Big data this, big data that. Hardly a day goes by when we're not bombarded with messages about the big data platforms and technologies that will solve all our marketing problems. Let's be honest though: these tools and technologies alone simply won’t solve the big data challenge. But the effect of all that media and market hype? A lot of confusion and mistrust on the part of marketing leaders about what big data really is, what it can do, and how it should be incorporated into business strategy. And that's holding a lot of firms back from maximizing the power of the data at their disposal.
By now you're asking yourself how anything I've said so far is different or unique. Here it is: "big data" isn't about exabytes or petabytes. It's not about velocity. It's not a project or Hadoop or any other single thing. Big data is a journey that every company must take to close the gap between the data that's available to them, and the business insights they're deriving from that data. This is a definition that business and technology leaders alike can understand and use to better win, serve, and retain customers.
My colleague, Brian Hopkins, and I have just published a pair of reports -- researched and written in parallel -- to help our marketing and technology management clients work together to tackle the opportunities and challenges of big data. Here are a few of the most interesting "a-ha" moments of the research:
On May 14, Acxiomannounced its intention to acquire LiveRamp, a "data onboarding service," to the tune of $310 million in cash. Several Forrester analysts (Tina Moffett, Susan Bidel, Sri Sridharan, and I) cover these two firms, and what follows is our collective thinking on the impending acquisition after having been briefed by Acxiom's leadership on the matter.
We've been talking about Adaptive Intelligence (AI) for a while now. As a refresher, AI is is the real-time, multidirectional sharing of data to derive contextually appropriate, authoritative knowledge that helps maximize business value.
Increasingly in inquiries, workshops, FLB sessions, and advisories, we hear from our customer insights (CI) clients that developing the capabilities required for adaptive intelligence would actually help them solve a lot of other problems, too. For example:
A systematic data innovation approach encourages knowledge sharing throughout the organization, reduces data acquisition redundancies, and brings energy and creativity to the CI practice.
A good handle on data origin kickstarts your marketing organization's big data process by providing a well-audited foundation to build upon.
Better data governance and data controls improve your privacy and security practices by ensuring cross-functional adoption of the same set of standards and processes.
Better data structure puts more data in the hands of analysts and decision-makers, in the moment and within the systems of need (eg, campaign management tools, content management systems, customer service portals, and more).
More data interoperability enables channel-agnostic customer recognition, and the ability to ingest novel forms of data -- like preference, wearables data, and many more -- that can vastly improve your ability to deliver great customer experiences.
This morning, as I was writing this blog post, I got an email from one of my colleagues, saying "Is it weird that since Google bought Nest, I no longer want one?" Her sentiment isn't that unusual because, as it turns out, plenty of people feel like Google + Nest = HAL. (It's hard to miss the resemblance)
My colleague Frank Gillett just published a post outlining a collection of ten key thoughts about the acquisition. As the privacy-identity-personal data wonk advising Forrester's marketing strategy clients, I thought I'd drill down on some of the more salient points for those issues.
As 2013 comes to a close, it's clear to me that much of the rhetoric about privacy's death was not only premature but downright wrong. Just in this past week, there have been several events that point to how very alive and critically important the topic of privacy is:
The US Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation released a report (in advance of a public hearing) about the practices of the data brokerage industry, and how they impact consumers. The report claims that "data brokers operate behind a veil of secrecy, subject to limited statutory consumer protections." This certainly portends the possibility of new legislation being introduced by the committee in 2014.
US District Court Judge Richard Leon ruled that the bulk collection of millions of Americans' call records likely violates the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution. While conflating surveillance with marketing privacy is a dangerous thing, I suspect that this ruling will draw further attention to the volume, scale, and methods of data collection, irrespective of who's doing the collecting.
Yesterday, FTC Commissioner Julie Brill published an essay on AdAge.com that calls on data brokers to join -- or, rather, establish -- an initiative called "Reclaim Your Name." The goal of the program would be to provide a single portal where consumers could see what data the industry has collected about them, provide options to opt in and out, and to correct data that might be inaccurate.
