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Secrets for more profitable marketing from Chico’s and Staples

During a recent panel discussion, Barb Buettin, Director of CRM and Enterprise Information Management for the women’s specialty retailer Chico’s and Jim Foreman, Director of Circulation and Analytics at office supply giant Staples, were asked for their advice on harnessing customer analytics for marketing. Here are five tips they shared:

1. Change the role of customer analytics in the organization

The goal should be to move toward a greater strategic capacity in as many different situations as possible, said Jim Foreman, Director of Circulation and Analytics at the office supply giant Staples. And if you want that strategic role, you have to be the one to make it happen.

Jim Foreman, Staples

“In the initial engagement for any analytical project, the internal customer may come to you with a specific business question,” said Foreman. “In that scenario, they would have a definite agenda: ‘We need help figuring out xyz.’ You may start out by providing them the information they are looking for to answer that question, but inevitably, there is the potential for more. I can’t remember the last time that I just provided an answer without discovering something else along the way, where I can say, ‘You didn’t ask for it this way, but we’ve looked at it split by abc before, so I thought this would add a little more insight.’

“Taking initiative positions you in more of a consulting role. By doing that, business managers and executives will start to look to you over time for that value-add – not just an answer to their question, but what else you can bring in from your prior knowledge and experience with the organization to add insights into their particular areas of the business.

2. Find the right decision-making model

What is the best way to approach customer analytics: centralized with a core cadre of experts, decentralized across multiple departments, or a hybrid approach?

“There is definitely value in spreading the power to the people,” said Foreman. “I’ve been in organizations that have a completely centralized model, where the business units have absolutely no analytics within them. In those situations, analysts might spend 50 or 60 percent of their time doing recurring work that is important but not necessarily engaging or value-add work.

“A better model would be to push the majority of that kind of recurring work out to the teams – with the training and systems to support them – and have a core group that can help out for those 20 percent of projects that business users can’t handle on their own. That’s where you can really add value, and that’s a model that I have seen work very well.”

Barb Buettin, Chico's

Buettin agreed. Chico’s arms the marketing, merchandising and finance teams with self-service analytics tools and an understanding of the data, so they can do some of their own day-to-day analytical work. “But once it gets overly complicated, we can help guide them from a center of excellence approach,” said Buettin. With this approach, everybody is more engaged in analytics – the analytic specialists learn more about the business; the business users learn more about the analytics – and analytic resources are applied very efficiently across the organization.

3. Know where to focus for best results

At any given time, an organization has many unanswered questions, ongoing problems and undiscovered opportunities. How do you determine where to focus your customer analytics to get the best results?

Start where analytics will be understood and appreciated.

“Recently we teamed very successfully with a group that had just reorganized and had a new strategy person who was tasked with revising the pricing of one of our product lines,” Buettin recalled. “He was very comfortable with analytics and saw the power of it, so we worked very closely with him to find new sources of internal and external data that we hadn’t previously used to price product. We worked together to figure out how to tie all of these disparate data sources together – coupled with the necessary historical trending – to see how we should be pricing.

“We were successful in this initiative because we started with somebody whose business area is highly valued at this moment in time, who is in the position to make a really big impact on the business. For him to be an engaged partner with us, someone who understands how you can use analytics this way – gave us an opportunity to show how analytics can take the organization many steps beyond where we had been previously.”

4. Handle the influx of new data sources

Given the value of customer insights buried in masses of data, it must be a blessing to have so much more data at hand, thanks to online transactions, customer-generated ratings and reviews, and social media. How can organizations adapt their analytics strategy to capture and exploit all this new data? By integrating online and offline data into a unified view.

Chico’s didn’t doubt the importance of online data when it saw a 40 percent surge in its online business in a single year. “Our online data is now very tightly integrated with our other customer data,” said Buettin.

“We can see how customers have traversed the website, what they viewed and what they did later, online or offline. We can see that a customer looked at a jacket online, but when she went into the store, she only bought the pants. Why didn’t she buy the jacket? Should we market the jacket to her? Correlating the data enables us to think about those kinds of things.” The trick will be to eliminate competitive feelings between online and in-store channels, to help both sides realize that success in either channel boosts sales for the other.

Staples has seen the same phenomenon, said Foreman. It’s well documented how print newspaper circulation has declined, so it should be no surprise how the balance has changed between print circulars in Sunday papers (which tend to drive business to its local stores) and their online equivalents, which deliver significant increases in site visits and online sales.

5. Simplify the data management side of customer analytics

How do you focus on creating the best data-driven decisions without spending undue time in the data management and IT infrastructure aspects of customer analytics?

By considering an on-demand, hosted solution. “We actually operate in on-demand with software as a solution (SaaS),” said Buettin. “It has worked out really great for us, because we can let SAS do what SAS does really well, which is run systems, and we can focus on the business.”

Hosted doesn’t mean remote or untouchable. Chico’s very much has control over its own data. “From a data integration standpoint, we’ve set up our customer model for our customer database to be kind of a standard production model, and then we’ve got an area of the database where my team can actually create and flip data very quickly,” said Buettin. “This has worked out really great for us, because in marketing, data is flying from every direction. We’re able to quickly integrate that data into the database and see if it works or not before we throw it in the production daily environment.”

 To see the full discussion, download the white paper Five Ways to Drive More Profitable Marketing

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