Diving into Data: How to Engage Customers with Advanced Analytics

Fantasy sports leagues, travel sites, and more are making a play for deeper engagement with data insights.

User analytics are no longer relegated to a business' internal reports. From fantasy sports leagues to travel reviews, businesses are experimenting with collecting and mining huge amounts of data to share insights with consumers. Increasingly, companies are looking to do more with their data by uncovering insights that interest customers and boost engagement.

Marketers and salespeople already know how to leverage data analytics to personalize a message or sales pitch. However, there's also an opportunity to share some of those insights with consumers, notes Brian Hopkins, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research.

"Companies should also be asking themselves, 'what insights do my customers need to make their lives or their customer journeys easier?' and 'How can I analyze data to make it easier for customers to do what they need to do?' If they can answer that, they may find more ways to offer value and better engage their customers."

Data-Driven Sports
Fantasy sports is one such industry that's exploring the value of data insights. Knowledge is power when it comes to fantasy sports. Fantasy football players, for instance, need to keep track of injuries, roster changes, disciplinary actions, and more when picking their rosters and deciding who to bench each week.

And given that fantasy sports is a $1.5 billion industry, according to research firm IBISWorld, these companies offer plenty of incentives to help fantasy players stay engaged. Stadiums now include fantasy stats on scoreboards and offer wireless and WiFi coverage to help fans stay connected to their leagues.

Through a partnership with the United States Tennis Association, IBM's SlamTracker shows tennis fans stats like serve speeds as well as an analysis of player and ball position data to uncover player and match dynamics and make matches even more interesting to tennis enthusiasts.

Now, IBM is working with app developers on providing fantasy football players with deeper insights to make more informed decisions. An app calledEdge Up Sportsconnects to IBM's Watson via APIs and through an analysis of social media interactions, weather reports, injury history, analyst write-ups, and more, and even offers mental, physical, and situational insights about players.

One of the things that distinguishes Edge Up Sports from other research apps is its analysis of sports writers and analysts, explains Steve Abrams, director of technology, solutions, and partner success for the Watson Ecosystem.

"For example, when you read an article about how well [New York Jets quarterback] Geno Smith performed, it also helps to know what the disposition of that sports writer is," Abrams says. "Is that person emotionally calm, or excitable? Does the writer typically write positive, negative, or balanced reports about Geno Smith?"

It's difficult to know whether a particular writer is generally optimistic or pessimistic. But the Watson Personality Insights API can be used to identify players and teams from unstructured text and conduct sentiment analysis to pinpoint positive or negative stories and assess individual writers.

The app is still in a beta stage, so it's not clear yet how effective these insights will be in getting users to the playoffs, but its creator, Ilya Tabakh, has already raised nearly $54,000 from 1,296 supporters through Kickstarter. There's a lot of interest in sports-related insights, but even for other industries like retail or travel, "data-driven insights can drive more engagement and help [organizations] open up more business opportunities," Abrams adds.

Staying Engaged
TripAdvisor is another example of a company that is using data insights to make smarter marketing decisions internally as well as encourage its customers to be more active on the company's site. With more than 290 million reviews covering more than5.3 million businesses worldwide, TripAdvisor has a lot of data at its disposal.

The company utilizes insights from its data in a number of ways. For instance, TripAdvisor earns revenue from hotels that display a link to their own sites on the travel advisory site. Click-through-rates are a common metric that hotels use to determine whether they should renew their subscription or not.

Using predictive analytics, TripAdvisor's analytics team can estimate with a high degree of accuracy the number of CTRs that are required for a given client to renew their subscription, writes Wikibon analyst Jeff Kelly in a case study.

TripAdvisor learned that for some clients "even a significant increase in CT rates only marginally increases its likelihood of renewing," Kelly writes. "For others, a modest increase in CTs dramatically impacts the odds of renewing. Knowing this through advanced analytics, TripAdvisor can focus its finite marketing efforts on the latter and not the former."

TripAdvisor declined to comment on the effectiveness of its engagement strategies, but the company noticeably uses stats to encourage consumers to be more active on its site. After a person submits a review, TripAdvisor sends emails with updates about the number of people who have read a company's reviews and even lists of the countries where they live.

Sharing this type of data with customers accomplishes several things: It encourages people to write more reviews once they know they have an audience and it keeps the TripAdvisor brand fresh in their minds. Other companies like LinkedIn are also using activity notifications as a "tether to their customers" notes Len Shneyder, vice president of industry relations at SparkPost, an email delivery service.

"LinkedIn routinely sends me updates about who viewed my profile, when the articles I've written and published are viewed, commented on, etc." Shneyder observes. "This steady drum beat of activity notifications doesn't attempt to monetize meLinkedIn knows that over time, or when I'm seeking a job, I may want more access, so in the meantime they keep me connected to the platform."

Indeed, companies are exploring more opportunities to mine their data for insights that drive consumer engagement, agrees Kyle Hutchins, director of customer experience at West Monroe Partners, a consulting firm.

"We work with over 500 private equity companies and we're definitely seeing a lot of interest in tech companies that are using data to solve that engagement component," Hutchins maintains. "We're seeing this across a range of industries including retail, banking, and insurance, to name a few."

However, companies need the right resources and strategy to be able to leverage user data effectively, Hutchins adds, and the quality of a company's data is essential. "Procuring enough data is not the problem. I would be more concerned about whether it's accurate and whether you have things like duplicate records that could ruin your results," he says. "Data security is also a concern. Have you ensured that you're not exposing sensitive data among other security issues?"

Additionally, having employees or partners with the proper analytic expertise to help customers understand the data and act upon it is critical, notes Andrea Haldeman, senior vice president at Infogroup Targeting Solutions, a marketing technology provider.

"Our customers are using applications that allow them to look at more data than ever before and more importantly allowing them to act upon their findings in real time," Haldeman says. But before companies can reap the benefits of their data, they need several tools and resources in place.

Those include "response analysis from marketing campaigns to optimize future campaign performance to maximize return on marketing investment [as well as] channel analysismining the customer and prospect data warehouse reveals trends that impact revenuesand finally data visualization products can help turn complex statistical reports into a digestible format for execution."

And of course, not all businesses benefit from showing user analytics to their customers, but those that find new ways to share information with their customers that make their products or services more valuable are the ones that will increase customer loyalty and retention.