Real-Time Analytics: Reality vs. Fiction
August 20, 2012
Kristin Muhlner likens work at a start-up to a theme park ride, with the ups, downs, twists and turns coming quickly and often. The past two months as chief executive of District-based NewBrandAnalytics have been no exception.
“What you have to be careful about is not getting on the roller coaster ride,” Muhlner said. “We had a great day yesterday, but invariably there will be something today that doesn’t go so great. You have to be able to not take any of that personally.”
In business, it's change, change, change, because of what people say. newBrandAnalytics tracks social networks to recommend those big changes.
While many people claim to "live in the moment" each day, marketers employ this motto to their customer engagement strategy to maximize their competitive advantage. With real-time analytics, companies gain the ability to gather, process, evaluate, and react to events as they happen, allowing them to respond to customer issues preemptively or at the point of need. But with so much behavioral information flowing into the enterprise, the Big Data deluge can often masquerade as a daunting obstacle.
However, this influx of customer data represents opportunity in disguise. Big Data opens businesses up to a new world of customer sentiment that can fuel future improvements. However, for most companies, the challenge doesn't always stem from Big Data's overwhelming nature in terms of volume, but from whether or not the companies are collecting the right data in order to generate constructive information to drive action across all touchpoints. For this to work, companies must also be willing to embrace available technologies in order to streamline the process.
A laser focus on key data points that matter most to individual companies is what some experts recommend for real-time analysis to work effectively. Cary Danner, vice president of client services and analytics at C3/CustomerContactChannels, believes data analytics and trending analysis must be targeted because a narrowed focus reduces the sheer volume of data and complexity of analysis required to turn data into knowledge and business decision.
"Effective decision-making is based on having the right information available and easily accessible," Danner says. "Due to the problematic process of turning data into knowledge, most organizations today find themselves being data-rich, but information-poor."
To become information-rich requires marketers to break down silos so that companies can then integrate the data and develop actionable intelligence. This will help them determine which points require immediate response and which points can be addressed later.
Wilson Raj, global director of customer intelligence at SAS, explains that not all 'moments of truth' need real-time interaction. "Identify the 'moments of truth' in the customer journey that would benefit from a real-time intervention first," he says. "Hunt for the data that can give you the insights needed, acquire the technologies to build those analytic capabilities, and acquire the relevant skill sets and processes to support [your analytics strategy]."
Susan Ganeshan, CMO at newBrandAnalytics, agrees. For her, information is power: "When you approach the massive amounts of data found on the Internet with this in mind, the daunting task of being customer-focused seems more approachable. Don't let the speed or volumes of the data deter you. Just find the right partner—someone who gets your business and has the right tools to help you manage [the data]."
Making data actionable
When applied in context, real-time analytics can allow companies to make pertinent offers at critical moments in the customer lifecycle. Typically, marketers use real-time analytics to track online behavior, responses to content and offers, and transactions, thus developing an understanding of how customers and prospects have interacted with the brand in the past and their present activities in order to gauge how they might behave in the future.
Based on historical data, analytics can aid present interactions—both online and in the field—by suggesting other items or services purchased by past customers who exhibited the same interests. Observing online behaviors allows brands to customize special offers and product recommendations according to what items customers have currently viewed. In other instances, employees are able to access customer information so they may offer relevant promotions to prevent attrition.
"Look at the data pouring in as a valuable asset: crude oil that can be refined into high-powered gasoline to power the business," says David Smith, vice president of Revolution Analytics. "In particular, recognize that your data is unique to your business, and capitalizing on that opportunity is the key to competitive success." Smith also suggests avoiding off-the-shelf solutions to analyze the data. "By definition, a one-size-fits-all approach provides no competitive advantage. Instead, create a culture of extracting value from your data with an efficient, empowered data science practice," he says.
The key to developing a streamlined, successful real-time strategy, according to Svilar, is to adopt an integrated technology platform that eliminates manual or siloed data feeds, thereby centralizing the important data and making it readily available across the organization. However, he also suggests companies move away from their reliance on metrics because, while data and analytics inform strategy and investment, decisions should be a healthy combination of real-world understanding of market context and business dynamics in order to generate actionable insights.
Conversely, Michael Svilar, global managing director of marketing analytics at Accenture Interactive, emphasizes the need for companies to understand which metrics matter most to their business so they aren't inundated by looking at every data point, allowing them to focus on only the real business-driving metrics.
While real-time analytics may be an overarching trend that ultimately leads to competitive advantage, more and more marketers are coming to the conclusion that not everything can (or should) be acted upon immediately. Instances that can deliver the most relevant personal experience for their customers in real-time deserve prompt attention, but most important strategic decisions require much input and careful reflection over time.
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