Customer Intelligence

Customer Intelligence: From data to dialogue by Seán Kelly.
Published by Wiley.
Price: £29.99.
ISBN: 0470018585.

Marketing is war. Or so the mass-marketing giants of the twentieth century would have it. For them, the increased accuracy in pinpointing customers that data warehousing and analytics affords parallels laser-guided missiles cruising down low over enemy terrain towards their target.

But for Seán Kelly, author of Customer Intelligence: From data to dialogue, the move from scatter-shot selling tactics to technology-enabled targeted marketing is the subject an ideological struggle. On one side, the combative old order, which sees the increased customer insight brought by statistical analysis as an opportunity to pester consumers more incessantly; on the other, the revolutionaries, who strive to discover and serve their customers’ needs.

In Kelly’s argument, the correct use of ‘customer intelligence’, which can be defined loosely as the application of business intelligence-style analysis to customer data, requires a redefinition of the relationship between business and consumer.

Instead of the business telling the customer what it has on offer, the mass of information that businesses should now have accumulated about their customers, and the numerous communication channels between the two parties, should be used to foster a ‘dialogue’, he argues.

That dialogue should let organisations know what they need to be selling, where, how and when – not merely where to send their marketing material. Businesses must move beyond using transaction data simply to define who their customers are, and begin to use that information to define who they are themselves.

Coming from an IT rather than marketing background (he was previously head of the business intelligence division at database software company Sybase in Europe and fonder of the influential Data Warehouse Network), Kelly’s treatise is grounded in the technologically possible, the practical and the affordable. Although he is fond of drawing the bigger picture (military history and neuro-anatomy get a look in), he also looks squarely at some of the more prosaic issues surrounding the exploitation of customer information.

Segmentation, for example, is a key analytical technique used to turn data into meaningful customer intelligence, and in one chapter the book gives a neat introduction to some of the statistical concepts that underpin the practice. Kelly also explains how segmentation with a view to reforming the business to fit market demands differs from mere target practice.

Similarly, the problem of respecting customers’ privacy while teasing out their expectations and aspirations is examined. The author identifies that the practice of marketing via personal information is at something of a crossroads. As businesses accumulate more and more data concerning individuals, the buying public will have to decide whether they will continue to allow those businesses to act as its custodian, or whether they will insist on taking more direct control.

But while the practical grounding of the book elevates it beyond a marketing theory essay, conspicuous in their absence are specific case studies, demonstrating how the communicative, responsive, in-touch-with-its-market organisation can also be the more profitable business.

This is a deliberate step; in the introduction, Kelly expresses his desire not to bog down the prose with constant reference to dry business cases. However, without the rigour of stark evidence (not that all of his claims are entirely unsubstantiated) there is little danger that this book will convert a ‘counter-revolutionary’ to Kelly’s cause of good customer intelligence.

Kelly’s early 1990s work, Data Warehousing: The route to mass customization, influenced many IT executive’s thinking towards business intelligence. The prose of this new book may suggest a wider societal shift, but it should for some prove equally inspiring.

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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