BIG DATA – How Confused Are You?

October 30, 2013

Context-Aware in the Era of Omni-Channel

Big data can be a big waste of time…and data

By Ben Watson

In the second part of this three-part series, Ben Watson, CMO of WhatsNexx and formerly VP Marketing of HootSuite, takes us on a journey through the evolution of context-aware technologies, user experience, customer experience and big data to inform how marketers collaborate with customers as both artist and scientist, bringing the religion of creativity and the discipline of science to the future of the brands we represent.


how much data





Like many marketers working to make digital more tangible, expressive and valuable for users, I am frequently frustrated with the lack of useful profile data hidden in this promise of deeper, more intimate relationships. Data in the digital space suffers even more rapidly from the problems of accuracy and recency. For example, intent data isn’t of much use after the purchase is made, and sometimes that happens long before the data can be used. How many offers do you get for things you alreadyhave?

The challenge is really one of practical applications of useful information, and applying it while that information is useful. While understanding trends (Trending is Trending) continues to grow in importance, and that does require massive amounts of data over extended periods of time, the practical application of individual intelligence may not be best suited to the same big data strategy.

A great entrant in the art of useful and practical listening is the Cartwheel offering from Target, which could win the award for the most nerdy coupon program ever. Cartwheel ties the desire and intent of a social visitor to an in-store shopper, and lets people build their own ‘unique profile’ based on the kinds of things they want from Target. Almost more importantly, it expires these offers from the experience once they are redeemed.


For the consumer, it is simply a personalized couponing program with a very easy-to-use wish list pattern. What goes on behind the scenes in terms of recommendations, mapping to merchandising strategies, and recommendations based on regional is where it becomes brilliant in its simplicity. Target has successfully introduced fun and big data into the same idea, bridging an in-store experience with social tech to help shoppers discover and share what inspires them, or to simply benefit from savings on everyday items like milk that rarely go on sale.

Let’s put this into context. A user’s experience is always dependent on a defined relationship between a business activity and that user’s goals. While the experience may take many forms, there are commonalities in the approach to arrive at a final experience, and this process is the practice of user experience (UX). The disciplines essentially map to the outputs of this process and typically include:

  1. The Brand – the promise, the graphics and the branding.
  2. The Channel – the method by which users interact, e.g., coupons, touch or sharing.
  3. The Data – the visible organizing principle and the visible record of consumption of content and applications.
  4. The Outcomes – the data and the visualization of that data and the ability to optimize behaviour based on that data, either directly by an individual or through automation to deliver on the promise.

Traditional IT values hold that the later in a project you invest in change, the more it costs. There are a number of methodologies in use today that are purported to facilitate user input into the design and development process and we are constantly reminded to beware the linear, embrace the cyclical, and mandate the agile.

keep calm

 Fundamentally, what is often correct and prudent for infrastructure is absolutely unworkable for marketing or user experience. The tables must be turned in favour of simplistic and optimized experiences, and the system must always work in the way that is expected. In order to do this, you must invest in constant change, or constantly invest in change, from MVP through to category leadership. If you suspect that a pattern of consumption will not change, then you simply apply agility to the messaging, the offer and the ability for users to transcend channels. If the pattern is prone to change, then the system itself must be adaptive and built to respond to the direct needs of its most important constituent, the users.

Shorten lead times. Increase portability. Reward with relevance. Be more awesome.

Many investments in user experience today amount to superficial and cosmetic changes applied as afterthoughts in an attempt to solve apparent and predictable problems occurring on the surface of the application. Often, people focus on type size, colour, new buttons and other basic design elements, and are content that they have created a greater customer experience, or perhaps higher click rates. The reality is that this approach rarely maps directly to the greater goals and is often based on in-page or immediate behaviours, rather than outcomes.

In considering those outcomes, it is equally important to consider the data that supports them – near past behaviour and actual observed behaviour will always trump historical activity. Too often I see people stuck in apps or trying to redeem offers that made the mistake of masking a poor experience with cool technology or imagery. Constant input, constant agility and the adaptability to construct optimal experiences for individuals and segments is the best way to find those (or have those find you) who are willing to share their preferences in exchange for ease, utility and delight.

In the final instalment in this three-part series, I will explore maintaining momentum in the customer journey and how to unravel a tangled ball of string in order to find that one thread.

imageBen Watson, CMO of WhatsNexx, is a trusted expert in marketing technology and in the agile delivery of platforms and campaigns that define exceptional customer experience. Formerly the VP Marketing of HootSuite, and a Principal Customer Experience and Enterprise User Experience strategist at Adobe, he was responsible for working across those organizations to optimize the customer journey and define industry-leading platforms. Prior to joining Adobe, Watson served as Director of Product Strategy for Yahoo! and as a leader for Developer and Platform Evangelism at Microsoft. He also spent several years in the advertising agency and publishing space in varied roles such as Creative Director for format::idea and CTO for Toronto Life and FASHION Magazine.