Instrumented Interconnecteds Intelligent

Erick Brethenoux, Director, Business Analytics and Decision Management Strategy, IBM Software Group

By Erick Brethenoux

CMOs would do well to heed Ernest Hemingway’s time-tested advice: “When people talk, listen completely.”

For some time, brand strategists have been underscoring the importance of listening as a strategic mainstay for brands seeking to delve into social media.

To this day, I believe that thoughtful, inquisitive listening – to public commentary like tweets, posts and the range of online data that we, as individuals, share as a way of expressing ourselves – is one of the smartest investments a marketer can make.

The sky is the limit in terms of the kind of data marketers can listen to today. From online reviews that consumers post and contributions to forums, to creative self-expression on Pintrest and, of course, succinct yet expressive tweets – all of these are Big Data insights that, together, form a true narrative of what makes customers tick.

However, a cursory glance of a sentiment chart, a highlights reel of brand mentions from your agency, or even a month by month count of total tweets is not enough.

At this point in time, CMOs should ask themselves: Is my organization merely listening, or is it listening completely?

I had the chance to illustrate the concept of using analytics to listen completely and uncover consumers’ emotional triggers in Advertising Age‘s first-ever data issue. The article explores an emerging practice known as finding your “kin,” in which CMOs don’t just uncover what makes one consumer tick; they uncover what makes 100 consumers tick, one heart beat at a time, and find the link between all of them.

And if you’re wondering what exactly it means to listen completely, consider the following scenario.

Imagine yourself as an excited consumer who is one month away from a hiking trip in the lush forests of Vancouver Island. As you prepare for the vacation, you know it’s essential to have the right hiking boots to keep your feet dry, protected and firmly planted on the tundra, should you come across a slippery rock formation.

So what do you do?

You begin your search online, perhaps combing Amazon for top-rated boots and reviews to justify the ratings. You turn to your trusted outdoors blogs for product recommendations. You tweet to your friends and your cousins for advice, and post in your favorite forums, to boot (pun intended). And then you visit the website of the brand to which you’ve narrowed down your search, to look at specs and pricing.

But these are boots, so the virtual trail is not enough for you. As an avid hiker, you know it’s time to visit the brand’s retail store to try the boots on for size and comfort. You enter the store, go straight to the wall of boots, and try on the pair you’ve been researching.

And then you buy a lesser brand’s boots because they are cheaper.

Something was missing in this process. You, the consumer, clearly did your homework. You clearly stuck your neck out in the online version of town square, to seek out opinions and ask the right questions. But in the end, there was an emotional trigger that compelled you to eschew your online learnings and act in the interest of your wallet.

But what if the brand you had been researching all this time had, in turn, been listening to your calls for advice? Imagine if that brand had put in the same amount of knowledge-seeking as you did, listening to your public posts, tweets, reviews, comments and content shares.

Empowered by Big Data-driven insights, that brand could have known that the emotional trigger that would supersede your proclivity for choosing the cheaper option is the trusted advice of a fellow hiker; and one who has braved the rocky trails of Vancouver Island.

And with those findings, the brand could have served up a personalized e-invite to a retail store location near where you work, where a helpful store clerk named Bill will be waiting to tell you all about his recent trip to Vancouver and which boots he selected for his weeklong hiking excursion.

That – is listening closely and using data-backed findings to create a personalized, meaningful experience for your customer.

It’s why at IBM, we believe the death of ‘average’ is underway and a new era of ‘You’ is upon us.

Personalization, based on listening to what consumers say about themselves as people, is the key to effective brand engagement. We live amidst a wealth of public data where customers are living, breathing archives of personal expression.

But the most crucial step to targeting your marketing efforts is vetting consumer data carefully through marketing analytics technology and a disciplined eye. This practice of listening completely will reveal the emotional triggers that could compel your consumers to buy or click, comment, share, visit and endorse.

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