Why data must be the driver for business transformation

Brands overhauling their businesses to become more customer-centric must put data at the centre of their reforms and instil it in their organisations, to avoid creating a new but irrelevant proposition.

Marylebone Cricket Club sent personalised emails to segments of its consumer database, generating over 20,000 ticket sales
Marylebone Cricket Club sent personalised emails to segments of its consumer database, generating over 20,000 ticket sales

‘Digital transformation’ has been a key buzzword of the past couple of years, as companies come to realise that digital platforms have changed their business models for good. But to transform successfully, brands need to put customers’ needs at the centre of the offering they wish to create, rather than being driven simply by the technology available to them.

For many, translating big data into smart data is only part of the challenge: the customer-centric organisation needs to share more metrics with more people internally and have the right structure in place to ensure that data-driven insights fulfil their game-changing potential.

“We value data, not demographics; and segmentation, not assumptions,” comments Sarah Fussey, director of marketing at hotel brand Best Western. “Demographics can deceive, as the general election opinion polls showed recently, so making assumptions about data can be dangerous.”

The customer conversation at Best Western is informed by data that is carefully curated, deciphering habits, patterns and preferences to help the business understand guests better and create more personal and rewarding stays for them. When it launched two years ago, the brand’s new positioning ‘Hotels with Personality’ marked the start of a new era of sophisticated use of data and insight. The business had used data prior to that date of course, but was beginning to use and interpret it differently from 2013. The latest iteration of Hotels With Personality will launch this summer.

“We want more guests to stay more often and a great way of doing that is using the data we have to create interesting conversations and stories that allow us to form more engaged relationships,” says Fussey. “There will always be a place for price, but we believe the future is in storytelling and allowing data to inform how we allow the personality of our hotels to shine through in every form of communication.”

Data needs proper curation and interpretation before it can go anywhere near being smart data, and before it can serve as an evidence base for strategic decisions. When an organisation is able to effect a complex segmentation of the customer base it can start to ask its standard data more detailed and relevant questions.

Best Western’s segmentation and data analysis lay the foundations of communications that resonate, enabling the brand to have more dynamic conversations with its consumers. Within one campaign there can be multiple versions of the messaging, depending on what the data highlights, a strategy that goes a long way to creating customer trust.

“They might seem like an unlikely casting, ‘boring old data’ and centre-stage personality, but they create a powerful performance when harnessed in the right way,” explains Fussey. “We have the largest collection of independently owned hotels in Great Britain, so our guest experiences are not formulaic, which presents opportunities for data to be used in really creative ways, most notably in our exceptional storytelling project.”

Defining customer engagement

Gatwick Airport is starting to do things differently too. As part of its strategic aim to be London’s ‘Airport of Choice’, the transport hub currently has a drive to improve the marketing definition of customer engagement and an advanced use of data is central to that aim.

In April, it launched its first engagement programme, ‘myGatwick’, aimed at connecting its passengers to the airport more directly. Crucially, myGatwick recognises that people travel for different reasons and asking the right questions up front is key to giving passengers what they want.

Rather than asking for age or postcode, it asks for details on whom they are flying with and where they are flying to. It aims to be smarter with the information it has about people to make sure they have a better experience and to help the brand improve revenue. From a commercial point of view, it enables Gatwick to be a better strategic partner with retailers because it can tailor offers to different types of passengers or segment the database according to their destination.

Data gathered from customer feedback tool myGatwick enables the airport to better understand what its customers need

“Through the building of this data-focussed myGatwick community, a more modern and socially led connection between passenger and airport is created,” explains Jo Patterson, marketing director at Gatwick Airport. “Our passengers also know that through a value exchange – their travel details in return for tailored offers – they can control their airport experience.”

Sharing more of the metrics with more people, so they better understand some of the issues, magnifies what the data can contribute to the business. The airport’s operations and marketing teams meet fortnightly to review what passengers have said across all aspects of the airport experience – this information can then be used to prioritise service improvements. “Delivering excellent service for our passengers remains our absolute focus,” comments Patterson. “Gatwick’s increasingly sophisticated use of data is changing the culture in the airport by supporting, and at times leading this strategic priority.”

In order to achieve its customer-centric aims, Gatwick has built a cross-departmental project team with marketing, IT and e-commerce departments, and invested in more sophisticated database and content management systems.

“The key to providing this tailored experience is that we need to have a back-end system to our passenger interface so we have made sure our database and functionality of our website are up to the job and made sure that our CRM programmes are able to segment by types of passengers,” comments Patterson.

“I feel really confident that we have invested in the tools to deliver that data-led passenger experience and are setting up our teams internally to support that.”

