How big data can lead to big loyalty

By now it's no secret that we are in the age of the customer. Empowered by mobile devices and social media channels, customers can (and do) provide unfiltered, real-time feedback on your products and services. Their feedback is often leveraged early on in the creation of new products and services.

For some marketers and product managers, this means that customer satisfaction is their No. 1 metric.

When done right, customer-centric marketing means first analyzing your customer's behavior, then creating personalized, relevant experiences that cross all their favorite digital channels. At best, a customer-driven campaign will address your customers' needs even before they know they need it. And when done right, the payoffs are huge. A survey of more than 1,100 consumers found that 40 percent of respondents said they buy more from retailers who comprehensively personalize the shopping experience across channels.

Putting your customer in the driver's seat is easier said than done, however. It's easy to let customer data turn into tactical, reactionary decision making, but nowadays we have the tools to evolve this into a proactive game. Big data alleviates this challenge somewhat. The ability to draw stats from every customer touchpoint, theoretically, helps marketers make smarter, data-driven decisions.

But big data isn't enough. As marketing and technology continue to converge, here's how marketers can capitalize on data to prepare for the age of the customer:

Align yourselves

Is your company truly aligned with the customer experience in mind? Barriers among departments need to break down in order to build better customer experiences. Some companies have begun doing this. Last year, Microsoft restructured to bust product siloes, putting a former Windows marketer in charge of marketing and advertising for all of Microsoft's products. It will be interesting to see what will come from this reorganization.

Work hand-in-hand with your CIO

This is a big one. A Gartner report predicts that by 2017, CMOs will spend more on IT than CIOs. While some CMOs are already circumventing CIOs when it comes to technology purchases, marketers will serve themselves best by working hand-in-hand with their IT counterparts in order to leverage new data systems.

In the past, marketers were at the mercy of overburdened IT departments. These days you see data scientists sit among marketing teams, and there are lots of cloud-based applications offering marketers the ability to self-manage analytics and CMS applications. But the most successful customers are working with their IT department to integrate such tools in order to measure every customer touch point. You will also need your IT guy when your computer breaks.

Figure out how to fully leverage big data

Marketing has always been a careful balance of art and science (and sometimes a splash of gut reaction). However, it's clear that most marketers aren't mathematicians, and some even suffer from arithmophobia. Marketers will need to find the right platform -- that platform that synthesizes data in ways that can produce actionable insight.

Ask why, not what

As MediaPost notes, there is one fatal limitation of analytics: the chance that marketers will overly rely on data to predict future circumstances. "While big data can tell you what, it can't tell you why...big data can render traditional quantitative research methods obsolete, but it simultaneously underscores the need for empathy and insight," Julie Wittes Schlack writes. I couldn't have said it better. Again, the right analytics tool is vital in this regard.

It's an exciting time for marketers, as organizations become more customer-centric and experiment with data-driven decisions.

Now it's time for marketers to own it.

Jane Paolucci is VP of global marketing and communications at Sitecore.

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