How data developments are shaping the digital world

This year’s Marketing Association’s ‘Smarter Data’ event was an exploration of the various permutations of data and how these developments are shaping the digital world that we exist in.

The speakers were as diverse as the topics that they presented on and the conference went beyond just talking about data marketing: from numerical storytelling through to the legal considerations related to ‘cloud’ data, semantic search technologies and even a splash of population dynamics, it was all there.

The speakers had no shortage of interesting insights to share and there was even an on-stage debate on whether the data-driven marketing paradigm is a clever use of technology or just a creepy invasion of our privacy. Be warned, this event review will mention the word ‘data’ quite a lot. 

Duncan Stuart – Storytelling with numbers

As the inaugural speaker, Stuart’s task was not only to deliver his highly entertaining presentation but to also get the crowd warmed up for what was to be a highly information-filled day. He excelled at both tasks, and what else would you expect from a marketing researcher who originally started out as an aspiring Hollywood scriptwriter? The gist of the speech was very much on moving beyond our ‘Age of the Flat Spreadsheet’ into the three-dimensional age of storytelling with data and approaching analytics creatively.

You would think that referencing a long-forgotten ‘spy-fi’ TV series from the 1960’s would have nothing to do with adapting your marketing department to the demands of the Big Data revolution. Yet Stuart used the motley crew of UK’s Department S – consisting of a secret agent, novelist and a programmer – as a model for the marketing team of the future, which will need a diverse mix of ‘soft’ skills and ‘hard’ skills in order to craft analytical stories that have an impact on the bottom line. Just don’t go asking your copywriter to grow an afro like Jason King’s, it may not go down well with the Gen Y crowd…

Hywel Evans – Increasing loyalty with better data

After the action-thriller-cum-fireworks-display that was Stuart’s presentation, Evans had to maintain the audience’s interest and this he did by presenting to them the modern-day, ‘big data’ vision of loyalty marketing. Evans also had some interesting case studies to discuss relating to the use of various forms of consumer data in building consumer loyalty.

He talked about the need to augment the traditional loyalty marketing model by incorporating ‘richer’ consumer insights into the analyses of loyalty programmes and going beyond simply analysing transactions. Companies as diverse as Yahoo! and Nestle have used this enhanced methodology to increase sales, a process that Evans referred to as ‘connecting the data dots’.

“Loyalty provides an ideal way of collecting, connecting and communicating” and by bringing together and making smart use of the rich and diverse data that is available, brands can deliver more valuable and relevant offers while enhancing their goodwill with customers.

Katrina Crooks – the cloud and the law

Crooks was the self-proclaimed “lawyer in the room”. While this opening statement may not exactly be a party-starter, the rest of her speech certainly presented relevant and interesting information on the legal aspects of managing data online. Increasingly more information is being stored in the cloud and the legal ramifications of this are not readily apparent, which may become a serious issue for marketers should something go wrong. Headline-grabbing stories about such faux-pas situations abound and Crooks pointed out the pitfalls that need to be avoided.     

So, how do you ensure that your ‘data cloud’ doesn’t turn into a dark one? As an organisation, it is important to understand the terms that govern you cloud contracts and ensure that you know how your customers’ data is being looked after. Following industry best-practice, such as the NZ Cloud Computing Code of Practice and complying with legislation requirements are absolute musts. Having a lawyer handy who can provide guidance on these complex matters also doesn’t hurt.

Carmen Vicelich – protecting your data assets

As a follow on from Crooks’ presentation, Vicelich gave a primer on the new Data Warranty Register that is being rolled out by the Marketing Association after 18 months of painstaking work. The DWR allows companies to self-regulate the management of their consumer data, thereby preventing the implementation of similarly stringent measures by the New Zealand government as those currently being proposed by the European Union. Make sure that you talk to the Marketing Association about getting listed on the register to ensure that your data is ‘future-proof’!

Summer Collins – test, test, test…

Collins shared a personal account of Telecom’s rollercoaster ride towards adopting a data-driven marketing approach. She discussed how the company deployed a below-the-line campaign management system, which is helping the telecommunications giant come closer to achieving its lofty goal of “delivering a full lifecycle of relevant, targeted and profitable campaigns across multiple channels”.

What Telecom realised, however, is that “it’s not a piece of ‘tech’ that is going to get you to the customer focused piece” but “a combination of technology, data, change and the right partners”. This ‘secret sauce’ is “a combination of art and science” and can only be achieved through constant experimentation. “Test, test, test” is the mantra that Collins left the audience to meditate on.

Sean Wilson – peek-a-boo, where are you?

‘How you gather, manage and use information will determine whether you win or lose’ is the Bill Gates quote that Wilson used to open up his presentation on the topic of information governance. Wilson echoed the sentiment expressed by the other speakers in that we are drowning in data and he went even further by adding that “instead of it being an asset, it’s becoming a liability… It’s got cost, it’s hard to find and it’s difficult to manage..”. Based on his conversations with companies globally, “everyone’s got the same problem: people simply no longer find what they’re looking for”.

The answer? Semantic search technology, which aids with information retrieval and discovery by trying to understand the searcher’s intent as well as the context of a particular search. Wilson’s company – Syl Semantics – is the only organisation in New Zealand that provides a platform which allows for this technology to be implemented at an enterprise level and it has performed a number of information retrieval miracles for large private and public companies. Search engine marketers, hold on to your PageRank as SEO may become a whole different ball game in the next few years and Wilson’s team is driving the charge…

Tom Skotidas – Employee as landing page

For someone who specialises in B2B online lead generation, it was no surprise to see Skotidas kick off the presentation by showing the LinkedIn profile of one of his employees. What was slightly surprising was that the profile that he brought up actually ranks second in Google for a certain keyword term ahead of many more prolific websites, some of which spend a lot of money on maintaining their search rankings. The double whammy comes when you realise that registering a LinkedIn page costs nothing and populating it with the right search keywords takes only a bit of research and the Google Keyword Tool, which is also absolutely free.

