published Wednesday, October 17th, 2012

IBM marketing guru John Kennedy gives advice on data use

Getting a new email address can be a little bit lonely.

Suddenly, all those Nigerian email scammers who seemed to get cleverer by the day are silent, as is the company that always misspells your name, and the store that offers that blowout Thanksgiving sale.

In a way, there’s a certain part of the human mind that actually enjoys the attention from marketers, said John Kennedy, vice president of corporate marketing for IBM.

“The right offer at the right time can feel more like a service,” he said. “The experience can feel kind of empathetic.”

IBM is hitting the road with its “Smarter Planet” program this year, which aims to help businesses use vast amounts of available data to better reach their customers.

If executed correctly, yesterday’s spam could turn into a useful tool for consumers tomorrow.

But only if companies take the time to get it right.

Traditionally, corporations like Coca-Cola and Bud Light have always targeted broad demographics through big ad campaigns that reach out to, for instance, men aged 18 to 34.

“Now, all this data we have means we have the ability to understand how individual customers are interacting with us, and what their shopping patterns are,” Kennedy said. “Companies are getting to know us as people.”

Data is the building block for both business to business companies as well as businesses that service consumers, Kennedy said, using the example of Chattanooga-based Global Green Lighting.

Global Green Lighting can record the exact power consumption of each street lamp, passing that information along to the power company, which can then bill customers individually according to their usage.

“They’re a great example of how instrumentation and data makes for a smarter planet,” Kennedy said.

BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee takes it to the next level with consumers, working to combine data on customers from many different sources, Kennedy said.

“The healthcare industry must have a maniacal focus on people, trying to help customers live longer and minimize trips to the doctor,” he said.

In fact, personalized information on most consumers is available to any company with two dollars to run together, meaning that effecient, targeted ad campaigns aimed at specific groups are already happening.

“Social media is the new truth serum,” Kennedy said.

But consumers are getting better at withholding key info.

“None of us give our email address at the cash register anymore, so marketers are going to have to get smarter,” Kennedy said.

One way marketers are already doing that is disguising their marketing message as entertainment or information.

For instance, a visit to the homepage for Downy, the fabric softener company, reveals what appears to be an entertaining TV show in the middle of the screen, with only tangential references to the product itself on the edges of the website.

“None of this has anything directly to do with buying fabric softener,” Kennedy said. “But it has expanded the reach of how companies are relating to us.”

about Ellis Smith...

Ellis Smith joined the Chattanooga Times Free Press in January 2010 as a business reporter. His beat includes the flooring industry, Chattem, Unum, Krystal, the automobile market, real estate and technology. Ellis is from Marietta, Ga., and has a bachelor’s degree in mass communication at the University of West Georgia. He previously worked at UTV-13 News, Carrollton, Ga., as a producer; at the The West Georgian, Carrollton, Ga., as editor; and at the Times-Georgian, Carrollton, ...

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