Beginning in 2012, the term “big data" became a hot keyword search on Google and now returns more than 49 million entries. Clearly, big data is firmly entrenched in the world of marketing and technology buzzwords, but what does it actually mean?

According to Gartner, big data refers to “high-volume, high-velocity, and/or high-variety information assets that demand cost-effective, innovative forms of information processing that enable enhanced insight, decision making, and process automation."

Marketers have looked to big data as a panacea to generate real-time insight, decision-making, and process optimization. However, as with many trends, big data has become all things to all people and, more often than not, an unfocused, unfulfilled promise.

Instead of big data, marketers can focus on Intelligent Data, which is more results-oriented.


What Is Intelligent Data?

A more successful approach to the big-data trend would be using Intelligent Data to build long-lasting and profitable customer relationships. Intelligent data is about finding real-time insights to add value and forge customer bonds. Leveraging data insights to deliver meaningful, personalized messages to consumers at the right time on the right platform–this is the promise of intelligent data.

When customers are able to engage with relevant content at the precise time they need it during their buying journey, the likelihood of a positive action is exponentially increased. By delivering personalized messages, a brand can make an emotional connection, which increases the likelihood of actions being taken, loyalty, and, ultimately, ROI.


Collecting the Right Data

Using intelligent data begins with collecting the right data about your customers. According to a recent Aimia Institute Google Consumer Survey, three-quarters of marketers surveyed in the UK, USA, Canada, and Australia agree somewhat or strongly that they are collecting the "right" data about their customers. However, this still leaves a quarter of marketers who somewhat or strongly disagree, so there is still work to be done.

What about the large majority of marketers who believe they are gathering the right data? Twenty-seven percent (27%) collect "all available data," from basic name and address through to social media activity. But that might—or might not—help them improve their marketing. In Canada, where the highest percentage of marketers (forty percent (40%)) are collecting "all" data, six percent (6%) say they are overwhelmed by the amount of data they have.

Across the four countries, thirty-nine percent (39%) of marketers say they collect "relevant data to personalize experience," with the highest percentage making this claim (fifty-seven percent(57%)) located in the USA—and none of the USA respondents indicated in the survey that they are overwhelmed by the amount of data they have. In contrast, Canadian respondents, who often collect more data and sometimes become overwhelmed by it, have the lowest portion of respondents (twenty-nine percent 29%)) saying they have the relevant data they need to personalize the customer experience.


Beware of the Potential for Backlash

While personalization holds great potential, it carries risks for marketers, as well. Consumers have become very savvy about digital marketing, and their concerns about privacy are well documented in the media world. Aimia Institute's “2014 Digital Research Report" turned up some cautionary facts regarding consumer response to the collection of personal data and its use by marketers.

Indeed, consumers across many regions have all made it clear they feel they are being deluged by communications from companies and brands, according to the research. In the United States, nearly sixty percent (59%) of consumers said they have opted out of email communications because of high volume. Similarly, seventy-one percent (71%) of Canadian consumers have ended their social media ties to brands in order to manage the type and/or frequency of communications. Across the pond, nearly eighty percent (79%) of UK consumers said they feel like they receive junk mail every day. They have reacted by opting out, closing accounts, and creating new email addresses just to stem the tide of the perceived onslaught.

When companies overwhelm the people who have agreed to receive their messages, they risk creating what we call “deletist" consumers. When frustrated consumers opt out, companies can no longer create personalized, relevant messages, and they are forced to return to sending the impersonal, irrelevant messages that consumers hate the most.


Be Transparent and Open to Build Relationships

However, if marketers treat customers as partners in a win-win relationship, the consumer's perspective can shift dramatically. According to Aimia Institute's Making Business Personal study, consumers will share their personal information in return for customized offers if the company is transparent about data collection and gives them options for controlling the process. The research found that seventy-two (72%) of UK consumers strongly agreed that companies should be transparent about what they do with their data, and sixty-eight percent (68%) strongly agreed they should be able to control how companies use their data in marketing messages.

This is an important point to remember: Consumers understand that their personal information is valuable to brands, and they will give companies reasonable access to their data in return for being rewarded in ways that are both meaningful and tangible.


