Campaign India Team
Jun 03, 2013

‘Accuracy and efficacy of (data) analysis is the biggest concern’: Virginia Sharma, IBM

CMOs are influencing manufacturing and distribution decisions, says Sharma, chairperson, DMAi 2013 Convention

‘Accuracy and efficacy of (data) analysis is the biggest concern’: Virginia Sharma, IBM

Virginia Sharma, vice president, marketing and communications, IBM India/South Asia firmly believes that data driven marketing will definitely play a major role in understanding customer experiences and shaping communication demands. In an e-mailed interaction with Campaign India before the DMAi 2013 Convention, scheduled in Mumbai on 4 and 5 June, Sharma explains the importance of analysing big data with examples of brands that have done so optimally.

Do you see data driven marketing gaining importance today? How does this manifest in marketing spends or company budgets?

Researchers say that ‘By 2020 we will have 35 zettabytes of data created annually’ - Facebook, Twitter, emails, videos and more. With all this data available and customers' ever-increasing demands, how we use and what we do with this data becomes critical as we design marketing campaigns, generate demands and shape customer experience. Hence, there is no doubting, that data driven marketing is coming of age.

In an era of big data, consumers now expect more of brands - not just good service, but hyper-personalized and high-value service.  By using analytics, marketers can actually predict precise moments to engage customers with the right information or right suggestion in a personalised, authentic way - so that marketing feels less intrusive and more like a welcomed service.

For example, retail marketers can deliver targeted promotions to a smart phone or present personalised ads on display screens while customers are shopping in a store. Telecommunications organisations can provide customer service agents with tailored bundles to offer to customers during a phone interaction. Financial services companies can recommend products and services to online customers based on previous and current web clicks.

In the past, marketers had to place all their bets on big ad campaigns, and there was no place to hide if a campaign failed. Now CMOs can course-correct a campaign midstream.  Thanks to big data analytics, measurement of a strategy that was hitting all the wrong notes yesterday can be re-worked by the following morning.

In short, the impact that data-driven marketing will have on the rest of a company’s operations cannot be underestimated. In fact, Gartner predicts that by 2017, the head of marketing is expected to be the biggest buyer of technology within a company. As a matter of fact, marketing budgets will grow 7 to 8 per cent over the next 12 months, which is two to three times that of IT budgets (source: Gartner).

Is data driven marketing primarily skewed towards selling? Or is it used to build brands? Share your experience. 

Data driven marketing actually allows your brand to understand your customer better and create an exceptional customer experience for them. This is turn engenders your brand to your customers and increases your brand value. So, actually it is not a skew anymore. It is complimentary to each other.

Today, armed with big data analytics, marketers can transform traditional marketing roles and improve how they execute essential marketing functions, from gathering customer information to implementing targeted promotions:

  • Explore a broad range of customer information: Traditional focus groups, surveys and third-party market research cannot capture a full range of customer data and often lead to static, silo-ed information that still requires marketers to make educated guesses about the future. Solutions for big data present opportunities to explore all data - from a wide range of sources, in a variety of formats - and find relevant information quickly and cost-effectively.
  • Anticipate behaviours instead of reacting: Relying solely on historical, transaction-based data and broad customer segmentation for developing marketing strategies may yield disappointing results. By analysing more data, from more sources, in real time, solutions for big data can help marketers better anticipate behaviours and determine the next best action for each individual customer - in time to implement that action for maximum impact.
  • Increase brand control: Traditionally, marketers have been charged with controlling the messaging that defines brands. Using solutions for big data, marketers increase brand control by actively listening to and engaging customers in the social media environment - where brand reputations can be quickly bolstered or tarnished.
  • Deliver highly targeted content: Marketers no longer have to settle for campaigns that hope to resonate with broad customer segments. Instead, they can develop highly targeted promotions and advertising that caters to individual preferences and is delivered in real time, across channels and devices.

How does a company embark on the journey of data driven marketing?

We all agree that big data promises to bring fundamental change to marketing. With the right tools, marketing professionals can use big data to better understand individual customers, predict their behaviours, create tailored interactions and maximise the value of each interaction. Here are some thoughts on how to get started and leverage the power of big data to improve your companies’ ability to connect with consumers, create effective campaigns and innovate:

