If you're like many business leaders, you freeze like a rabbit in headlights when someone mentions big data.

Although collecting, analysing, and leveraging customer data is a concern for 72% of business and IT leaders, just 44% have taken action to address it, according to PwC's Sixth Annual Digital IQ Survey. To bridge this gap, marketers need to communicate to the C-suite how customer insights gleaned from big data can be used to increase sales, drive strategic decision-making across departments, and help businesses gain a competitive advantage.

Why are so many businesses hesitating? With a massive amount of customer data coming from many sources, including Web sites, email, social media, mobile, customer service, data warehouses, and more, collecting and using this data can seem daunting. In addition, there's an overwhelming surge of unstructured data—not just from social media but also the growing volume of audio and hardcopy text that's being digitised at an unprecedented pace, adding to the challenge of determining how to organise data so that it's usable. Not to mention figuring out how to incorporate data from different channels, including mobile, to get a 360-degree customer view.

Collecting, analysing and using customer data intelligently is definitely a challenge. No one has it totally figured out, and there's no easy one-size-fits-all solution. However, it's critical for marketers to get in the game now or risk falling way behind their competitors in terms of being able to offer customers personalised omnichannel experiences.

Why marketers need to leverage data effectively

There are several important reasons marketers need to get on the customer data bandwagon. Data management and analytics enable marketers to do the following:

Navigate increasing complexity, including the proliferation of channels and touchpoints, the shift to a nonlinear purchase cycle, and the demands of serving customers 24/7.

Apply advanced marketing capabilities, including real-time personalization and marketing automation.
Speak the C-suite's language, using data to support strategy and planning as well as demonstrate quantifiable results. According to a Harvard Business Review article that cites a 2012 CEB study, marketers still rely too much on intuition, leveraging data for just 11% of customer-related decisions.

Gain competitive advantage by driving strategic decisions with customer insights. According to PwC, 65% of business leaders believe big data will give them an edge.

More accurately understand the return on investment for the full suite of marketing tactics and optimise the mix with marketing and media mix modeling.

Overcome your big data fears

The good news is marketers don't have to be overwhelmed by big data. It's possible to take incremental steps to becoming more data savvy versus getting too complex too quickly. Following is a general road map of how to get going in the right direction:

Start small. Start with organising and analysing your proprietary customer data to get your house in order. By starting with the data you have, you can determine what data is missing and what you may need from other sources.

Get support. Establish a strong partnership with the CIO and IT department and leverage their expertise as needed. This is key. 70% of top-performing companies have strong CIO-CMO relationships, versus just 45% for non-top performers, according to PwC.

Hire smart. Establish or expand data analytics capabilities within the marketing team—in other words, hire good people with the right skills.

Get up to speed on marketing technologies. The CMO should take the lead in selecting and implementing marketing technology tools, including CRM, marketing automation, inbound marketing, resource management, and social CRM tools.

Be collaborative. Work with other departments that touch the customer to be sure technology investments can capture their data, too, and will integrate with legacy systems. Otherwise, there's no way you'll capture anything close to a 360-degree customer view. Not to mention you'll also probably blow your budget with nothing much to show for it.

How technology helps marketers apply customer data

Technology tools are a key component in putting customer data to work for your brand. You really can't do without them. That's why it's important for marketers to better understand what marketing technology tools are available and how they can be applied to achieve specific goals. Don't leave it to IT to figure it out.

The most exciting application of customer data today is real-time personalisation—essentially 1:1 marketing at a mass scale. Self-learning marketing automation technologies combined with CRM tools allow marketers to serve up relevant promotions or information to customers in real time as they browse at any time on virtually any channel. Imagine delivering an email offer that automatically changes according to an individual customer's online behaviour—so when it's clicked, it's as relevant and enticing as possible at that moment. Or making comprehensive customer profiles instantly available to customer service agents and delivering prompts so they can intelligently cross-sell or add value based on up-to-the-minute customer behaviour. It may sound far-fetched, but it's not. The technology is very mature and now available to all marketers via the cloud. It's critical for marketers to educate themselves and start making the shift to more intelligent, data-driven marketing.


By Grant Halloran, global vice president and general manager at Infor


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