Business Today

How the data cookie is crumbling

These days, everyone is quite gung-ho about the magic of data-led marketing. Yet, only a few companies have made customer data their core differentiator. Even today, few companies 'value' customer data.

Ajay Kelkar | May 17, 2016 | Updated 15:13 IST

Ajay Kelkar, Co-founder & COO, Hansa Cequity
These days, everyone is quite gung-ho about the magic of data-led marketing. Yet, only a few companies have made customer data their core differentiator. Even today, few companies 'value' customer data. The irony of the moment is that while even the office furniture is valued in the company balance sheet, customer data is left untouched and unaccounted! As Doug Laney of Gartner rightly put it: "Idle information is an expense; leveraged information is an asset."

Data stakes are getting higher every day

Previously, marketers had these first-party data assets: data tied to email, physical address, and cookies - but they were all massively disconnected. Consequently, cross-linking everything across screens and devices emerged as the biggest and most important trend.

However, in this age of data deluge, the cookie world is crumbling. Marketing is no more about an amorphous mass of consumers, it is about individual people. Critical insights about consumers' identity and their path to purchase exist in the vast swaths of profile data held offline; which is well beyond the cookie's reach.

Today, data-centric companies leverage external public and purchased data, big data through different means necessary. According to a report by The Economist, seven in 10 companies are collecting syndicated third-party data such as weather information (72 per cent) or government data (70 per cent), while many gather data such as staff data (66 per cent) and location-based information (41 per cent). And with the advent of Internet of Things, the options are getting even more interesting.

It is estimated that the world generates 50 billion gigabytes of data every 10 minutes. In fact, 90 per cent of the world's business information was created in the past two years. But here too, the noise is increasing faster than the signal.

As users migrate to mobile at record speeds - according to comScore, apps already account for more than 50 per cent of time spent on digital media - advertisers and publishers are starting to recognise the promise, as well as the many challenges associated with cross-device targeting. Therefore, it's not a surprise that marketers are overwhelmed when it comes to data-led marketing.

Customer centric marketing is better

Tim O'Reilly once presciently described data as "the new intel inside", the primary source of competitive advantage in a world where technology has largely been commoditised. While data isn't just yet commoditised, it is the inevitable future.

However, the world's fixation with the "volume" of data is leading the discussions haywire. Relevancy has never been more crucial or more difficult in extracting meaning from business information. A recent study by IDG Connect, "Big Data for Marketing & Sales: Data Accuracy to Business Impact", pointed out this critical lacuna. Nearly half the respondents who were surveyed revealed that they were still finding it difficult to draw insights from data.

Lack of expertise to draw a correlation between one's data and business context is resulting in getting wrong answers. IBM seems to believe that it can offer a solution to the skills shortage by cutting out the data scientists and replacing them with its Watson natural language analytics platform. But the secret does not just lie in the technology adoption. It is also about how marketers effectively use hard data to impact 'soft outcomes' such as brand personality, positioning and trust. It is about how well it is implemented.

Data scientists are difficult to find but 'actionability' is a bigger problem to solve. Actually, mere data is boring. Stories are inspiring. A hammer is just a 'hammer'. I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail. But creativity is the final frontier-after all the data is with you, you still need to make that leap of faith towards a decision.

To get at the 'truth' in our enterprise data, we need to be equipped to ask the right sort of customer-centric questions, which generally means having familiarity with the business itself, and not merely abstract data. The advantage is in how you use the tech, not the tech itself. Just as owning or the latest HP server won't differentiate your business, neither will owning massive quantities of data. The two key reasons for failure in Big Data analytics adoption are lack of expertise to connect the dots between data, and lack of business context for one's data.

The author is Co-founder & COO, Hansa Cequity


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