What is Actionable Data... and How Do You Use It?

By Ashish Gambhir Co-founder , newBrandAnalytics | November 06, 2011

In today's world of consumer-generated content, companies are swimming, if not drowning, in oceans of feedback. TripAdvisor alone attracts more than 41.6 million users a month and features 40 million reviews of hotels and restaurants worldwide. Facebook boasts some more than 750 million active users worldwide, 95 million Tweets are generated daily, and Yelp has surpassed 50 million monthly unique users. The number of Foursquare check-ins exploded by 3400% in 2010.

There is no denying that online guest feedback generates vast amounts of data. Given the rapid proliferation of new technologies, which some say are doubling the quantity of business data every 1.2 years, it is not surprising that companies struggle to take full advantage of it. New competitive advantages are emerging depending on a company's ability to extract actionable insights from these online conversations.

Case in point. In January 2009, PepsiCo introduced new packaging for its Tropicana Pure Premium orange juice. Instead of the traditional straw-in-an-orange image, the carton featured a picture of a glass of orange juice. Consumers did not respond favorably online, many even vowing to boycott the brand, and they voiced their displeasure in social networks. Less than 2 months later, bowing to consumer demand, PepsiCo announced it would discontinue the new design and revert to the old one.

As this example illustrates, whether sharing positive or negative feedback, social media's growing power as a real-time consumer sounding board opens the door for a new level of customer intelligence because it represents the most important elements of the experience as defined by the customer.

Unfortunately, many marketers and operators find it challenging to use this data to inform an enterprise-view of their customers. The Intelligent Approach to Customer Intelligence (2009), by Forrester Research, raises this issue. The report, which highlights the difficulty executives are having in using social media feedback data intelligently, explains that the majority of companies struggle to fully understand their customers and leverage their customer data as a strategic asset.

Unica's annual survey, "The State of Marketing 2011," revealed similar findings. Nearly 300 online and direct marketers across various industries, geographies, and company sizes were surveyed on key technology trends in their organizations. The research identified the need to "turn data into action" as the highest priority for marketers: nearly 60% of respondents listed "measurement, analysis, and learning" as their top technology challenge; more than 60% identified "turning data into action" as their top organizational issue.

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Social Media: Getting Personal

There Social media platforms have revolutionized the hotel industry. Popular sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube and Tumblr now account for 2.3 billion active users, and this phenomenon has forever transformed how businesses interact with consumers. Given that social media allows for two-way communication between businesses and consumers, the emphasis of any marketing strategy must be to positively and personally engage the customer, and there are innumerable ways to accomplish that goal. One popular strategy is to encourage hotel guests to create their own personal content - typically videos and photos -which can be shared via their personal social media networks, reaching a sizeable audience. In addition, geo-locational tags and brand hashtags can be embedded in such posts which allow them to be found via metadata searches, substantially enlarging their scope. Influencer marketing is another prevalent social media strategy. Some hotels are paying popular social media stars and bloggers to endorse their brand on social media platforms. These kinds of endorsements generally elicit a strong response because the influencers are perceived as being trustworthy by their followers, and because an influencer's followers are likely to share similar psychographic and demographic traits. Travel review sites have also become vitally important in reputation management. Travelers consistently use social media to express pleasure or frustration about their guest experiences, so it is essential that every review be attended to personally. Assuming the responsibility to address and correct customer service concerns quickly is a way to mitigate complaints and to build brand loyalty. Plus, whether reviews are favorable or unfavorable, they are a vital source of information to managers about a hotel's operational performance.  The February Hotel Business Review will document what some hotels are doing to effectively incorporate social media strategies into their businesses.