New data-driven roles

Technology is making its mark on job functions too. Last year as competition hotted up in the 4G mobile internet space, O2 demonstrated its increased focus on the customer with the appointment of Jonathan Earle to the newly created role of head of customer strategy and development. While the brand has a track record of being customer centric, the appointment signals a commitment.

“The most common question that is asked at O2 is ‘what is the customer insight’?” says Earle. “Unless you have a good and credible answer supported by facts – rather than gut feel or ‘Hippo’ [highest paid person’s opinion] – then the idea won’t go further. Data is front and centre to our business and understanding customer behaviour is essential in our drive to deliver the best customer experience.”

O2 uses its data to make sure that each message it sends to customers is personalised and targeted based on the information it has about those customers.

“We know, for example the music genres that our customers love when they book tickets through [loyalty app] Priority and can send messages specifically based on that information to alert them to new shows by their favourite artists,” says Earle. “In addition, we pay a huge amount of attention to the customer experience and pride ourselves on our ‘Customer Centred Design’ programme.”

This initiative enables O2 to stress-test products, propositions, applications and services with customers before it launches them. In this way it ensures that the end product generates better customer satisfaction and a higher return on investment.

Transforming culture

Necessary internal changes keep brands and businesses growing. Ash Roots, director of digital at Direct Line Group has brought his passion to the table at the brand, taking it on a journey of complete digital transformation, recognising that organisations don’t operate effectively without common goals, beliefs and values.

“My ambition was always to build a highly talented digital team in-house who can take insight through to highly performing digital experiences,” Roots says. “This requires organisational confidence and agility, and critically, the need to empower our people to make the right decisions for our customers.”

Data and data sharing within the marketing team has been crucial to developing this culture of innovation.

“In order to enable specific digital working practices to be conducted, we quickly adopted agile methodologies from test-and-learn, data driven testing, iteration and ‘scrum’ [a software development methodology] to trying out different team organisational models,” comments Roots. “Our mission is to make insurance much easier and better value for our customers and in order to achieve this, we have created a culture that gives people the best conditions to thrive in.”

With investment in people, processes and technology key to the transformation Direct Line Group needed to implement, data and analytics are the most powerful tools it has in understanding its customer needs.

It has discovered, as have others on the customer centric trajectory, that the rewards of using data to inform processes and culture are great. Those single customer views, smart customer segmentations and optimised customer interactions deliver engagement, loyalty, and ROI. Using data well means breaking down silos; it means becoming effective storytellers; and requires a focus on what matters – the big numbers, hard facts, major threats, big opportunities. Humanising brands is the gold standard in customer centric marketing and it’s through understanding both internal and external audiences that the business can grow in the hearts and minds of consumers.

Putting personalisation at the heart of marketing

Gone are the days of one-size fits all communications. Targeting consumers better means personal and relevant customer experiences with data at the heart of an integrated cross-channel marketing strategy.

“There are a number of key drivers for more evidence-based marketing, not least that it really helps limited budgets generate positive returns because we are far more focused on reaching the right customers at the right time,” explains Elly Cockcroft, head of marketing at Marylebone Cricket Club, which owns Lord’s cricket ground and governs the laws of the game.

“The evidence-based approach from a customer acquisition perspective also allows us to feed intelligent insight into the end to end experience – being able to provide experiences based on our customer profiles leads to increased loyalty and therefore even more efficiency in our marketing budgets.”

MCC’s recent work to develop a single customer view with specialist data-driven sports marketing agency Two Circles has enabled it to send highly targeted emails to customers. For example, to promote last year’s match at Lord’s between Middlesex and Surrey in the NatWest T20 Blast cricket tournament, MCC tailored emails to six segments within its database, generating over 20,000 ticket sales, a record crowd for any 20-over cricket fixture in the UK.

Whilst the strategy has been led by marketing, buy-in from the wider organisation is critical and goes from the top down. Taking an insight-led approach such as this requires technology to underpin it, and making this technology and insight available to the wider organisation is important for a consistent strategy.

“Putting customer data at the heart of MCCs marketing has not happened overnight but the effort within marketing has allowed a conversation to happen across the entire organisation,” says Cockcroft. “By using insight to speak factually about who our customers are, the language has changed from “I think” to “I know”, this is a challenge for many well established organisations I’m sure.”

The challenges of data-driven transformation

Top three barriers to achieving integrated marketing

1. No single customer view 32%

2. Existing technology 31%

3. Organisational structure of the business 31%


Top three challenges in achieving a single customer view

1. Poor data quality 43%

2. Siloed departments 39%

3. Inability to link different technologies 37%


Source – Experian Digital Marketer Report, May 2015


Is big data delivering ROI?

Nicola Smith

Big data seems to divide brands into either advocates or sceptics, with some now seeing paybacks and others having jumped in unwisely. Whichever side they are on, brands need to set out their goals first before deciding whether to invest.


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