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Taming the Terabytes


Dick Davies, a colleague from one of the premier leadership groups in the Greater-DC area, said, “Name an industry or government body that isn’t drowning in data.  They haven’t a clue what to do, but YOU do.  You know what data is required, where to source it, how to analyze it, but most importantly, what to do with the results…that is a gift.”  On reflection, he was absolutely right and here a a few examples:

Story 1 
One of my first assignments at McCann-Erickson advertising was to exploit their recently acquired database system on behalf of media planning and buying.  Not only was this a quantum leap in data, the tools to manipulate the output still hadn’t been developed.  As such, I had to create ways to segment by demographic, psychographic, and various geographies, plus build reporting structures that clearly depicted the appropriate course of action (one model wound up being published in a research journal).  However, management soon realized the advantage this provided the agency over our rivals and we won three Agency of Record (AOR) assignments, which resulted in a net 15% increase in revenue from these accounts. 
Story 2
IBM embarked on one of the most amazing business transformations ever attempted when they decided to enter the frenetic personal computer market.  At that point IBM not only had no idea how to market to consumers, they didn’t even know who their competition was.  To the typical “Big Blue” manager, that category was populated by a bunch of fruit (Apple, Orange, Apricot, etc.), so-called portables like Osborne and Compaq, plus hobby enthusiast machines that included Commodore and Radio Shack.  And, we all know the story of how they let Bill Gates make billions at their expense.  However, a  friend of mine had been promoted to lead this group and he quickly recognized “competitive intelligence” was important when he saw that phrase in a draft brochure I sent him for comments.  Almost immediately, even before the brochure was finalized, we were retained to create a model to define the market and assist in identifying the areas where IBM could generate the fastest growth.  Within six months of the PC launch IBM had catapulted to the lead in this segment and remained there for the next two years. 
Story 3 

Sympatico™ is still the largest Internet service provider (ISP) in Canada but when it was started by the major phone companies, its future was far from secure. Management severely underestimated how quickly subscribers would join this “family friendly” service while in the meantime they guaranteed advertisers audience levels that were unattainable.  It didn’t take long to realize that success depended on a new campaign at the national level.  And, it had to do a better job “pulling” consumers into the Sympatico system than the millions of dollars that had already been spent to-date.  That is where my developing a promotion with OREO™ cookies paid off.  It was based on an in-package “instant win certificate” for a Compaq computer in each company’s territory that was also fully equipped with a Microsoft software suite, Lexmark color printer, a full year of Internet access, backed up by various consolation prizes for everyone who bought a pack of OREOs.  Not only were we able to track the fastest moving contest in Nabisco history, but also actively watched subscriber growth cross the necessary threshold while ensuring this campaign delivered more than $25 million in Year I revenues.  However, the real moral of this story is that except for covering the few hundred dollars for color separations of the revised  promotional package, and the internal legal fees for a running a “lottery,” all the others fees were borne by Nabisco giving Sympatico incredible customer focus and sales growth  at almost no cost.

Story 4

2009 isn’t the first time General Motors, or the American auto industry, has experienced a down-turn.  A number of years ago, we were providing competitive intelligence reports to virtually every foreign manufacturer, however none of the American ones were clients.  When a new president was appointed to run GM-Canada, he immediately understood the importance of quality data delivered in a timely manner.  We were tasked with developing a rolling twelve-day competitive intelligence document that would tie-in with their existing industry generated 10-day sales report.  GM readily paid a premium for this accelerated delivery cycle (e.g. 12-days versus 30 in all other cases) as well as a guarantee of exclusivity against the other two American car producers.  With this data, they not only stopped their sales erosion but, within one year, GM sales in Canada out-paced Ford and Chrysler combined.