Cheryl Metzger / October 10, 2016

From “Big Data” to “Human Data”—three Ways Marketers Need to Rethink Data in the age of Customer Experience

“It was my understanding that there would be no math.”

Delivered with bumbling confusion during Saturday Night Live’s 1976 mock presidential debate, Chevy Chase’s classic line perfectly encapsulates how some marketers secretly feel about finding themselves in the new world of “big data.” It feels overwhelming, obtuse, and disconnected from the empathic, creative impulses that led many to become marketers in the first place.

Yet despite any reticence, marketers have been forced to become fluent in the language of data—talking of metrics, KPIs, CPCs, analytics, conversions, CTRs, measurement strategies, and the like. Cloaked in data jargon, marketers feel like they are doing their due diligence.

But as customer experience increasingly demands focus on a deep, qualitative understanding of how many components interact around the customer, are marketers looking at the right data? Are we only looking at the data of optimization? Or are we also examining the kind of data that, as Interbrand calls it, provides a “forensic” understanding of audience needs and preferences?

I recently sat down with Wire Stone strategist, Nicole Teeters, to discuss the role of data, social, and digital tools, and how to deliver the kind of experiences that audiences crave. Here are the three shifts she recommends any marketer make when thinking about data:

1) From “likes” to love: behavioral and affinity data
Often when it comes to engagement, marketers will ask, “How many likes or shares did we get?” But, Nicole cautions, interaction data won’t tell the full story. She recommends collecting data into planning behavior and affinity: “What are your audience’s biggest priorities? What keeps them up at night? Where do they want to be in five years? What kinds of purchases are they making? What are the brands they feel an affinity toward and why? That gives us an insight into what they really value.” When brands connect with audiences at a deeper emotional level, by providing experiences that align to their audiences’ values, you move customers from like to love.

2) From content strategy to connection strategy: social listening and trending search data
It is no secret that the digital landscape is awash in objects purporting to be great “content.” Quickly hewn, often lacking in substance, marketing content competes for ever-diminishing attention, rarely achieving traction with the intended audience. What’s missing, Nicole suggests, are the kinds of topical insights that social data can reveal. She recommends a three-pronged approach to creating the kinds of content that connect with audiences:

  1. Conduct an owned channel analysis to uncover any historical patterns that indicate content preferences. Compare results with popular content on the same topic beyond your brand.
  2. Next, use social sharing, listening, and sentiment tools (e.g., BuzzSumo, Crimson Hexagon, Radian6, Oracle) to identify the key influencers for your audience, trending questions your customers are asking, and the topics they typically engage with most.
  3. Lastly, employ search analysis tools (e.g., GoogleTrends) to identify trending search topics that your brand can speak to.

3) From guessing to knowing: new tools for primary research data
Focus groups, once the bread and butter of the ad industry, have declined as new technology has made scraping audience insights from the social web more cost effective and timely. And, indeed, Nicole suggests tools, like Facebook Relevance Score tool, are a great replacement for traditional testing, allowing marketers to quickly test and learn what ad content yields positive engagement.

But the decline in primary audience research is partially due to a historical misuse of focus groups—as a means only for testing and vetting advertising campaigns. The rising importance of customer experience, however, means brands need a deeper understanding of their audience than ever before. Enter a new generation of digital qualitative research. Nicole recommends players like DScout, that use video, image, text, and live-chat to recruit, field, and analyze customers, providing brands the rich human insights they need to deliver the value their audiences crave. And online survey tools like Survey Monkey and Typeform make it easy to quickly, inexpensively access insights into audience preferences, attitudes, and behavior.

Ultimately, the rising focus on delivering exceptional experience is great news for empaths and creative marketers alike: Once coldly analytical conversations about big data can now become insightful conversations about human data.

Cheryl Metzger is director of strategy for Wire Stone’s Chicago office, where she leads consulting in customer experience strategy, digital marketing, and communications design.