Skotidas’ ‘inbound selling’ journey started two years ago and has led his agency to adopt a more inbound-focused approach to sales and marketing. His tips for marketers looking to replicate his success with generating inbound leads? Ensure that your social profiles get as much attention as your other inbound marketing efforts and roll this out company-wide. Whoever said that your receptionist can’t be a multi-million dollar lead-generation machine?

Rachel Harrison – How to build a C.A.R.

Not the kind of car that you use to drive to work every day but the kind that acts a foundation for gaining deeper insights into your customer data, a.k.a. the ‘Customer Analytics Record’. Yes, that car! Harrison spends a lot of her time at Westpac building such analytical ‘vehicles’ and, from this point of view, she can be considered a masterful data mechanic. She willingly shared some tips and tricks that have been picked up over the last 20 years of applying statistics and data modelling to solving real-world business problems.

Harrison mirrored Summer Collins’ sentiment as described in yesterday’s post that it is not the fancy toys that create actionable insights but the people ‘behind the microscope’ who do so. She also mentioned the importance of trying to understand the underlying business issues that analysis is meant to solve and thinking outside the square to come up with creative insights.

Prof. Natalie Jackson – Minding your ABCs

The ‘A-B-C’ of population ageing that is: Accept that population ageing is coming; Buffer, in terms of revising your strategic plans with this inevitability in mind, and Celebrate, which involves proactively managing population ageing within your organisation. What does this have to do with data and marketing you say? Actually, Jackson’s presentation was an interesting departure from the mostly marketing-centred topics of the day which, at the same time, had everything to do with marketing and the sort of products and services that will be offered in future to an increasingly-more older general population. The hyper-aging described by Jackson is a fact of life that organisations and brands need to start preparing for sooner rather than later.

Scott Bradley – Taking big data to small screens

VMob’s biggest market is currently Indonesia, a country with an estimated population of around 240 million and a mobile penetration rate of over 90 percent. Crunching the numbers for one of VMob’s largest Indonesian-based clients, a telecoms operator with an active customer base of around one hundred million mobile users, is truly the definition of big data and big analytics. Bradley drove home the scale of things by pointing out that for every percentage point that the customer churn is decreased by, their client gains a return of around twenty million dollars. These are impressive figures by anyone’s standards!

He pointed out that telcos around the world are struggling to monetise mobile platforms and VMob’s mobile-centric retention marketing solution helps them to hold on to their valued consumers by talking “to the right person at the right location, at the right time.” Despite not being a fan of the word ‘loyalty’, Bradley seconded Hywel Evans on the importance of influencing customers using clever data-driven marketing in order to build long-term and profitable relationships at the ‘market of one’ level.

Steve Honiss – Fighting cybercrime with a good antivirus

Who needs a big stick when you have big data? While not being a marketer, Honiss fully realises the benefits of using data to better engage with customers. In his case, ‘customers’ are the victims of cybercrime and his ‘campaigns’ involve tracking down the perpetrators who commit criminal offences online. Honiss mentioned that the forms of cybercrime are quite varied but the underlying motive for committing it is the same: “it’s all about money”. So, what is a simple preventative measure that you can take to ensure that you don’t become a victim yourself? He recommends keeping your anti-virus software up-to-date and using your common sense. Yep, it’s that simple … Oh, and do think twice before deciding to wire several hundred or thousand dollars to Nigeria in order to claim your multi-million lottery win. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is!

Matt Annerino – Managing a billion eDMs a year (without blinking an eye)

In his job as VP of Direct Marketing at Live Nation, the world’s largest concert promoter, Annerino is surrounded by large numbers, as well as lots and lots of data. Consider the following statistics: in order to ensure that concert-goers around North America are kept in the loop about their favourite musicians’ touring itineraries, Annerino’s team runs 900 marketing campaigns per month with eDMs going out to an opt-in database of 20 million fans, resulting in over a billion emails being sent per year. This figure is not a typo and the more astounding statistic is that most of these campaigns are run manually!

Interestingly enough, the email marketing platforms being used by the DM department are readily available off-the-shelf. So what is the secret then? The success of Live Nation’s data marketing effort is based on its ‘Affinity Model’, which involves collecting a limited set of actionable data points and then conducting constant A/B tests in order to figure out which communications resonate the most with consumers. If anything, this proves that the fundamentals of good direct marketing remain the same even in the ‘Big Data era’. Annerino’s parting words? Focus on results, not buzzwords.

Clever, or just plain creepy?

So the question still stands: is all of this data trickery creepy or clever? Those present on the day overwhelmingly voted in favour of the latter, with the discussion panel on stage even gaining a convert from the ‘creepy’ side of the argument at one point in the debate. So as far as the Smarter Data attendees were concerned, the digital marketing innovations discussed are to be lauded and applauded, rather than shamed and blamed. However, as with all technological innovations that are embedding themselves into our existence at a breathtaking speed, there must be a degree of vigilance involved when looking to apply these to our own marketing efforts.

What is acceptable from a moral standpoint may not always be entirely clear and your sense of ethics as a marketer will play an important role in being able to draw the line when looking for new ways to understand and connect with your customers. Regardless of what side of the debate you’re on, it is apparent that the role of data cannot be ignored and its ubiquitous nature will bring about even more seismic changes, further increasing the transparency of our ‘glasshouse society’. Creepy, huh… Or did I just hear someone say clever?

  • Dennis Kibirev is the chief content curator @protodigi, a blog that explores the topics of marketing and technology (MarTec), technopreneurship, digital creativity and social media.

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