Think Outside the Marketing Box for Digital Analytics
As we wind down the most successful Cyber Monday in history, I've been thinking about the evolving role that data plays in selling you more stuff online. I've been thinking about the presentations I sat through in the last few years where people described the virtues of personalizing ads -- like a voice emanating through your headphones that reminds you that there's a sale on that can of soup you've just passed in the supermarket -- as the true fulfillment of how to use this data. 

These focused and targeted marketing aspirations don’t excite me.

Let me tell you about a few data applications that I do find interesting. Their central theme? How to use data to create, improve or make something of value.

Eating Data

You can’t get more real in “making something” than producing food. Farmers are using “real time” data to guide fertilizer use and achieving a trifecta of benefits: saving money on production costs, reducing pollution from fertilizer run off, and reducing the time they spend on calculating nutrient requirements for their crops.

Thanks to a host of mobile applications created by commercial, government and non-profit organizations, farmers are able to improve their product and production. I especially like the ability to take field samples from corn stalks or leaf tests that can be used to provide a snap shot or a report card on how much nitrogen a corn crop is taking up or needs. How cool is that?

Data Forestry

Like the food that we eat, we often don’t give a whole lot of thought to where the wood for our furniture and paper comes from. There are thousands of square miles of planned forest growth throughout the world, yet growers need to know how to maximize the space they have for wood that is in demand. It’s a question of inventory planning that needs to be forecast out for a dozen or more years. Forestry companies that have for years used Geographic Information System (GIS) data are increasing their use of big data, 3D scanning and predictive analytics to produce more wood from fewer trees.

The Data Crossroads - Where Real Products meet Virtual Customers

I continue to encounter organizations that treat the digital channel as a world that doesn’t exist, in spite of the fact that their digital channel represents the universe of their entire target audience. It’s a decision to narrow focus because the organization doesn’t have the vision or process in place to determine products or services that go beyond their current comfort zone. Even companies that do have a more inspired perspective of the online world are still learning how to manage and merge their physically produced products with their online demand.

One such company has produced a product that it offers online and repeatedly sells out. A success? Not necessarily. The company now does a website visitor analysis that demonstrates that if more product was produced it could realize significant revenue increase -- in the millions of dollars. As it moves ahead with its online sales strategy, there will now be more planning around manufacturing and inventory to improve forecasting and reduce “money left on the table.”

How Can You Use Data to Think Out of the Box

Free yourself up from the relentless focus on marketing and consider other areas where your prospects, customers and employees can benefit from data. This is an exercise in innovation, not repetition. Where to start?

I think there are great opportunities to develop fixed web and mobile gadgets or interactive applications that consider analytics prior and during the design phase. I run across countless scenarios where the analytics is thought about after launch. The time to leverage behavioral and demographic data is in the design phase, something I rarely see.

Smarter organizations are taking a product development approach and first assessing key audience data. A trade association I know is conducting a thorough analysis of their social network audiences to determine key demographic and behavioral segment characteristics that will be used to develop an advocacy application. By matching the audience traits with online channel and interests, the association will be able to customize the advocacy application to highlight issues of interest and create messaging that resonates with advocacy participants.

Customer service is another area ripe with opportunity for improvements. Most of the customer service sections on websites are a backwater -- a cluttered jumble of poorly organized support documents, impossible to find contact information and frustrating search functionality.

Take the customer’s perspective to provide helpful content that can be easily found and referenced. Use navigational data and user experience testing to create a customer service section that brings visitors to their desired outcome quickly and transparently. You could use data that you collect to improve the customer service significantly based on navigation analysis, user experience testing and internal search term analysis, as well as call center logs and session playback software.

The Value of Unintended Consequences

Online marketing may be the focus of many organizations analytics’ efforts, but it certainly isn't the only area where there’s a value potential in using data. Look at new product development in other industries, and consider opportunities to improve supply chain, operations and customer service functions through the use of digital visitor data.

Title image - Siobhan Fagan. Feel free to use.

Editor's Note: Want more analytics reading by Phil? Go no further: Is Your CIO On Board with Digital Analytics?