Computers and artificial intelligence have come along at an exponential rate over the past few decades, from being regarded as oversized adding machines to the point where they have played integral roles in some legitimately creative endeavours.
The rise of social, mobile and location technology presents an unprecedented opportunity for marketers to engage in targeted and service-led marketing.
That’s the view of director of strategic planning and information at Macquarie University, Dr Neil Fraser, who caught up with CMO recently to talk about how big data is opening up greater opportunities for competitive advantage, and how mobility and hyperlocal targeting are becoming key to customer engagement.
Dr Fraser is in charge of Macquarie University’s data needs and analysis, a role which includes mapping the institution’s long-term strategies as well as optimising initiatives. He also champions the university’s growing Master of Data Analytics and Bachelor of Business Analytics programs.
Prior to joining Macquarie University, he spent 15 years managing large corporate data warehouses with a focus on targeted marketing, mainly in the mobile space.
As part of his research programs, Dr Fraser has focused on geo-sentiment and socio-sentiment research and the intersection of social, locality and mobility, or ‘solomo’. He claimed ‘solomo’ represents the next evolution of targeted marketing, allowing marketers to become even more localised and contextually relevant to their customers.
“There was a moment when it all changed, and that was when you could see everything that everyone was doing on their smartphones,” he told CMO.
“We are moving from dropping something in the mailbox or via email, to being relevant to where you are in that place at that point in time. If you think about hyperlocality as the primary application, it changes the way we target consumers by focusing on giving them the services they need.
“It’s about becoming a concierge service.”
To do this, marketers need to be able to tap into customer insights through big data. One such data-driven capability is natural language processing, or the ability to turn sentiments expressed by consumers through social and digital channels into rich and actionable intelligence.
“Natural language processing has transformed the Internet space and become very advanced,” Dr Fraser claimed.
“The use of this [capability] is now common and so subliminal many people don’t realise it. For example, if you type in your Gmail that you just bought a dog, within hours you’ll be served ads relating to dog food, vets in your area, all related to the word ‘dog’.
“It’s becoming very important in the competitive landscape to understand where to place ads, but also the emerging trends coming out about people’s feelings about what’s happening.”
According to Dr Fraser, ‘solomo’ has also become possible thanks to the enormous computing power now delivered via the cloud, which in turn has enabled better and cheaper data processing. In addition, this technology might has paved the way for entrepreneurs to turn data and information into products, making big data on customer behaviours and market trends even more accessible to marketers, he said.
Another ingredient helping marketers embrace ‘solomo’ is proximity technology such as iBeacon and NFC (near field communications). These give retailers and organisations the tools to address customers in a specific location and at a specific time through their mobile device.
“Retailers have already figured out they don’t just want to know you’re in-store, but which aisle you are in,” Dr Fraser said. “That raises huge new privacy questions. But it’s an area that’s developing fast and it’s interesting to watch the number of retailers seeing this as really targeted marketing now.”
Coupled with the growing market for transacting data, marketers have previously unheard of opportunities to target their advertising and communication with customers and even predict retail trends, he said.
For example, linking snowfall patterns with retail is now possible thanks to the changes in the way organisations collaborate and share data, he said.
“Imagine the possibilities – we’re not yet linking health data with shopping data, but retailers do link loyalty data often into supply chain dynamics to work out how much of something to make, so there’s more stock for a certain day of the year, or to minimise overstocking,” Dr Fraser continued.
“The difference with this new space is that intersection of social, location and mobile, or ‘solomo’,” he said.
“People want to have more intelligent delivery. We are time poor, and people are so distracted and overwhelmed with information, that to get it right requires lots of skills and capability. Smartphones have made it easier to find out where you are, what you’re doing and what you are looking for.”
But while the communication channels may have transformed, Dr Fraser claimed ‘solomo’ shouldn’t overshadow the fact that marketers still need to serve customers with relevant content first and foremost.
“It’s the packaging into the channel and the channel that is changing,” he said. “The offer just has to be relevant to that place and point in time. You can see people getting it wrong – there’s too much information coming through email as it is.”
The challenge to this of course, is privacy. While Dr Fraser believed Australia has done a good job of cleaning up its data act through the Privacy Principles, he claimed the ethics issues around using detailed consumer information are only just emerging.
“If we want to have these kinds of services, people will need to be more aware of what you’re doing and when you are doing it,” he said. “If they don’t want it, there should be an option to opt-out. It’s self-service and should be your choice.”
The flip side is that by providing useful and accurate information to consumers, brands could well gain stronger customer loyalty, Dr Fraser said.
“I might opt in for my information to be shared if someone can provide a healthy diet and my doctor could look at that data and work out if it’s working for me or not,” he said. “That’s not so much about marketing, it’s about human behaviour.”
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