Enough About Big Data; Try Smart Data

At the Measurement: Now! conference at Microsoft’s New York headquarters last week, IPSOS Open Thinking Exchange CEO Shelley Zalis told the audience a story about her father. One time, he lied about his age on an airline survey. Zalis said her father’s reasoning for doing so was that if he’d checked off the correct box, placing him in an older demographic, the company wouldn’t take his responses as seriously as they would a younger person’s.

In fact, he was on to something. Zalis’ father, despite being in a certain age demographic, travels a lot, likely significantly more than his peers. He doesn’t exude the behavior of a typical person his age, so marketers shouldn’t treat him as such. The lesson of the story—that traditional demographic targeting is a no-no in today’s age—was just one of the takeaways from an entertaining panel discussion on data, research, measurement and marketing between Zalis, Microsoft’s Global Consumer Insights Director Natasha Hritzuk, and Catherine Roe, Head of Strategic Accounts for Datalogix.

Before Zalis told the tale of her father, she kicked off the discussion by claiming that shopper marketing isn’t marketing; it’s shopper engagement. The customer journey is no longer as linear as it used to be; consumers want products and services on-demand. To Hritzuk, this development, along with the stunning amount of data out there and how it’s being measured, means that brands need to close the gap between consumer goals and marketer goals. Marketers should stop thinking “marketer-first” and start thinking “consumer-first”; this means aligning content to facilitate consumer needs, with a keen eye on which screen the consumer will be accessing the content on.

Oh yeah, about those screens. A big topic that drove discussion was the idea that brands thinking in large umbrellas like “mobile” or “digital” aren’t going deep enough. “All screens aren’t equal,” Hritzuk said poignantly, noting that people turn to different screens for different reasons. While even just a few years ago we may have thought that the phone and tablet were essentially the same, we’ve learned that it’s much more nuanced than that.

Our phones are intimate, highly-personalized devices that we use largely for utility. Tablets are less intimate, seen by many as a tool for discovery. Brands must keep this in mind when creating content for particular screens and channels, and see that the content has the appropriate characteristics. Content for content’s sake isn’t worth a thing, it must be relevant.

While data, Roe said, brings us to a more sophisticated place, it’s also muddying some of the waters. What to do with data is a challenge, she said, even noting that there is currently a bit of “data paralysis”. The other panelists agreed: Hritzuk said that the big flaw with data is that it tracks behavior.

While people’s behavior is important (see the main lesson from Zalis’ father’s flight story) it doesn’t tell the whole story. If brands don’t try to understand the “why” behind what people are doing, Hritzuk said, they run the risk of not being consumer-first. On the sheer amount of data, and the buzz-term “Big Data”, Zalis said, “‘Big Data’ is a problem. It should be about ‘smart data’”. And smart data means using the information at hand to make informed decisions, like what people use each device, screen, and platform for, and catering content to each specific case.

The conversation wrapped up in an area that a lot of discussions around data, social media, and marketing end up: ROI. For modern-day marketers, is ROI an enabler of or a barrier to success? For ROE, hitting ROI goals can be huge for a company in the short term, but can often stand in the way of long-term goals.

She urged companies to have a holistic vision of success and to keep that in mind at all times. Hritzuk believed that the issue with ROI is still that we don’t have a perfect definition to it. Is it return sales? Shareability? Adding value to customers? And Zalis, again seeking to redefine a common buzz-term, said that we should get rid of ROI and replace it with ROE: “Return on Engagement”.

In the social space, one way to measure success is by driving advocacy. Consumers are now potential brand ambassadors, and can advocate for—or against, it must be notes—a brand in real time, on their own. Brands are continually seeking ways to foster advocacy within their digital communities. There’s no exact science to creating advocates, but if consumers can be converted, marketers can show a tangible positive result to those who are wondering about the return.

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