Think BR: Understanding big data

By Matt Barnett, brandrepublic.com, Wednesday, 23 May 2012 08:00AM

Understanding big data is key if retailers want to build one to one relationships with their shoppers, writes Matt Barnett, head of digital, MARS\Y&R.

Matt Barnett, head of digital, MARS\Y&R

Matt Barnett, head of digital, MARS\Y&R

Do you remember that scene from The Matrix where Morpheus and Tank are scrolling through the noughts and ones on the screen, trying to decipher what it all means? I think retailers are doing the same.

Okay, it’s a bit of a stretch to imagine Messrs King, Clarke and Price in full length leather coats, but you get my drift. They’re desperate to break the code on what all this data means and what new world it can help create.

Retailers are surrounded by data, most of it their own and most of it pretty hard to make sense of without all the missing pieces.

They have data from stores, data from loyalty cards, bought data and data from online sales, but it doesn’t always join up and it rarely gives them the full picture on what shoppers want, where shoppers are and why shoppers switch or stay loyal.

The one thing they do know? If they get to grips with data they can answer these questions and provide that holy grail, the one to one service. This is big. This is often touted as 'big data'.

Big data is the phrase used to describe large data sets that are hard to manage, and harder to decrypt. Big data is what retailers have right now.

WalMart currently processes one million transactions every hour. And Sainsbury's just announced it issued more than 370 million vouchers in the last year alone. That is a lot of noughts and ones.

One retailer perhaps closer than the rest to cracking the code is Amazon. Right from day one it’s known a lot more about our shopper habits than the grocery guys.

It knows where we live, clearly it knows what we like to read and it even knows when we’ve finished our books once we provide a review, unless we are lying that is. It knows our taste in music, films and in the latest gadgets. It even knows where we work and the address of some of our friends and what we really would like for Christmas.

It also knows if delivery is a high priority or if we’re generous with the gifts we buy. But now with the introduction of the Kindle and Fire devices, it’s also starting to discover what once only O2 or Vodafone knew: where we are and what we’re doing when we’re there.

Okay, it still has some way to go, but compared to the grocery retailers, it is able to paint a much clearer picture.

So what about the brands?


Brands have always been the poor relation when it comes to knowing what the shopper is doing and buying. There’s lots of analysis of what ads consumers have seen and what they think of the brand in terms of kudos or price, but they just don’t get all the insights that the retailers have.

Increasingly retailers are stepping on the brands’ toes as they use this data to work out how their own brands should go to market to beat the named brands.

So what should brands be doing? I think there’s a bit of a three point plan here:

  1. Get closer to your own data. Slice, dice and dice again the data you have. Bring on board data planners and experts that can do this for you. Even consider neuromarketing methods and eyetracking. You need to ask the right questions to get the right insights.
  2. Test. Create a testbed, an area to trial out version A against version B. Do this for descriptions, promotions, and even the product shots that shoppers see on screen. MySupermarket offers this in its brand stores. Brands know they’re not going to move the market share needle immediately with this platform but what it will do is create learnings to take to retailers, both on and offline.
  3. Use every campaign as a chance to increase your big data, whether that’s from social networks, search campaigns or across offline coupon promotions. Link the data and dive deep for those insights.

Big data is the key to getting to a one to one relationship with shoppers. If retailers get a data team of Neos,Trinitys and the odd Morpehus to test, learn and activate, they may just have a chance to get ahead and break the data matrix.

Matt Barnett, head of digital, MARS\Y&R

This article was first published on brandrepublic.com

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