  • Craft a unified vision: Without partnerships between CMOs and CIOs, in the past it was easy for companies to develop haphazard, fragmented approaches to connecting with customers. But with customers increasingly switching between Web sites, Facebook groups, mobile apps and phone calls in their interactions with companies, this lack of a unified approach can have a critical impact on business. Today, CMOs are developing new skills and relationships and becoming more crucial than ever to their companies. But they can’t make the transition without the help of CIOs.
  • Tackle mobile and social media: There’s a profound disconnect between how important companies think social media and mobile computing are, as well as their expertise and understanding of these innovations. Nearly half of the marketers who were surveyed by IBM said that keeping pace with the growth of social media and mobile devices will be their biggest challenge in the next three to five years. Yet, 65 per cent of the CMOs said they were not prepared for the growth of mobile and social media. And when it comes to social media, 51 per cent of the marketers experimenting with it are not using the data they are collecting to help them make decisions about offers or messaging.
  • Integrate tech infrastructure: At the most basic, marketers lack the foundation they need to start adopting the technology and more sophisticated approaches they need to keep up with today’s digitally savvy consumer. While 48 per cent of marketers surveyed believe that improved technology infrastructure or software will help them do more, nearly 60 per cent said that the lack of IT alignment and integration are significant barriers to the adoption of technology.
  • Get creative with data: Most marketers are using online visitor data. Around 65 per cent of respondents are doing the basic reporting and analysing of this data. Yet, despite that number, only a third use this data to target one-to-one offers or messages and less than 20 per cent are using this online data to make one-to-one offers in traditional channels.

Can you cite an example or two that show how future of marketing is about persuasive personal communication with consumers?

Here are a few examples of companies from around the world that has been successfully leveraging the power of data driven marketing:

One of the leading Indian banks needed more compelling and targeted campaigns to not only market its products, services and brand to new customers, but to established customers as well. It used an advanced marketing management solution to analyse its customer base for previously unidentified behaviours and preferences and to increase loyalty through tailored, event-based marketing campaigns. This helped increase average customer campaign response rate by 47 per cent through event-based marketing and generated 36 per cent higher revenues for customers contacted through the new solution.

With nearly 100 per cent of its mobile customers on a prepaid plan, Globe Telecom (a leading telecom provider in Philippines) wanted to deliver more targeted, real-time marketing to reduce customer churn. The company implemented a solution that analysed streaming data so marketers could detect in real time when to make renewal offers. With the ability to deliver real-time offers based on new customer insights, the company improved the effectiveness of promotions by 600 per cent while reducing the time and cost of promotion development by 95 per cent.

LabelSneak, a UK-based store for men’s clothing, wanted to become smarter about understanding which items were the most popular, whether a new sneaker or a raincoat. They wanted to know what customers were saying about its latest promotions, and what circumstances led to the most effective sales. It designed a program that helps it gain insights from social networking, such as tweets that include Instagram photos and conversations between consumers on social channels, mobile, and tablet devices. Since launching its new system, revenue has grown 148 per cent.

Is the right use of analytics to interpret data accurately a cause for concern? Explain.

The problem today is that of plenty. With multiple tools, multiple service providers and multiple capabilities, marketers are starting to use marketing analysis tools which try and make sense of unstructured data. But there is no real benchmarking to understand what really separates the wheat from the chaff or help you to understand the kind of analytics you need based on your existing organisational technology infrastructure to make it integrated.

In most cases the analyses leave behind a rich stream of structured data sets analysed in patterns, but it still does not help in crafting that one insight which gives direction towards that one action that a marketer needs to take to turbo charge his/her marketing efforts.

The concern around accuracy and efficacy of analysis is the biggest concern.

How has modern retail, and with it shopper marketing efforts, contributed to evolution of data driven marketing?

When we buy something in a store, we may not think about how it got there. But there is a supply chain stretching to that product's origin, and decisions are being made to make the supply chain more responsive to consumers' demands.

We are now seeing that chief marketing officers (CMOs) are influencing their company’s manufacturing and distribution decisions, which is proof of how profoundly customers are reshaping business. Understanding container ship delivery timetables, or the availability of food ingredients, are a far cry from creating splashy ad campaigns. However, if CMOs have data that indicates what consumers want to buy, then that is part of what they need to be focusing upon.

That is today’s reality. Consumers are armed with constantly updated, infinitely searchable data. If dissatisfied with the delivery date, price, or look of a product at one store, they simply move onto the next merchant with the swipe of their phone or click of a mouse. And then, for good measure, they go update their Facebook friends on what they thought about the experience.

So the role and influence of marketers is changing. Their job was never really just about advertising or promotions. At its core, marketing has always been about understanding people and delivering an experience that keeps customers loyal and happy. Now CMOs have moved from marketing to broad demographics to what we call the ‘era of you’.

(Virginia Sharma is the chairperson at the DMAi 2013 Convention, scheduled in Mumbai on 4 and 5 June 2013. Visit for more details.)

Disclosure: Campaign India is a media partner for the event.


Campaign India