With the explosion of big data, most businesses are acutely aware that they are sitting on a mountain of untapped data, struggling to get an in depth view of the customer. Along with the rise of social media, multiple disruptive forces like empowered consumers, shrinking budgets, insanely fast innovation cycles and an ever growing number of channels underscore the importance of making marketing informed by data easier.

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So a tidal wave of new data is coming at organizations every day -- and it is coming at everyone at an extreme velocity. Rather than drowning in it, smarter organizations are storing, channeling and synthesizing this data to glean better insights and understand customers as individuals.

Data empowered businesses anticipate customer needs across channels; they deliver the right product, the right service and the right price in real time when their customers need it.

Using Data to Anticipate Customer Needs

This is not a pie in the sky idea. Leading social businesses are integrating social media data into their business processes as well as into their entire ecosystem. All the intelligence and insights gained from interactions and the structured and unstructured information that is created from customer transaction to customer tweet is applied to addressing customer segments in a more discrete manner.

For example, a major consumer goods firm created a unified and secure collaboration space for employees and suppliers to increase responsiveness to new demands and improve customer satisfaction. A bank increased customer engagement by creating communities of interests for investment experts.

This social business approach also marks a shift in marketing from descriptive analytics focused on past action to predictive analytics enhanced by social data that forecasts customer behavior based on trends. Reaching customers can be so much sharper than just blindly betting on zip codes and demographics and the transition has already started.

Analytics Drive Results

According to a joint MIT Sloan Management Review and IBM Institute of Business Value study, organizations that excel in analytics outperform those who are just beginning to adopt analytics by a 3x factor. And top performers are more than 5.4 times more likely to use an analytic approach over intuition when making decisions. Being poised to tap into results of your online efforts allows you to repeat success and address underperforming campaigns to improve results.

What can we achieve from knowing what has happened AND what could happen based on social cues? Gaurav Gupta, IBM Worldwide Marketing Manager, Business Analytics and Optimization says “Marketing has ceased to be ‘just an art’ for some time now. Marketing is both art and science and “analytics” is the new science, which is acting as the game changer for companies today.”

There are three marketing areas where organizations are focused on and applying analytics: insight, strategy and engagement.

Companies need deep insight into customer behavior and needs -- and the ability to anticipate and predict behavior to take immediate action.

These insights in turn help them develop and continue to refine their customer value strategy -- how to enhance, extend and redefine value as viewed by the customer -- and the key here is to do it profitably.

Leveraging that strategy to build customer and partner engagement, throughout the value chain and use technology to not just engage with your customers, but to forge personal relationships.

How do you take action? Simply put, there are three steps:

  1. Harness the data.
  2. Make the data actionable.
  3. Put the data in the hands of the people who can act on it.

Harness The Data

Your marketing campaigns should help your business achieve specific goals. It pays to have organizational agreement on what metrics really count across all employee levels and roles and to have as much real time transparency as possible into what’s happening. Investing in making analysis a core competency for your business can make a real difference.

Make the Data Actionable

You also want be able to connect your campaign performance to the results you care most about: perhaps traffic, leads and customers. By utilizing all of the data gathered from social media -- demographic, preferences, behavior, interests -- companies can use a more personalized approach to marketing. Predictive analytics provides a means to anticipate what customers want before offers are sent. Using predictive analytics you can make the shift from product marketing to customer focused marketing.

Put the Data Into the Hands of the People Who Can Act On It

Without getting timely information into the hands of your employees in an easily digestible format, action is nearly impossible. A successful social business analytics program also requires coordination between your analysts and the line of business that will benefit from the analytics. Solutions should facilitate internal communication strategies to make the data more accessible to the right resources and experts to respond quickly to customer and corporate needs.

Getting Started

Obviously, building a data driven social business won’t happen overnight. It may take a major culture shift for everyone to fully invest. Scott Neuman, IBM director of Social Business Marketing warns against key pitfalls:

First, it needs to be really simple and intuitive to manage the data you need. You can have amazing tools but a big pitfall is if those tools aren’t integrated into everyday activity. Second, a supporting culture is needed to drive adoption. How many performance incentives are focused on encouraging your people becoming active in the network? If you don’t reward your employees when they engage and share their expertise they are not going to engage.”

Don’t plan on change happening all at once. Instead, start small, with one group and get quick wins with one organization.

Today, customers are less loyal to brands and far more empowered to make demands through social channels. At the same time, having real customer relationships has never been as possible on a large scale as it is now. So don’t just use analytics to reach the next customer to make a transaction, instead focus on creating an experience that will turn that customer into an advocate.

Image courtesy of John T Takei (Shutterstock)

Editor's Note: Interested in reading more from this month's focus on turning data into marketing actions?