Use data to rise-up, not get bogged down

Chris Westlake, Managing Partner, Howell Penny

You can have the most complete data – from web traffic to email/direct mail to transactions and so on, and invest in your data infrastructure as a key asset.  But if you don’t use that knowledge to define actionable and business changing insights, you can still feel totally bogged down.

Data is knowledge but if you don’t use that knowledge to power your business and improve sales, then it’s just an intellectual exercise at best and a huge unfulfilled “ball and chain” at worst.

It all boils down to one thing: “Are you asking the right questions?”

When you look at companies who are the most successful at leveraging Big Data, they do the following things:

Ask fewer questions to start, rather than more

Rather than investigate everything under the sun, take a “step-by-step” approach, focusing on identifying opportunities for quick wins from relatively quick analysis.

The goal of this exercise is to increase confidence in the accuracy of the data and analysis as well as to demonstrate how many profitable actions can be identified and taken based on data-driven insights.

One example of this type of analysis could include product gap analysis, to identify customers who have purchased Product A without the accompanying Product B.  Cross-sell promotions of this type are usually immediately profitable.

Begin with the end in mind

Rather than research “why people buy more craft beer in Amersham on a Tuesday,” each analysis should begin with a hypothesis of what the answer might be, and an explanation of the action that could be taken based on that finding.

That way, the ROI of data mining can be clear and meaningful. This approach does not mean that the analytics team should be the arbiter of whether or not a proposed action is valid; rather, the analytics team should work with the marketing team to help make sure the proposed action is as valuable as possible.

Measure and publicise the results

Analytics does not exist in a vacuum; the value of data is based on the actions that can be taken by analysing it.  For that value to be recognised, the actions must be driven by the insights and must result in a change in customer behaviour that drives incremental sales and profit.

Making sure that any results are valid, they must be measured.  Whether pre/post, vs. prior year or vs. control group will depend upon the specific focus within your business.

Big Data presents us all with challenges.  Organizing the data to be able to answer questions is one of the challenges.  But the greater challenge is one of focus.  More than ever, we will be able to ask almost any question about our businesses and the data will be there to answer it.

The key question is what are we going to ask and what are we going to do with the answers?


At Howell Penny, we’re in the business of helping our clients unravel the complexities of today’s shopping experience and making actionable recommendations to improve the path-to-purchase and sell more.

We do this by using a simple shopper focussed framework to ask the right questions – we help to uncover insights linked to 5 key pillars to help define the perfect shopper experience. We call this Sofa2SaleTM

In short, our team of data analysts are at the heart of what we do and they help us understand what’s happening on and off line, to understand shopper behaviour patterns in great depth and to uncover useable insights beyond the raw data to supercharge shopper marketing strategies and boost creativity.

From the data and insights, we design a plan to target the right shopper with the right activity in the right environments.

We also use proprietary tools such as Datorama to centralize all data feeds to measure the success of any campaign. This allows us to learn and optimise activities as they happen. And it provides a simple dashboard, making cross-channel reporting and analysis easy, leaving us with more time to act on the insights and drive ROI for our clients.

In short, for today’s shopper marketers, data is imperative but more importantly it’s critical that the right questions are being asked and that they’re based on understanding the complexities and need states of today’s omni-channel shopper.

If you want to derive more actionable insight from your data and use it to improve your shopping experience, give us a call and let’s talk over a cuppa about dragging you out of the data long grass.

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Chris Westlake, Managing Partner, Howell Penny Since 2000, 75% of global retail sales growth has come from online channels. Sales through UK digital channels continue to grow at 10-15% a...

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