Closing Big Data Loop Reveals Marketing ROI

James Maguire

Updated · Mar 19, 2013

The pace of change in business today is rapid, making an enterprise’s relationships with its customers ever more important, said Thad Kahlow, CEO of BusinessOnline, an enterprise digital marketing agency, at the recent Online Marketing Summit.

Big Data can give marketers deeper insights into their customers, Kahlow added. To achieve those insights, however, they must “close the loop” between disparate data sources that track customers through the sales funnel. It’s neither easy nor inexpensive to close the loop, he said. But doing so can help enterprises understand its cost per customer sale—which Kahlow called the “true ROI measurement.”

Snapshot of Accelerated Change: GM and Facebook

To get an idea how rapidly change is occurring in business, Kahlow pointed to General Motors and Facebook. In 1999, GM had the largest market capitalization of any U.S. enterprise, he noted. Ten years later, GM was bankrupt. During that same decade, Facebook grew from a university start-up into an enterprise with twice the market capitalization GM had at its peak.

“For businesses large and small, old and young, things are happening so quickly now,” Kahlow said. As change continues to accelerate, CEOs operate in a substantially more “volatile, uncertain, and complex world,” according to an IBM study of more than 1,500 CEOs worldwide that Kahlow cited.

Along with accelerated change, competition is growing more intense, Kahlow said. The barriers to starting new businesses are often minimal, allowing new competitors to enter your markets and quickly win.

As a result, 78 percent of CEOs in the IBM study said getting closer to customers was their no. 1 business goal. “They believe your greatest asset as a company isn’t your product, brand, or intellectual property,” said Kahlow. “It’s your customers.”

Big Data can drive marketing ROI across all channels and campaigns, Kahlow maintained. “You need to know what’s happening and where your prospects are in the sales cycle, so you can better understand the customer’s journey,” he explained. “Big Data can help you with that.”

Closing the Big Data Loop

Each of an enterprise’s marketing programs generates its own data that in some ways measures customer engagement. To accurately follow your prospects from awareness to sales and better understand the effectiveness of your marketing efforts, you must “close the loop” between siloed, disparate sources of Big Data that measure customer engagement in various ways. That’s no easy task, Kahlow admitted.

Start by taking a look at your marketing efforts and the data they generate. At the start of the sales funnel, you have marketing campaigns designed to raise awareness, such as pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns, search engine optimization (SEO) efforts, display ads, social media campaigns and email campaigns. Each of these efforts is performed using different systems, such as Google AdWords for PPC campaigns, which generate their own data sets.

The next level is engagement, Kahlow said. Typical measurements of a prospect’s engagement include bounce rates, page views, site visits, frequency of site visits, as well as engagement with your content (blog posts, videos, webcasts and such). Here again, the sources for this data, which include Google Analytics, can vary depending upon the engagement being measured.

From there, conversion can occur. This is when a prospect requests a quote, calls a toll-free number, registers on your website or takes another step toward becoming a customer. Data for this level can come from call center software, customer relationship management (CRM) and other systems.

“You want to connect all the pieces of data from these various levels of engagement,” said Kahlow. “Doing that can help you measure the cost per sale, which is your true ROI.”

To close the loop between these disparate, siloed data sets, start by moving data out of the tool (such as Google Analytics) into your enterprise data warehouse, either through APIs or direct access, Kahlow advised.

Next, create a data model that will inform the entire system and let you perform analysis. Examine the data sets in each system to identify keys and other important data items that will let you create a correlative model, Kahlow said.

Once the data has been moved into the data warehouse, usually through ETL (Extract Transform Load) processes, you can perform analysis using a tool such as Adobe Insights. This enables you to produce reports, which can be distributed throughout your organization and can feed back into your marketing programs through APIs or specialized reports.

Closing the loop isn’t easy or inexpensive, Kahlow said, but it can often be accomplished in 60 days. It will require help from the IT department. But when done right, closing the loop allows you to ask questions in real-time about your prospects. You’ll have a better understanding of what each sale costs your organization. Ultimately, you’ll significantly enhance your organization’s marketing efforts and, by extension, its customer relationships.

James A. Martin writes about social media, SEO, and online reputation management. Follow him on Twitter, @james_a_martin.

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