Making Analytics Strategic

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Yeah, I know. I’m supposed to think through all the issues, formulate my thoughts, compile my wisdom, and then publish it all in a blog post. Afraid that’s not the case this time. I’m breaking the rules because I’m hoping a few of you will be able to help me with the issue identification/though formulation process.

At the upcoming 2014 Customer Analytics in Financial Services conference, I’ll be presenting on the topic Making Analytics Strategic. My premise is that, although the topic of analytics has become more popular over the past few years (a trend further fueled by the emergence of the Big Data craze), the analytics groups in many banks struggle to be seen as significant contributors to the strategic direction (both from a marketing and business perspective).

Even in FIs with a strong analytics presence, and years of experience in data-driven marketing techniques, the analytics group itself is viewed as a bunch of statistical nerds, relegated to some remote section of a floor in headquarters that none of the executive team has ever been on–or would want to be seen on.

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Why is this? That is, why are analytics teams–even those with strong quantitative modeling and measurement skills–seen as not having (or deserving of) a spot at the strategy table? I have some theories:

1) Communication breakdown. I’ve worked with a lot of analytics folks (once upon a time I considered myself one). Hard truth is that are a lot of them I wouldn’t dare put in front of a senior exec in a large organization. Honestly, I’d be worried that they’d go off on some technical, mathematical discussion oblivious to the fact that the exec in front of them has no clue what they’re talking about.

2) The data remains the same. Despite the proliferation of new data types and sources over the past few years, some analytics groups resist using these new data elements. Maybe they don’t know how to use it, maybe they don’t want to use it, maybe they can’t get the data in the first place. Whatever the reason, the result is that, among the rest of the organization, the analytics group is either missing out on the Big Data movement or not helping the organization capitalize on it.

3) Marketing campaign focus. The work that many analytics groups do is focused on the individual marketing campaign level, and that they have neither the exposure or ability to see above and beyond those campaigns. Many analytics groups are very good at what they do–modeling and measurement of marketing campaigns–but lack the skills to contribute at a strategic level.

5) Trampled under foot. Lastly, some analytics groups just don’t have the leadership to steer them out of the backwaters. They do what they’re asked to do (create models and reports), but never dare ask “what else can we do?” or “what could we be doing?”

My challenge is compiling a list of recommendations for what an analytics group can do to raise its SQ (strategic quotient). Some of the new things I know I will include:

1) New metrics. Analytics groups shouldn’t be sitting around waiting for some smarmy, self-serving consultant to come up with a new metric like Net Promoter Score. They need to help the rest of the business find new ways of measuring and evaluating marketing and business results.

2) New language. Analytics groups need to speak the language of the business. On one hand, sadly, this language is full of buzzwords and platitudes (like “omnichannel” and “customer experience”). On the other hand, it gives the analytics group an opportunity to change the way the business understands and addresses those buzzwords, and how analytics can contribute to realizing real business results from them.

3) New connections. In my humble opinion, the key to a functional group’s success in an organization–and whether or not they (or their leader) has a seat at the strategy table–is the group’s personal connections throughout the organization. Analytics groups must find opportunities and ways to work across organizational and departmental lines to integrate analytics.

Think “analytics inside” or “analytics everywhere.” Making that a reality is no easy feat, but critical to making analytics strategic.

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What do you think? Do you have stories, ideas, suggestions for how to make analytics strategic? Not only would I greatly appreciate any input you have, but if I use it in my presentation I will certainly cite you as the source.

And if you can make to New York on September 15th and 16th, I hope to see you at the conference.

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