Big Data has meant that information and systems that were once the preserve of backroom people in marketing, product development, finance and other individual departments is now discussed in the boardroom as a tool for delivering organisation-wide success, according to Andy Wood, managing director for GI Insight, who here examines how the proliferation, availability and use of data can help marketers build stronger customer relationships. This article is copyright 2013 The Best Customer Guide.

One of the first areas being focused on when it comes to tapping Big Data to meet organisational goals is marketing. With the surge of newer information streams such as web, mobile and social data the possibilities raised by Big Data are great. However, a lot of the time this rapid generation of new information from a multitude of sources makes the task of sifting through the data and picking out what is relevant a daunting one.

So where should marketers begin?

  1. Start by outlining your marketing objectives
    What is it the business wishes to achieve? This seems like an obvious place to begin but a lot of the time the answer to this important question can get forgotten. For most companies the main goal will be an increase in revenue from its database and linking it to the overall marketing strategy. There are three key areas that need to be looked at in order to do this:
    • Increasing customer spend
    • Increasing the frequency of customer visits
    • Reducing the number of lost customers

    Taking this approach will help the business ensure that the desired end result is defined right from the start. It allows companies to employ the information they need to drive their business goals rather than letting their organisation's strategy grow out of whatever data is available. In order to properly employ Big Data, it is essential the businesses institute a proper data management strategy in order to keep track of whether data is helping to achieve marketing objectives or proving to be a waste of time and resource.

  2. Be ruthless with your data... What is essential?
    Following on from the previous point, the next stage it to make sure that not only is the data useful but it is also clean and comprehensive. This means it need to be up-to-date and accurate. By outlining what data is valid and valuable, it is then possible to get rid of any irrelevant or outdated data. Bear in mind your objectives when deciding whether the data is essential or not and ask these questions:
    • Does it further your relationship with the customer?
    • Is it in a functional condition?
    • Can you link to a known customer?
    • Will employing this data boost profits?

    The data should tick all of the above boxes. If not, you need to decide whether it is really useful. If any of the information that falls under the Big Data umbrella in your organisation does not help to achieve an organisation's marketing goals it is safe to say it can be set aside - at least when it comes to marketing communications and other elements of customer relationship management (CRM).

  3. Find the best way of capturing the essential data
    Once you have established which data is essential, the next logical step is to determine what the best way of capturing it is. One of the ways of creating a means of gathering essential marketing data is through either a CRM or loyalty programme. A loyalty scheme in particular enables you to learn what, when and where customers are buying - and, ultimately, discover much about their personal and family circumstances - while ensuring that they are motivated to keep contact details updated in order to collect rewards and special offers.
  4. Secure data permissions and trust
    It is important to bear in mind that the Data Protection Act allows companies to hold opt-in data for customer communication purposes and requires them to offer these consumers the option to opt out. Customers will usually agree to allow their details to be used if they can expect to receive targeted offers, but the rules are worth bearing in mind when seeking new information to ensure this is done with the permission of the customer.

    Ultimately, any and all customer data has to be used responsibly and effectively, or your business will lose customer trust. Consumers have to have confidence that a company is taking care of their personal data - keeping it secure and not sharing it without permission - and using it judiciously for appropriate and useful offers and rewards. There is always an exchange of value at the heart of the successful database marketing relationship.

  5. Put an SCV database at the heart of your activity
    Once you have identified the Big Data elements you need, can capture and can link to a customer, you need to ensure you are able to do this within the capabilities of a single customer view (SCV). The information from the SCV can be analysed to provide insight that enables you to reward and influence customer buying habits to encourage increased spend, increased frequency and reduced attrition. This will allow data related to marketing, CRM, servicing, in-store activities, deliveries, social media, and other functions to be viewed together and used to create an accurate and comprehensive profile of that individual. The SCV ties together the customer details and from this you can develop a customer journey.

Never lose sight of your objective
Throughout the implementation of a Big Data strategy, marketers need to bear in mind their end objective. This will allow data management to be a far easier process - if there is a clear goal to reach then it is a lot easier to distinguish what will help to achieve it and what will hinder. Big Data comes with a trap that many fall into, and that is to collect and use as much data as possible. But marketers need to focus on what truly matters - and that is to not only increase revenue for your business, but to also provide real value for your customers.