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Marrying Art and Science: How Big Data is Transforming Marketing

By Raja Rajamannar, CMO, MasterCard International

Raja Rajamannar, CMO, MasterCard International

The explosive growth of data is ushering a new era in marketing, but not for the reasons so frequently cited. It’s not that data is new to marketing. It’s always been around. Rather, it’s the proliferation of consumer data—including how it’s gathered in today’s digitally ubiquitous world as well as how it’s analyzed and applied—that is significantly new and consequential. And not only is the Big Data revolution transforming marketing, by aligning it more closely with IT, but, by doing so, it is also helping to centralize marketing’s role more overall within companies.

Marketing has always relied on both the Art and the Science of winning consumers and building businesses. In earlier decades, this balance was more heavily weighted on the creative side. But over time, the science side has become more infused into the marketing equation in increasingly large doses—adding not just more quantitative information to the mix, but greater sophistication as well. Data is, of course, a crucial part of this scientific input, although its usage up to now has been much more visible in areas like media planning and direct marketing. Practices such as data mining, modeling, optimization, and so on, have been extensively used to reach consumers cost-effectively and, depending upon the campaign objectives, to generate appropriate consumer responses along the purchase funnel.

But now, something transformative has indeed started to occur. There is a ubiquity of digital devices brought on by a confluence of technological developments: the geometric increase in the power of computing; the reduced costs of such computing (Moore’s law is very much at work here); the miniaturizing of device components and the devices themselves; and the introduction of incredibly simple and intuitive user interfaces. The astounding growth in mobile devices has led to a world where there are more mobile phones today than there are people on this planet. These devices are nowhere present and everywhere, both with regard to geographies and generations—folks young and old, across continents and countries, all carry these devices. 

The marketing implications of this digital ubiquity are profound. In the olden days, marketers looked at prime time—the evening period when people were parked in front of some of their favorite TV shows—as the best time to get your advertisements in front of audiences. Today, people watch different types of content on various devices other than TV.

And when they are in front of the TV, they are also simultaneously engaged with other devices in continuous social interactions. So instead of running a marketing campaign on TV along with other media such as  print, we are now developing omni-channel campaigns that run together coherently, if not concurrently. This requires a different level and depth of analytics, and mastering a whole new degree of complexity in terms of targeting, cost optimization and effectiveness. Even the metrics to measure campaign effectiveness are differently nuanced, if not altogether different in many cases. This inquiry can no longer be done by gut feel or simple math. It requires a full-blown data analytics effort.

Additionally, we need to layer on top of this complexity the idea that consumers themselves are doing many things at once.  Through their interactions via multiple digital and physical channels, they are leaving bread crumbs of information, everywhere and all the time. The resulting sum total is an ever increasing tsunami of data that is as exciting as it is daunting, especially given its acceleration.

According to IBM, we create 2.5 quintillion bytes of data every day—and 90 percent of the data in the world today has been created in the past two years alone. This data proliferation is a challenge for both the IT and the marketing professional. It means they need to work more closely together even than they have. Marketing and IT have worked together before on such things as customer relationship management and data warehouses.

But now their collaboration must also play a more centralized role within the corporation in attracting, converting and retaining customers. To achieve this, they need to reorient themselves to a world where data flow is constant and coming from many different directions. Information is not only about consumers; it is also coming voluntarily and directly from consumers. Data is being delivered by customers through their actions and interactions, through their purchases and conversations. And companies today need to evaluate this data to uncover the best ways to reach their customers with product and service concepts and programs (not just messaging!), and to do so as individually and yet as efficiently as possible.

“In earlier decades marketing was more heavily weighted on the creative side. But over time, the science side has become more infused into the marketing equation in increasingly large doses”

In this era of more, varying and multi-directional data, the path forward is determining how this flood of data can guide actionable insights. Not all data is equally valuable. It depends on the type of company, its sector and its goals. The business opportunity is to incorporate and integrate the new wealth of data into market planning—and into corporate planning as well—by developing it as a replenishing stream of information about what is most relevant to our customers. Marketers have an incredible opportunity to get into the minds and hearts of people like never before. We can create a more insightful understanding of each consumer from publicly available information and then enrich it with any data that the company gathers during the course of its relationship with them.

But greater access and insight also comes with the huge responsibility of ensuring and complying with consumer privacy. This self-regulation is essential. If companies are going to step up their ongoing dialogue and engagement with their customers, they can only achieve this on a platform of increasing trust. Data’s true value is in becoming the basis for extending the relationship with consumers as well as knowing more about consumers. MasterCard is not alone in understanding the extent to which the Big Data revolution has changed the way we engage with consumers. A recent report from Altimeter Group found that nearly one-quarter (23 percent) of companies cited developing an internal listening or monitoring solution as a top goal, and 41 percent said listening/learning from customers was one of their top three objectives. 

As we all know about human contact generally, good listening is the basis for productive dialogue and strong relationships. The real promise of the data revolution, therefore, is not some depersonalized science of communications. Science is not closing off the opportunity to connect more deeply and artfully with consumers. Rather, it is enabling a new flourishing of the art of communication, strengthening it on a platform built on relevant dialogue and meaningfully profitable engagement. The prevalence of Big Data is bringing to the forefront the need for marketing professionals to work at the intersection of the art and the science of communications.