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FEATURE5 October 2012

Where ‘what’ meets ‘why’

Data analytics

David Buckingham of loyalty management group Aimia tells Brian Tarran why the company is linking big behavioural data sets with survey research.

Most people have never heard of Aimia, but chances are Aimia has heard of you. The company owns or operates over 100 customer loyalty programmes in 20 countries. Its data archives store information on the purchase habits of over 280 million customers. In total, it has analysed over 68 billion shopping items.

So you’ll believe David Buckingham, UK general manager of Aimia’s Intelligent Shopper Solutions division, when he says: “We are very, very experienced in working with extremely large data sets and distilling them into meaningful insights for our end customers.” In the UK, Aimia runs the Nectar coalition loyalty programme, whose partners include Sainsbury’s, Homebase, BP petrol stations and Debenhams. 50% of UK households are Nectar members, says Aimia – that’s 18.5m homes – and 24 Nectar cards are swiped every second of every day.

Refining insight

“Data is the new oil,” says Buckingham. “The ability to take that oil, refine it and turn it from crude into something which a client can use is really important.

“If you think about it from the perspective of the companies we work with, what we’re able to offer them is the ability to understand who their most valuable customers are and to give them information about what sorts of behavioural habits those people display in order to facilitate stronger customer relationships,” says Buckingham.

However, understanding the ‘what’ of consumer behaviour is only half the story. “You can do a lot with the volume of data that we have on people’s behaviour,” Buckingham says, “but adding the ‘why’ really helps to add value.

“The ‘what’ can tell you that a group of customers are spending less on a specific product category,” he says, “but is it because the product is out of stock? Is it because the convenience store around the corner is selling it at half price?”

Aimia can now answer those ‘why’ questions through its new Intelligent Research division. Working with SSI, Aimia has built a panel of Nectar customers through which it can link real purchase data to attitudinal statements collected via surveys and other forms of direct research. It’s launching in the UK first, but in time the company plans to replicate the approach internationally.

A natural extension

A big data company getting in to survey research might seem an unusual route to take, but Buckingham sees it as “a natural extension of our core activity”. “Helping our customers build their customer relationships is made a heck of a lot easier by having our own in-house research function because we can actually get under the skin of behaviour which is not always evident to the eye, even from the vast wealth of data that we hold,” says Buckingham. “We’re in a situation where we can tell exactly what’s happening and why people are doing it. For a retailer or brand owner, that’s gold dust.”

He gives the example of an FMCG company planning to launch a new product. “It can be quite difficult and expensive to find your target customer group through traditional research methods,” says Buckingham, “but with the millions of people whose shopping habits we understand, we can quickly see which customers fall into which purchasing groups. From that we can see how many are on our panel and are eligible to take part in market research. It’s then reasonably straightforward for us to target those people with an online survey pre-launch, and to follow it up post-launch.”

If this helps improve the new product failure rate by only a few percentage points, Buckingham says, it will still be “a massive win” for FMCG manufacturers and retailers. But the strength of the approach – the fusing of big data sets to survey data – goes beyond product launches and customer segmentations.

Working with other third-party data providers, Buckingham says it is possible to link purchase data to media exposure data. Compare the purchase behaviour of those who saw a web, TV or magazine ad, say, with a control group of those who didn’t, and that allows you to determine “a true return on advertising investment,
which is very valuable to brand owners and media agencies alike”.

  • Editor’s note: Since this feature was written, David Buckingham has become chief executive of Insight 2 Communication, a joint venture between Aimia and Sainsbury’s to use Nectar data to design and implement marketing programmes for FMCG suppliers.

1 Comment

6 years ago

While, I like the "oil" analogy - refining it from something crude into something of higher value - in essence oil derives its value from its scarcity, whereas (if anything) we have a surfeit of data.

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