Personalization Coming from Intelligent Data Forms Bonds

Marketers have many ways to customize and personalize content, messages, and offers for customers using intelligent data. The first step is to focus on data collection and analysis. Brands can look at behavioral data, such as sales data and patterns of purchasing and preference, which can be aggregated across all customers and then turned into predictive models of behavior.

Building on these models, companies can create sophisticated buyer personas that go beyond flat demographics (gender, age, location, etc.). Web analytics can flesh these out with content analytics and platform preferences, along with days and times that customers prefer to interact with specific types of content. This can be paired with offline data such as in-store purchasing information to produce a three-dimensional customer view. Armed with this data, companies can do much to tailor messages and offers to individuals.

Classic examples are Amazon and Apple iTunes, which excel in the ability to recommend products and music based on an individual's past behavior and what “people like you" are buying and consuming. This is enormously powerful; a recent MarketingProfs article stated that forty-five percent (45%) of online shoppers preferred websites with tailored recommendations.


How Marketers Can Personalize Web Content

Using personal data combined with relevant content, ecommerce and web content sites can create customized experiences for each customer or prospect who visits. These capabilities are enhanced by companies such as Monetate and Demandbase, which can read the IP address of a visitor and deliver dynamic content based on the visitor's profile.

In addition, there are other software platforms and development modules that create a unified profile for each customer by collecting data from all of a person's existing marketing technologies and channels—including websites, email marketing platforms, marketing automation tools, social platforms, mobile apps, call-center transactions, and third-party and offline data sources.


Email Is a Powerful Personalization Tool

Email is not a new marketing tool, but it remains a powerful one, especially when relevant messages and offers are fueled by intelligent data. A Listrak survey of online shoppers found  that seventy percent (70%) of respondents (who had already opted in to receive emails from retailers) were willing to share personal preferences in order to receive more relevant emails, and eighty percent (80%) felt they would be at least somewhat more likely to purchase products if they received personalized emails.​


Real Experience: Ford and The Stratford Festival

Aimia clients have had experiences that illustrate how applying intelligent data techniques can pay off in terms of real ROI. Nectar, the UK's largest coalition loyalty program, is run by Aimia. Ford in the UK uses Nectar to drive new car sales and the use of their vehicle service departments.

By mining data, Ford UK (a previous Aimia client) was able to send Nectar members who owned Ford vehicles special offers of loyalty points timed to coincide with their MOT (annual inspection), a service visit, or just to say “thank you." Nectar members were given incentives to visit their dealership by offering free seasonal service checks on the vehicle.

With these personalized and timely incentives, Ford UK was able to realize an eleven percent (11%) increase in transactions, and the campaign delivered an ROI of five hundred and five percent (505%). Most of the incremental spend and robust response rates came from reminder emails for MOT and service visits.

The Stratford Festival, a current Aimia client, is an internationally recognized annual celebration running from April to October in the Canadian city of Stratford, Ontario.

The festival has been collecting and analyzing data about its customer base for more than a decade, creating customer segments and predictive models for membership, seat pricing, discounts, and churn. Its deep knowledge of patrons has grown and evolved over this time period. This data was used to create a highly targeted, multichannel campaign “Get Ready to be Inspired."

Starting with six different marketing messages, the campaign was tailored so that individualized communications would be based on customer data from previous purchase history and individual preferences, resulting in a staggering 700 different combinations. Patrons received direct mail with a front panel showcasing a production targeted to the recipient, along with a personalized discount offer. The back panel had a variable call to action, contact information, and a QR code that took the patron to engaging videos related to a specific production.

The results were impressive: Incremental purchases were one hundred and forty percent (140%) over target, and re-engagement offers delivered a one hundred and sixty-six percent (166%). By building long-term, beneficial relationships, Stratford Festival was able to collect the data that empowered a personalized campaign. Patrons received valuable discounts and offers for productions they wanted to see, and the festival increased its revenue and bottom line. That is a true win-win partnership—not the zero-sum game of the past. In all, this represents a prime example of the power of intelligent data.


Taken by itself, big data does not necessarily empower marketers. However, by using intelligent data strategically, companies can grow their customer base and revenue by delivering the right message to the right person at the right time—and in real time.


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