'Customer Centric' In The Age Of Data: Start Small, But Not Too Small

You can’t swing a dead cat in the C-Suite today without bonking a CEO talking up his or her digital agenda. “Digital transformation” for many organizations is the new strategy to help stave off competitive disruption, make the marketing investment more accountable and stay relevant with customers in the future.

Evidence of this change is all around us:

  • Gillette launched a look-alike shave club to steal share back from Dollar Shave Club (Gillette even calls it a shave club!).
  • GE’s CMO has pulled most of its primetime TV advertising, in favor of media that drives engagement and impact. GE sees it can gain relevant reach through channels like Facebook (which has a Super Bowl audience on mobile every day).
  • Companies like Mondelez, Home Depot and Walmart have started incubators to improve speed-to-market through innovation.

These brands realize that to be customer centric, digital is inevitable. And to leverage digital for competitive advantage, they know they need to build an organizational capability around data analytics.



Big Data = Big Challenge
A crucial pillar of digital transformation is the data question, particularly as it related to the customer experience. Everyone's got some. Everyone needs more. But as Booz Allen points out in its 2016 Hottest Technology Trends Report, "Big Data is drawing big questions." 

Why? Companies have made missteps. Some have been quick to purchase big-ticket technology and recruit the best and brightest analysts, but haven’t laid out a vision for how analytics will drive smarter, faster decision-making. Others have spent too much time making org charts and processes vs. piloting data initiatives that drive their learning agenda quickly. All theory, no action.

If the ability to collect, structure, analyze and draw insights from data is the goal, where do you start? Said Steve Jobs: “You‘ve got to start with the customer experience and work back toward that … not the other way around.”

That advice applies to data as much as it does to iPhones. And it’s also a commentary about who ought to lead this stuff inside organizations. Early data “initiatives” are typically led by IT, void of marketing or business strategy. Don’t let that happen to you. Get the CIO and CMO in the same room.

It's Business: Start With The Customer's Journey
The common misperception of the "customer journey" is that decisions are the culmination of a linear sequence of experiences. They're not! Most consumers weave in and out until all the influences blend together. The traditional awareness → purchase funnel is inadequate because it fails to capture the idiosyncrasies of shoppers, as well as external influences like weather (getting rained on), economic conditions (financial hardship) and peer influence (ratings and reviews, et al).

The principal limitation for marketers is the lack of actionable data (not the lack of data). For many organizations, there is actually too much data in too many places. Consequently, the solutions generally fall into three buckets.

  1. Use what you have (typically digital clickstream data).
  2. Collect more data from traditional, well-understood sources.
  3. Try a more nimble, non-traditional approach.

Let’s weigh those options.

Option 1: Start With What You Have
First party data — by far — is the most valuable data asset you have. They’re real customers, it’s data that you own. That data can help you set the foundation for your customer’s experience in your category and with your brand. Owned data is also an easy one to tackle. Little things like adding tracking pixels to your website to close the loop with eCRM efforts can yield significant value. But while clickstream data is great for understanding the “micro,” it fails to address the omni-channel experience. But it’s still a good place to start.

Option 2: Collect From Traditional Sources
This is the online + offline attribution approach that combines digital clickstream data enhanced with other channels, non-digital consumers as well as traditional media (think call centers, direct mail, TV, etc). This paints a truer picture of the actual customer experience, but data collection is a huge effort, and there’s almost no data here (yet), especially for indirect sellers. Don’t start here, but work toward it.

Option 3: Be Nimble: Connect What You Have To A Specific Point In Time
Combine digital clickstream data with surveys (qualitative & quantitative) at any single slice in time. This will uncover consumers’ current behaviors in the category. And you can then aggregate those slices across the decision journey. This will provide better context that accounts for media AND environmental influences. It’s faster and more actionable, but requires strategic thinking to choose the best methodology.

Start Small, But Not Too Small
Customer-centric experiences start by understanding (and documenting) their journey, from their perspective. But in most instances, those journeys are mapped through qualitative methods such as stakeholder interviews. Talk about navel-gazing! To significantly improve your consumer understanding, try a nimble data approach to help you chart the course.

A Side Note For Agencies:
According to new research from Adobe & eConsultancy:  

  • More than half of all agencies say they are becoming MORE specialized.
  • The customer experience revolution is driving a fundamental shift for agency operating models.
  • Customer experience and data were highlighted as the top two skill sets growing in significance.

2 comments about "'Customer Centric' In The Age Of Data: Start Small, But Not Too Small".
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  1. Ted Rubin from The Rubin Organization / Return on Relationship, January 4, 2016 at 9:13 a.m.

    It's about time... how many years has digital been around now and springint to the forefront of media. Perhaps the same CEOs will not wait so long to do the same with Social and Mobile.... both of which will simply become "Marketing" soon since everything IS Mobile, and everything IS Socialized, even if not by the brand itself. 

  2. Ted Rubin from The Rubin Organization / Return on Relationship, January 4, 2016 at 9:15 a.m.

    P.S. Gillette... DUH! Dollar Shave Club razors suck. The primary reason, beyond simply the "cheap" factor, they are so popular is because they get delivered monthly and you don't feel the visual pinch when you pay for it at the store and see the price right in front of you. 

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