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Is there a Future for Information & Insight? Yes, if we learn these new skills

Last week I had the privilege of presenting at the European Pharmaceutical Market Research (EphMRA) Annual Conference in Brussels. My talk was on the important topic of the future of the Market Research profession.

My invitation came as the result of one of the committee members seeing a question I had posted at the end of last year on several LinkedIn groups: Does your organisation need a market research department? And in the future?” Whether you are a researcher or a user of research data, the following summary of that presentation should help you underst and the need for us all to change the way we work with information and data, in order to increase their value to the business. Recent studies by both IBM  and Business Intelligence about the information needs of top management in general and marketing in particular give us some great clues about what they dislike and what we need to change.

Management don’t get what they need

Executives complain that their information currently comes from numerous, disparate sources, is rarely available in real-time, cannot be easily accessed without the help of IT, and anyway takes too long to customise it to their needs. The good news is that they don’t seem to get too much; in fact it looks as if they actually want more, but more of what they need.

Executives don’t get it in the format they need

Management currently get their information primarily via emails and spreadsheets, which I find shocking.  Why do we expect them to take the time to sift through all the information to draw their own conclusions? Are we still too scared to voice our own opinions, or to make recommendations? Only one in eight receive dashboards and yet this is their preferred medium. They want someone to have thought about their needs and then to provide a simple form that is easy to scan, interpret and take action on.

Marketing needs their data in real-time

It’s a hard time to be a CMO or head of marketing these days. They are being challenged more than ever before, to prove the ROI of their spending. They want more real-time information so they can take better informed decisions. They also need consistency so they can compare across channels and link sales back to individual campaigns and lead-generation efforts.

Marketing don’t feel ready to manage even more information

More than two-thirds of CMOs feel totally unprepared for the current data explosion, especially as it relates to social media. They also feel that they aren’t keeping up with all the rapid market changes, even when they have the money to do so.

The solution is as easy as ABC

Taking into account what management have said about their current information sources, providing what they need is as easy as ABC:

  • Accessibility to the information they need, where and when they need it.
  • Business impact so that what they receive enables them to identify and take the actions needed.
  • Consistency so they can compare across br ands, categories, countries or regions.

In addition to these three essential elements, it is important for us to ask the right questions of the data. As with good market research, getting the right answers depends upon asking the right questions (>>Tweet this<<). And we can only do this if we have a good underst anding of what the business needs. In order for us to increase the value of market research and planning in organisations, analysts need regular interaction across all departments and divisions.

For some companies, this has meant placing the experts in each business unit, but I personally feel that whilst it does increase their interaction with the business itself, they lose independence as well as integration across divisions. From my experience, the most valued market research departments are centralised  and individuals or teams have identified responsibilities by business or region. This frees them to give honest, unbiased feedback without the pressure of over-keen bosses to influence the analysis and results. Additionally, in order for market researchers to maintain the interaction needed to underst and the whole business, they will need to learn some new skills:

  • Socialising with both internal clients and external customers will provide analysts with a better feel for the business and how to support their needs. They must also accept to work more with social media data. Some claim it is not representative, but I beg to differ. From what one can read online, it is probably the closest an organisation will ever get to the true feelings of their customers.
  • Synthesising of both integrated data and the sharing of the knowledge and underst anding resulting from its analysis. Storytelling is such a hugely popular topic that I don’t think I need to go further on it, but the integration and synthesis of information from multiple sources will become essential. As the “internet of things” increases the flow of information into companies, someone will have to manage and make sense of it all and I believe that market research is the best equipped for this role.
  • Surprising management with exciting new ways to gather a better underst anding of customers. Technology is providing more and more ways to do this without even asking questions of our customers. Whether it is virtual reality, facial imaging and emotional coding, neuroscience and biometrics, market research now has a wealth of new tools available, so they need to reconsider how they gather their information. Whilst it means that they will have to get out of their comfort zone of st andard methodologies, the benefits in terms of surprise and delight of their management will more than compensate.

I concluded my presentation by saying that market researchers will have to become “Bionic” to encompass the three new areas of expertise that are necessary to meet management’s needs. These are:

  1. Methodological expertise, as well as project management and analytical skills
  2. Intellectual curiosity to synthesise information from all sources and generate actionable insights
  3. Improved communication skills to tell stories that influence business decision-making

Whether suppliers will take the first role alone or help with the second and third as well, will depend upon the client-side teams treating them as true partners and not mere information gatherers. Do you think this is possible in your own organisation? I would love to hear your thoughts either way. C³Centricity used an image from Kozzi in this post.

