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Reaching Clients in a Digital World

By Ari Sheinkin, VP-Marketing Analytics, IBM

Ari Sheinkin, VP-Marketing Analytics, IBM

IBM’s Transformation to a Data-Driven Marketing Function

The Beginning

Every company thinks it is client centric. If you want to know the truth, look at the data. Is the data organized around individuals? Is it integrated across source systems? Is it accessible in real-time to support personalized digital experiences? If your data isn’t organized around individuals then, as much as you aspire to be client centric, your platforms will not allow you to deliver on your vision.

“We, as marketing leaders, have to transform ourselves into data-driven professionals”

I can tell you that two years ago, this was the story in IBM. While we were and are deeply and truly committed to our clients, our data was all organized around accounts, it was siloed by geography and units and it took a data scientist to pull it together. We wanted to be a client-centric marketing function but the truth was we didn’t know our clients as real individual people.

Our transformation started with the realization that, in a digital world, marketing starts with knowing the individual. I wish I could say that was as obvious to us as it sounds, but in fact this was a major culture change and required a complete rebuild of our processes and data infrastructure.

The Work

Even our most technical work now starts with client experience. Our testing demonstrates that even basic personalization like dynamically adjusting a web page to make it more relevant by industry or geography can lead to increase engagement of 200-300 percent. Other research shows that responding to prospects in an hour versus a day can increase wins rates by 60X.

The facts are clear–real-time, relevant experiences are now table-stakes. In 2014 we couldn’t deliver on this requirement using our traditional data systems and marketing automation. In IBM’s case, our marketing database was built a decade ago and optimized for a world of email. Our marketing optimization was designed for one-off outbound communication. We had the vision; but not the infrastructure.

We made two major investments that are now the core of our data-driven marketing business.

First, we rebuilt our data and automation systems. This started by instrumenting every touchpoint, across all channels, to collect every piece of information available. Data is the new natural resource and we now treat it that way. We also developed what we call the individual data master that allows us to connect all the cross-channel data and organize it around the person. Finally, we rebuilt our automation platform to enable behavioral nurture based on understanding the person and their context. This infrastructure works not the sexiest, but it is the foundation. It also requires about 70 percent of the time and money so cannot happen without sustained commitment.

Second, we are building a library of world-class data-driven marketing applications. These include analytic services like response scoring, cross-sell, keyword optimization, multi-touch attribution and on and on. Think of it as a library of marketing apps that are built on the data infrastructure and delivered through our marketing automation. Our goal is to make every client experience an optimized experience for the individual and for IBM. To date, our response scoring identifies prospects who are 4X more likely to convert. Our cross-sell models consistently double our attach rates. Our key word optimization and multi-touch have increase ROI by 5X.

The Future

Going forward, two primary forces are reshaping our work yet again; one that takes us into the bold new future and one that takes us back to the most basic human principles.

First, cognitive computing is reshaping our profession. Most of the world’s information is in the form of images, audio and unstructured text. Suddenly all this data is now accessible. It’s as if we awoke with a six sense.

Due to the sheer volume and velocity of data, we will are accelerating our move from traditional analytics models to systems that can learn and self-direct. In IBM we’re beginning to apply cognitive models to our core business including paid media optimization, content management and next best offers. This means we’re learning whole new techniques and technologies. It also means we’re starting to see early results that hint at the full potential. For example, with our cognitive paid media bid optimization, our early tests show an average of 35 percent increase in ROI over traditional best-in-class models. These early cognitive solution are like a young child playing chess. She can already beat the world’s best players. Now just imagine when she grows up.

The second force is more mundane by equally important. We, as marketing leaders, have to transform ourselves into data-driven professionals. This doesn’t suggest that you should become a data scientist, but in a data-driven world, you must become an effective consumer of analytics. This is no longer a job to outsource to your data science team. It’s a capability you need to incorporate into your daily work. As smart as our cognitive solutions are, business leaders still make business decisions. And the successful ones will personally use analytics to optimize every decision they make.

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