and then iterate from there.
What data can you collect to bring that relationship to life?
Data is everywhere today. Everything from hangtags on clothes to ingredients and flavors on food packages to schedules and meal plans can become trackable data with the right platform. The trick is to find ways to both collect and harness this information, and then leverage it to deliver on higher-order customer needs. Privacy concerns and opt-in requirements will also need to be a key consideration.
Are you ready to harness it?
Assuming you identify a higher-order customer need and have the data to help deliver on it, now you need the right resources to harness it. This includes the technology, analytics, and talent to create tools and applications. Moreover, it requires organization to learn and respond to insights uncovered from customer behaviors. These resources can come from agencies, specialist companies, or internal sources.
Brands that embrace sharing the power of analytics with their customers are likely to be the leaders that truly change customer behavior and, in turn, earn customer loyalty. The proof is in the data-infused pudding.
Scott MacLeod is the director of analytics and insights at The VIA Agency.
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