Marketing Information Lost in Translation: How to Save yourself & Rise above the Competition

A recent report I came across this week shows that 76% of marketers do not use behavioral information in either segmentation analysis or targeting. They have the data, they’re just not taking advantage of it to better identify and then satisfy their consumers. This shocked me, so I went looking for more information to clarify the situation. 

The study was conducted in late 2013 by Razorfish and Adobe amongst marketing and technology executives in the US, Canada, Germany, France and the UK. According to Pete Stein, CEO of Razorfish, the two main reasons for this lack of usage are firstly that today’s marketers are driving consumer segmentation with outdated technology, processes and tools, and secondly that there is an exponential growth in the availability of behavioral data.

In another study called “From Stretched to Strengthened” IBM reports that 71% of CMOs feel unprepared to h andle today’s “data explosion”. A third study, Domo‘s “2013 Data-driven marketing survey” found that two-thirds of marketers feel unable to h andle the volume of marketing data that’s available for analysis without feeling overwhelmed, and  concluded that there were five reasons why this is the case:

  • 69% don’t have the time to analyse it
  • 66% can’t see it integrated
  • 44% don’t have the time to collect it
  • 40% don’t have access across devices
  • 40% can’t see it in real time

These statistics suggest some interesting, no vital, changes that business intelligence / planning / market research / insight (BI) departments should make to address these needs of marketers. Once made, they would increase their perceived value and recognition, as well as that of the marketing department as well. Now that can’t be bad can it?

Here are my thoughts on each of them:

No time to analyse the data

I personally believe that if the support function (BI) was doing its job properly, marketing wouldn’t have to analyse the data. In fact I don’t think it is, nor should it be, their responsibility. Of course, this does mean that BI should be attributed with the appropriate levels of resources in both time and personnel to run the analyses and generate actionable insights.

Studies conducted every couple of years by the market research arm of the Corporate Executive Board (MREB), consistently show that world-class businesses have BI departments that have progressed from methodological experts to insight consultants, and then to knowledge synthesizers. Therefore unless you allow your team to develop in this direction, the onus for analysis will remain a challenge.

Can’t see the data integrated

Even before Big Data became a buzz word, companies have struggled to break down the internal silos of information ownership. The ever-increasing flow of data into organisations has just made the matter worse, so that it can no longer be ignored. Information integration may dem and a significant investment in both time and money, but the rewards are huge.

For example, from my own experience with clients, I have witnessed a grocery retailer increase sales by 15% whilst decreasing its promotional & discount allowances by 13%. This was achieved by simply making better use of the information they already had, and enabled them to make more relevant suggestions and offers to their customers. Airlines too are realising increased buy-in of their vacation and flight promotions, through more timely and relevant mailings to precisely segmented customer groups. That was only possible because they integrated the information from their different departments.

Don’t have time to collect the data

For me the problem is actually no longer simply not having the time to collect the data, but a rather subtle adaptation of our expectations to near real-time data availability today. We have all become less patient and this as true for the CEO, as it is for the CMO and on downwards.

Marketing must become more agile and flexible to be able to react to the latest data and adjust their actions and communications accordingly. Why continue to reward retailers with promotional pricing for items that are not flying off their shelves? The money could be better spent elsewhere, whether at a different retailer more aligned to the targeted segment, or even to another type of action.

Don’t have access across devices

Tablets set to outsell PCs in 2015It amazes me that so many people are still struggling to acknowledge that the PC is rapidly losing out to tablets. In fact, according to the International Data Corp. tablets will outsell PCs within the next year or so. IDC also says that while global smartphone sales in 2013 were up by 39% over 2012, they’re expected to grow by only around 19% this year.

However, as more smartphones get connected to cars as presented at the recent Geneva Car Show, marketers will be expecting to review their latest audience data or sales during their drive into work. It therefore makes sense to enable cross-device accessibility.

As an aside, I hope marketers also underst and what this trend means to their communication plans and how they connect with and engage their consumers.

Can’t see data in real time

With the never-ending flow of information into organisations it makes sense that marketers dem and to be able to look at the latest data in real time. Retail or audience data that is a month or even a few weeks out of date is of little use in this fast-paced world in which we live. Marketers will also expect market research to provide direct access to consumers and become less and less patient of studies that take weeks if not months to complete.

My conclusion from all of this is that the C-Suite needs to invest even more in data management for marketers and not only for the financial results to which they have become accustomed. They should not dem and the ROI of marketing without empowering marketers to be able to analyse the data available to them. What do you think?

C³Centricity used images from Microsoft and Mashable in this post.

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