While the commissioner's article is a bit heavy on the "big data" rhetoric, her point is well taken: We have entered an era where the volume of data that individuals make available about themselves -- often inadvertently -- is increasing daily. Unfortunately, guidelines for how marketers and the larger data industry collect and use personal data are in short supply. This conflict is one of the major challenges that our industry faces in the coming decade: How can brands excel in the age of the customer if they're constantly under scrutiny about their privacy and data practices?
Acxiom, one of the world's largest data brokers, recently launched its own version of the kind of portal Commissioner Brill calls for. AboutTheData.com lets individuals see a subset of the data Acxiom knows about them, provides correction and opt-out opportunities, and aims to provide consumers with education about the data industry as a whole.
Yesterday, Acxiom, one of the world's largest data brokers and a key player in the marketing services ecosystem, launched an important new consumer service (still in Beta) called "About The Data." It's an initiative to show consumers some of the data that Acxiom has compiled about them, to provide education around how certain types of data are sourced and used, and to let users correct and/or suppress the use of these datapoints for marketing purposes.
This is a big deal. Why? Because it's pushing Acxiom (and, frankly, the entire third-party data industry) way out of its comfort zone on a few levels.
First, this is not a company that is used to dealing with consumers on a mass scale. Acxiom's DNA is fundamentally B2B; learning how to communicate to, and design tools for, individual consumers is a massive undertaking, and it shows in the UI. For example, when I attempted to register my address with a "#" preceding my apartment number, the format was rejected without any indication that symbols were disallowed in that field. As a tech-savant, it only took me one more attempt to figure that out, but not all consumers are so savvy. Similarly, clicking the "Home" button on the navigation bar logs users out without any notice or warning.
As an analyst on Forrester's Customer Insight's team, I spend a lot of time counseling clients on best-practice customer data usage strategies. And if there's one thing I've learned, it's that there is no such thing as a 360-degree view of the customer.
Here's the cold, hard truth: you can't possibly expect to know your customer, no matter how much data you have, if all of that data 1) is about her transactions with YOU and you 2) is hoarded away from your partners. And this isn't just about customer data either -- it's about product data, operational data, and even cultural-environmental data. As our customers become more sophisticated and collaborative with each other ("perpetually connected"), so organizations must do the same. That means sharing data, creating collaborative insight, and becoming willing participants in open data marketplaces.
Now, why should you care? Isn't it kind of risky to share your hard-won data? And isn't the data you have enough to delight your customers today? Sure, it might be. But I'd put money on the fact that it won't be for long, because digital disruptors are out there shaking up the foundations of insight and analytics, customer experience, and process improvement in big ways. Let me give you a couple of examples:
You've heard me go on and on about the importance of personal identity management (PIDM), and the principles you'll need to adopt to thrive in a PIDM-enabled ecosystem, for a year now. You've heard statistics like:
When we set out to evaluate the new breed of firm that we call "customer engagement agencies," we sent our initial screener to an incredibly long list of firms -- over sixty, in fact! -- ranging from MSPs to digital agencies to management consultancies. We felt that we needed to cast a wide net if we wanted to understand the range of approaches vendors take to customer engagement: how they use data and analytics, the channels they enable with customer intelligence, and how they service their most strategically engaged clients. As the responses rolled in, a hypothesis began to take shape in my mind: The emerging customer engagement agency model hails from two mature markets -- digital/direct agencies and database MSPs -- and, depending on provenance, these evolving agencies take one of two primary approaches to customer engagement.
Turns out, I was on the right track, though the reality is not quite so black and white.
In our final evaluation of 13 vendors in The Forrester Wave: Customer Engagement Agencies, Q4 2012, we did find different strengths and weaknesses depending on legacy business model, but ultimately EVERY firm still has a long road ahead of evolving its people and processes to support CEA clients. We also found, though, that each CEA we evaluated is working hard to connect the dots between strategy, analytics and execution in order to optimize customer experience and profitability. And that can only be a good thing for the marketers and CI leaders who are visionary enough to hire them.