Remember the last time someone insulted you and you just stood there, dumbfounded? And then you jolted from bed at 3AM with the perfect comeback. By then of course, it was too late. Your perpetrator had already moved on.

I like to use this analogy to illustrate the challenge of Big Data. Big Data has long made an alluring promise to marketers: the ability to collect massive amounts of data regarding customer interactions and provide data-driven actionable marketing recommendations.

Moreover, according to a McKinsey study, marketers who make data the center of their marketing and sales decisions can increase their ROI by 15-20%.

That sounds great in theory, but when implemented poorly, Big Data threatens to make marketers think of their customers as data points rather than human beings.

These days, instead of seeking to understand customers' subtle needs and desires, marketers are often stuck behind their computer screens, trying to make sense of incongruous reports extracted from siloed databases. That leads to such mishaps as retargeting customers with ads for things they just bought or displaying the same ad to the same customer on different websites.

In this golden age of the customer, your customers get annoyed when they are treated like obvious data points.

I still believe in Big Data (heck, I work in Big Data) but if you want to make it work for you, you must befriend a new department in your company: IT.

Marketing and IT Should Work Together

I was trying to explain to a marketer (who was pretty data-savvy) why his website's makeover wasn't leading to higher conversions. He told me about how his data analytics—a combination of Google Analytics, HootSuite, and some other low-cost tools—currently works for him and that's when the light bulb went off in my head.

There's a fundamental misunderstanding that you can simply invest in disparate analytics tools to understand how your customer behaves. What my colleague lacked was a single customer view, a system connecting siloed databases to establish an informed profile of your customer. That is often a result of marketing and IT departments investing in stopgap measures to create data analytics.

A truly connected customer experience management platform will connect the dots for marketers, empowering them to make fast, informed decisions. It also frees up IT resources by having only one connected database to manage.

By working together to choose the right solution, your company can unleash the real promise of Big Data: helping digital marketers have informed, immediate conversations with their customers, without having to wait for connections to be made or for backlogged data scientists to respond. And your existing data scientists can now focus on extrapolating the more non-obvious connections, like the likelihood of your top 1,000 customers buying into a new offering of managed services.


Currently, very few analytics tools truly connect disparate databases. As a result, even within a marketing department, teams might have a different understanding of its target audience. That leads to misaligned marketing campaigns like a website refresh that appeals only to C-suite execs and an email drip feed that's only opened by developers.

Another problem with disconnected systems is a slow reaction time. Most customer experience management solutions can collect information but don't connect the dots quickly enough.

To go back to our real-life analogy, many CMS solutions will store information about the people browsing your site. However it takes a long time to load any dynamic changes, and by "long," I mean five minutes. By then, your visitor has already left.

Examples of Successful Digital Marketing Campaigns

If you've ever ridden a motorcycle, you've probably heard of Suzuki Motor Company. Founded in 1909, Suzuki has 120 distributors in 191 countries. It has experienced amazing success offline, but it wasn't sure how to optimize its digital customer experience. So we thought, "How can we bring the personal touch of visiting a dealership to their website?"

Previously, Suzuki used a home-grown content management system to manage Web content, but marketing folks still had to go through a developer to make any changes to the site. That made managing dynamic campaigns, such as a having a competition or serving up videos to the right audience, expensive and time-consuming.

We helped Suzuki rebuild its website to track and know exactly who comes to the site and instantly deliver more relevant information, such as the closest dealership or a video-based motorcycle walk-around. Since relaunching the site, Suzuki is empowered to engage more directly with its online audiences.

Another customer, easyJet, is a leading low-cost airliner in Europe. We worked with the company to create a customized experience for everyone visiting its website, showing live pricing for flights from their nearest airport as well as a personalized hero picture on its homepage, based on previous behavior at the site.

An early test for this CMS was easyJet's January Sale 2012, which at its peak hit 2.5 million users online, with Sitecore ensuring each visitor benefited from a personalized home page. EasyJet claims the sale was its best ever, with five sales per second, or the equivalent of filling two planes per minute. Since then easyJet has enjoyed sustained, enjoyed higher conversion rates, with one in five visitors purchasing a flight.

* * *

We live in a world of increasing complexity and fragmented customer experiences, and it's easy to lose sight of the customer as a human being as we dig into the vast amounts of data at our disposal. Don't fall for stopgap measures for using Big Data to understand your customer—he or she deserves more than being treated as a data point.

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image of Mark Floisand

Mark Floisand is the CMO of Coveo, provider of intelligent and predictive search technologies. He has 20+ years of marketing, sales, and general management experience in the technology industry.

LinkedIn: Mark Floisand

Twitter: @floisand