Five Steps to Applying “Big Data” To Your Customer Communications and Marketing


“Big Data” has evolved from being an exciting new concept to an essential tool when it comes to reaching consumers and delivering a good customer experience. For companies that are serious about their customer communications and marketing, Big Data is no fad. The evolution of Internet analytics, the proliferation of mobile devices and developments in data capture have led to an unprecedented availability of data that can be put to good use — meaning there is an information trail on everything from your current location to your daily shopping habits to the efficiency of your car engine.

Across all sectors — and departments within individual businesses — Big Data is helping to enhance capabilities as well as increase profits, and dealings with customers are no exception. In terms of front-line, customer-facing parts of most businesses, marketing and customer relationship management (CRM) are among the first to have originally embraced data — before it was “Big” — and are already reaping the rewards. However, there is a danger of losing sight of what is important and drowning in all the information available.

With the surge of newer streams of web, mobile and social data, one of the areas of concern with Big Data is simply the vast amount of information it offers on customers. The huge growth in digital during the past few years has also meant that the lines between marketing, CRM and service all seem to blur in a way that can be overwhelming. The possibilities seem limitless, but so does the data. So where should marketing and CRM teams begin?

1) Determine your objectives
The first place any marketing or customer relationship manager should start is to ask themselves what it is the company wishes to really achieve. For most, the answer will be an increase in revenue, and for many it will be a good customer experience. By linking a company’s database to the overall marketing and CRM strategy both of these jobs are made a lot easier. There are three key areas that need to be looked at in order to do this:

  • Increasing customer spending
  • Increasing the frequency of customer visits
  • Reducing the number of lost customers

These are the three key ways to ensure a business increases profitability, stripped back to the bare essential. Keeping these in mind throughout the marketing process means that the end goal is not forgotten and the path to achieving it is not strayed from. It allows companies to employ the information they need to drive their business goals rather than letting their organization’s strategy grow out of whatever data is available. Employing Big Data effectively requires a clear and agreed data management policy and having the infrastructure and service providers in place to make sure that your organization has information that can be analyzed effectively.

2) Consider what data is essential
This can prove tricky to a lot of departments, marketing in particular. Of course all information on customers can seem valuable, especially if it has proven tricky to capture. However, one of the biggest issues with Big Data is there is often too much useless information. Data needs to be complete, consistent, accurate and up to date. It is safe to say that any data that does not fall into these categories may turn out to be more of a hindrance than a help. What’s more, it has to ultimately help you meet your objectives. When deciding whether data is essential or not, ask these questions:

  • Is it in a functional condition?
  • Does it further your relationship with the customer?
  • Can you link to a known customer?
  • Will employing this data boost profits?

If the answer is no for even one of these questions, you need to decide whether it is really needed. Useless, inaccurate or outdated information can make tapping into Big Data a waste of time. This is particularly important where marketing communications and other elements of CRM are concerned.

3) Find the best way of capturing the essential data
A properly planned and resourced CRM or loyalty program can be an invaluable tool when it comes to capturing consumer data and employing it to communicate effectively with customers. Not only do these types of programs enable companies to track customer behavior — what, when and where customers are buying — but they also act as great incentives for customers to keep their personal details up to date (in order to make sure they are receiving their rewards and special offers).

4) Secure data permissions and trust
Even companies with established CRM and loyalty programs need to bear in mind that the Data Protection Act allows companies to hold opt-in data for customer communication purposes but also requires them to offer these consumers the option to opt out. When seeking new information, companies must also make sure all of this is done within the rules of permission. Customers will usually agree to allow their data to be used when they will receive targeted offers and rewards, but in asking for any additional details, it is worth considering whether you really do need the data and are going to use it — and if so, how. Ultimately, any and all customer data has to be used responsibly and effectively, or your business will lose customer trust. Customers must have confidence that a company is taking care of their data — keeping it secure and not sharing it without permission — and using it judiciously for appropriate and useful offers and rewards. There is always an exchange of value at the heart of the successful database marketing relationship.

5) Put an SCV database at the heart of your activity
Once you have identified the Big Data you need, can capture, can keep accurate and updated, and can link to a customer, you need to ensure you are able to do this within the capabilities of a single customer view (SCV), which brings all the data held by various parts of the business together in one place. The information from the SCV can be analyzed to provide insight that enables you to reward and influence customer buying habits that encourage increased spending, increased frequency and reduced attrition.

The SCV is the core of Big Data for marketing and CRM. Big Data will only work as the fuel for insight-based actions if the data is not held in silos such as mail, store, web, mobile and email, but joined up in a consumer- centric database. And it is critical to remember that Big Data needs to not just be about digital data. That’s the point of an SCV — it pulls through store transactions, mail responses, logged calls, application forms and other organizable customer interactions to create an actionable set of information on the customer.

Never lose sight of your objectives
In order for strategies and processes built around Big Data to run smoothly, effective data management needs to be in place. When keeping track, it is also critical to keep sight of overall objectives. It is all too easy to get lost in the vast amount of information, but as long as marketers focus on what really matters — profitability and the customer experience — a CRM or loyalty program will allow you to gain trust from your customers by rewarding their purchasing behavior with offers and promotions relevant to them. This in turn will deliver incremental revenues for your business.

andy-woodAndy Wood is the Managing Director for GI Insight. For a more detailed marketers’ guide to Big Data, contact GI Insight at