Opinion: Getting smart with data holds the key to a stronger brand

Companies that interpret customer data holistically know what their clients want and need—and how the brand can help them

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Unless you understand it, the information you gather on your customers is just ones and zeros. Here’s how to avoid that pitfall

In his monthly column for BCBusiness, Richmond-based branding expert Ben Baker shares his insights into how to communicate value effectively, so people want to listen and engage. In the end, it’s about creating influence through trust.

Everyone is excited about big data these days. No wonder: using machine learning and artificial intelligence, supercomputers can recognize patterns unseen by the human eye. But do we know what to do once those patterns emerge?

Data means different things to different people in an organization. For example, the chief financial officer won’t look at the same subset of the overall data collected by a brand as the chief marketing officer or the chief technology officer. Each will find what they believe is relevant to them and helps them make decisions that are best for their part of the company. 

The problem is, this siloing of information leads to a poor understanding of your clients, what they want, what they need and how the brand can help them. 

Companies like Proof Analytics are working to change this. The Scottsdale, Arizona–based outfit is developing real-time models that enable data to be shared and interpreted in the language of the end user so that CFOs, CMOs and CTOs can gain better insights into how to move forward.

The ability to interpret data holistically is vital in today’s changing world. Data without understanding is merely ones and zeros. To get the most out of this information, we need to take the time to understand it.

Hitting the data jackpot

Here’s a case study from more than 20 years ago. Back then, I was working for a casino in Washington State to help them create a more engaging way to attract Canadian customers at a time when the U.S. dollar was stronger than it is today. I signed a non-disclosure agreement, went into the server room and started to drool. The inquisitive look on the director of marketing’s face led me to believe they had no idea what kind of information they were sitting on. Thanks to its player card system, the casino knew who came down from Canada, how often, how much they spent, who they came down with, what games people played and when their birthday was.

I quickly developed a variably printed direct-mail birthday card program where we offered each Canadian the U.S. equivalent of their Canadian dollar spend when they visited for their birthday. For instance, if we knew that someone spent $100 on average, they would get a US$100 credit for $100 Canadian. We also invited them to bring their friends—whom we named if we had the data—and gave the birthday person a free lunch and everyone in their party a free piece of cake.

On average, each month the casino sent out 50,000 birthday cards. For almost three years, 45 percent of the people who received them took us up on the offer. The monthly net profits from this program: nearly US$1 million.

Easily explaining these numbers to marketing, sales, operations, accounting and executive management made the program long-lasting and profitable. This could only have happened in a situation where everyone understood the data, how to use it to engage the right audience in the right way and how to measure success.

Where there’s smoke…

By contrast, my company Your Brand Marketing ran a smoking cessation program for a regional health authority successfully for well over a decade. Anecdotally, the authority knew that the “quit kits” we distributed to smokers were popular. However, the smoking cessation team didn’t have any empirical data to support the program’s effectiveness. Once the program started to cost more than half a million dollars a year, an executive decided to cut it because spending that money on equipment or staff made more financial sense to them.

If there had been real data to back up the program’s results, we could have made a case for saving it and helping more people stop smoking. But now smokers receive a pamphlet instead, and the health authority spends the money elsewhere.

We need data to understand how we can add value for our customers and to our brand. However, the interpretation of that data makes the difference between successful implementation and mere number-crunching.

Ben Baker wants to help you retain and grow your most valuable asset…your employees. He provides workshops and consulting to enable staff to understand, codify, and communicate their value effectively internally and externally and Lead at Any LevelThe author of Powerful Personal Brands: A Hands-On Guide to Understanding Yours and host of the IHEART Radio–syndicated YourLIVINGBrand.live show, he writes extensively on brand and communication strategy. Contact Ben here