skip to main content

The Magic of Thinking Small

Steve ManattJune 24, 2015

It’s fashionable to talk about “big data” and “analytics” these days, as if merely saying those words somehow conjures up a genie that will grant you three wishes of insight into your organization and its customers.  If only it were as simple as rubbing a magic lantern…

Failure is not an option

Most of us know, in reality, however, that it’s far more than wishful thinking. At every conference, in every sales presentation, all those slideshare decks – we hear about the “what”.  “Harness the data in your organization”, they say.  “Derive insights on your customers from what they tell you” – as if that’s not obvious.  Rarely do we hear much about the “how” – and that’s because the “how” is hard. It often takes a large infrastructure project, with expensive hardware and software, capital investment, consultants and other outlays, with long time to value, often exceeding the tenure of its original sponsor, and certainly exhausting the patience of financial and strategic stewards of the company.  The road to data nirvana remains littered with the bodies of well-intentioned but naïve implementers that promised much but struggled – for very real and often uncontrollable reason – to deliver on those promises.

Time to make it real

So success in data analytics – big, small or anything else – is dependent on several very real and practical factors, starting with really understanding what you’re trying to do, because you have to be able to draw a straight line to value. It seems blindingly obvious on paper but often forgotten in practice – understanding exactly how what you’re doing relates directly to an expressed, understood and supported business need.  Is this about growing your customer base? Do you need to improve retention? Are you trying to cut costs in your call center?

From there, there are a series of decisions that need to be made to respond to those business needs, and insights required in order to make those decisions.  Data – suitably processed, formatted and available for analysis – is the foundation of those insights.  But, too often, the data foundation is drawn so widely that you create your own haystack while searching for the needle.

SW - Genie Post 6-15

 

So while there is a need to be able to harness data in its multiple forms, the real emphasis is on its accessibility. Can you get the data that’s needed into the hands of the people that can draw the insights from it? Then those insights can be fed to the decision makers that need it.

Seems obvious, doesn’t it? Almost all of us can point to multiple scenarios in our own organizations where this just doesn’t happen. Maybe we don’t really tie the top of the pyramid to the bottom – the needs to the data. Maybe we have hope, instead of a strategy, that says that, if we just feed enough data in, that genie will appear and grant us our three insights. Maybe we just haven’t broken down the problem enough.

So, what data do we need? Sometimes it’s tempting to say “heck, everything, you never know what we might find”. But that approach – bolstered by the increasingly available and cheap hardware to process it – discounts the importance of identifying the real nuggets; the data that changes the decisions we make.

What we really need is the right combination of data – from different sources, inside and out – connected in a sensible way, so that you can get a true “single view”, and then delivered in a way that puts it at the fingertips of the people responsible for deriving the insights and even formulating the decisions the business needs to make.

Right combination of data

Usually this means your (first party) data – about your customers, transactions, service calls – whatever’s appropriate to the decision(s) being made. It may involve data from partners and – in the case of digital marketing, publishers – that gives you insight into how your marketing efforts are performing. It almost certainly means “third party” data such as Acxiom’s world class consumer data assets that gives you much broader insight into your customers, beyond the sliver of their lives they expose to your brand. In fact, Acxiom’s ability to curate high quality data already provides insights “out of the box”, in the form of Audience Propensities. Mined from a broad cross-section of data, Audience Propensities provides statistically-validated propensities for 13 industries that enable you to more scientifically and efficiently reach your intended audience. You can use them to get rich insight into potential spending, in-market timing, brand affinity, media consumption and shopping behavior – all tuned to specific vertical markets.

Connected in a sensible way

What use is data about customers if you can’t connect it together? You have multiple systems, often multiple representations of a customer and the household or economic buying unit that’s important in their relationship with you. Acxiom helps hundreds of clients connect their customer data accurately so as to ensure that any analytics – and the insights and therefore decisions drawn from them – are as precise as they can be.

Delivered to your fingertips

This is often the most overlooked step. For data to be useful to a broad audience and not just the preserve of data scientists, it has to be easily accessible, and sufficiently visually attractive to be intuitive to anyone charged with deriving a decision. That’s why we’re working with companies like Salesforce, who are taking this challenge head on with their Analytics Cloud, WAVE, for which we’re proud to be an early data partner.  In fact, you can head over to WAVE right now and check out some Acxiom data in the Analytics Playground.  Being able to quickly and easily manipulate large volumes of data using intuitive controls and graphic representations is what brings analytics to “the rest of us”.

So – if you are fortunate enough to have an insights genie show up – perhaps your three wishes are: “help me find the right data”, “help me connect it all together” and “help me work with that data simply and easily”. Acxiom can help you with the first two, and partners such as Salesforce can help you with the third.