Colm Carey

The big thing these days it seems is big data. You can’t shake a stick but Big Data falls from somewhere. Some people are in love with big data, others live in fear of it. You either see it as the greatest thing since sliced bread or as the latest step in a process bringing us closer to an Orwellian dystopia. Managed properly, big data in business can result in reduced costs and more effective engagement with consumers and other company stakeholders.

Like most things in the techy world, big data has developed a linguistic code of its own. Codes like this are usually designed to make the in-group bond and feel superior to the rest of us. The same applies in medicine, computers and even horticulture where aficionados use obscure Latin words to describe everything from a weed to an orchid.

The geekier big data evangelists speak like characters from Star Trek. They tend to have pointy heads and get excited about things that leave the rest of us scratching our flat heads in confusion. As time goes on, we will become less interested in what it is than in what it delivers. In the same way that most of us don’t really know how email works we will leave the operational details of big data to the nerds and focus on how we can put it to good use.

In focus groups we conducted participants at some point in the process have tended to raise the issue of data security. Reports of hacking and data leaking incidents unsettle consumers interested in knowing exactly who has access to their data. You give your details to company X, only to find they have passed them on to company Y, which provides data management services to various other companies. There has always been a cohort of people who refrain from giving details from loyalty schemes, promotions or prize draws. They have tended to be people who keep their money under a mattress, but others have joined the ranks.

At the Marketing Society’s ‘What Does Big Data Mean For Me’ conference, Graham Merriman of Carrickane Consulting noted that data is being created at every step in the consumer journey. Merriman says consumers want a retailer that knows them, that can anticipate what they want and that allows them to buy things in ways that suit their lifestyles. Amit Kotecha quoted US scientist Herbert Simon’s 1971 contention that “a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention”. We can gather more data but we have to work harder to break through the noise and get noticed by increasingly impatient consumers.

For big data to have value, its reputation must be good and that we trust it will be used ethically. Big data depends on the consumer co-operation. It is one thing to realise that Amazon can recommend books of interest based on your recent purchases and quite another to have the hotel bartender pour you a triple tequila when you go to lunch with your boss.

Well Orchestrated


Using words like good, better and best, Ruth Bailey produced Glo Health plans which help consumers choose what works best for them


While many companies spend their time chasing the young ‘uns, UK agency Shoppercentric has studied how the older folk shop. Shoppers in their 70’s visit stores as often as those in their 20’s and find value for money more appealing than the lowest price. Despite this, they feel retailers value them less than they value younger shoppers.

While older shoppers are using the internet to browse, they need more reassurance than their younger counterparts to make them part with credit card details online. Greater emphasis on security and simpler online checkout procedures are believed to be the keys to opening the online purses of the cash and time rich silver surfers. Once again, it’s all about trust.


With people abandoning their private health cover, Glo Health took a very consumer-centric approach to developing its products prior to launch in July 2012. Glo Health’s director of product strategy Ruth Bailey told the Marketing Institute how a careful and thorough approach to market research led to the development of relevant products. Bailey says never underestimate the value of research, whether in recession or boom. She would invest in research before advertising if forced to choose between the two. As with all insurance, private health insurance is a grudge purchase. You hope you don’t have to use it, you resent having to pay for it and yet a part of you fears giving it up once you are in the market.

Unlike motor insurance, there is no discount for not claiming in a given year and no sign of any of the market players introducing one. Acknowledging the confusion felt by consumers when they try to explore the private health insurance market, Bailey outlined a strategy focused on simplicity and integrity that produced plans with names like good, better and best to help customers choose what works for them. Wishing you good health in 2014.


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