Top tips for the Chief Data Officer to tackle Big Data, GDPR and omni-channel


Some top tips from CDOs from major organizations on getting the best from data and how to translate it into commercial gains.


Chief Data Officer (CDO) might be a relatively new role, but these are the people in organizations who now truly hold the keys to the castle.  Here are some top tips from CDOs from some major organizations on getting the best from data and how to translate it into commercial gains.

Tip – Big Data is meaningless

Noorin Virani, Senior CRM Manager at L’Oréal UKI, said the key to a good data strategy is simplicity, not volume.

When we have so many brands and global knowledge about our consumers, where do you start and stop? I’m not a fan of the words big data. I actually bloody hate the words big data. I think it belies the fact that not all data is equal. Some data is more worthy than others and you have to look for that golden nugget. Eighty percent of what you can get is from 20% of perhaps what you have.  Data has to be accessible, actionable, interesting, relevant and performance-led. There’s no point having all of this data and yet nobody in your business can actually understand it.

Tip – remember it’s the customer, not data, who is king

Virani referenced a Harvard Business Review article arguing there is no such thing as customer loyalty anymore, a view she wholeheartedly supports. Businesses should be using their data to better understand this new breed of consumer, rather than just going after big numbers:

Do not confuse data with consumers. Quantity is nothing and quality is everything. Acquiring one does not mean acquiring the other. I work in a business where they just want numbers. Can we go after 20 million consumers, can we go after 25 million. I want to say, it doesn’t make a bloody bit of difference whether you go after 20 million or you go after 25, if none of them are active, none of them are engaged or none of them are worth having.

People are actually very disloyal now. The way to work with our consumers is to create habits, it’s to use data to tell us where we should be targeting and where we should be engaging in conversations. Data is the new oil but only in so far as it greases the way to a more engaged consumer.

Tip – data is not just for digital

Ryan Cotton, senior leader in CRM, Analytics & Insight at Thomas Cook, said the travel agent is working towards a data-driven customer experience, with an ambition to use real-time data to adjust marketing activity based on what is happening for a particular customer at a particular time.

The firm has implemented a campaign management solution from Alterion, which has seen spend reduced by about 80 percent. There has also been significant improvement in marketing performance, helped by features like automated trigger base campaigns, which look for certain behavior to trigger emails to customers, and the use of predictive analytics. Cotton added:

The next step is getting the data foundations right for an omni-channel world. We still have around 700 shops on the high street. Our presence on the high street is a significant part of our capability, we still sell over 50 percent of our holidays on the high street. Being able to work online and offline is key for us.

We want to provide a database for the digital age, which can serve both data to our online and offline channels but do it instantaneously. It can provide a view to our advisors in our shops when customers log on to our website, that single customer view that effectively at the moment is hidden in marketing.

Thomas Cook has garnered a wealth of data from its databases about customer activity – it knows the average research-to-book period is over 10 weeks, that customers will interchange between devices, and spend over four hours and 23 website visits researching their holiday. But Cotton explained that these stats all vary hugely, and unfortunately there is no typical customer journey:

Context is king. Understanding where a customer is in that buying pattern is really key if you want to influence them to buy a holiday with you. Understanding if they’re just thinking about a holiday and how you want to inspire them to a particular destination or provide some relevant content, to when they’re really near the end of the journey and maybe they might need that tipping over so maybe a more price-led or offer-led communication is right.

We need to understand that same context in all channels and also combine that with more traditional data such as customer preference data if that’s expressed, and use that data across any channel.

Tip – translate data into commercial gains

Sherine Yap, global head of CRM at Shell Retail, told delegates that every year, she goes and works at a Shell petrol station, trying to upsell people. She encouraged everyone to go and experience whatever it is that is frontline to their organization:

It really brings meaning to those numbers. What are the implications of those numbers that you’re looking at and you’re analyzing and brooding over. It’s translating what we do into the commercial. I can tell you now of all the things which are important, a highly engaged loyalty customer is worth 10 times more than a non-loyalty customer.

For all the marketing strategies we have that are around attracting new customers in, actually if you want to spend your money wisely, we need to be driving more satisfaction and value out of existing customers. It’s not an opinion – I have the data to back that up. A customer will also index higher in every aspect – spend, frequency, retention, fuel sales – than a customer who is not engaged with the brand through the mobile app. That’s a really interesting piece of information because it drives our focus and our spend.

The next step is to help to understand the why so we can really build on it. Getting these key nuggets of information, linking it into the commercials, can really help to then drive a conversation around investment, where we spend the money, our priorities.

Tip – see the positives in GDPR

The upcoming European data protection rules come into force next May, meaning all businesses – including those across the UK, regardless of how the nation ends up leaving the EU – will need to tighten up their consumer privacy practices. Although this will have a huge impact on how data can be used and stored, with some firms anticipating a lot of pain, firms were also encouraged to see the GDPR compliance process as a positive exercise.

Thomas Cook’s Cotton said:

We as a business are working through this at the moment. There is no doubt going to be a significant pain point come next May. Over time, as we become more accustomed to it, the effects are going to become less and less.

By May next year, we are going to lose a significant part – as things stand, if our interpretation of what the ICO is saying is correct – of consent and we are also going to have to take significant measures to continue to profile data. At the moment it looks very painful but I still think there are some adjustments to go through and understand what it really means. It’s a key focus area.

Shell Retail’s Yap added:

We ‘ve been prepping for GDPR for a long time now, in fact we’re taking the principle and applying it not only across the EU but across the world. Because we’ve taken this fairly – conservative is not the right word – vigilant approach in terms of data privacy, I don’t see a direct impact, not tangibly. We’re in a very fortuitous position where we don’t have to rework a lot of what we’ve got, we don’t have to lose a lot of what we’ve got.

We have to validate a lot of the permissions and a lot of the consents. But actually I think that’s going to be a bonus, as for me it means I don’t have a lot of dead weight in the databases and a lot of irrelevant information. The people who are giving us consent and data points about themselves are leaning into that relationship.

The data will possibly be richer than what we’ve had in the past.

Tip – learn a new language

Despite the prevalence of technology across all organizations, there is still often a disconnect between the IT department and the rest of the business – something that is now filtering down to the data team, as highlighted by Sainsbury’s CDO. Yap, who is not from a technology background, had her own approach to dealing with this challenge:

My big tip is, if you want to get your messages through and up to the C-suite level, you need to speak the language of finance and you need to speak the language of business. I don’t buy, ‘Oh I‘m the data guy. I don’t really care about that stuff.’ You’re not going to get your messages through.

I always felt that sometimes we spoke a different language. Somebody saying something to me and my eyes have started glazing over, I didn’t quite understand it. I had to move a little bit closer to the data space and I made the data team move a little bit closer to me. Literally by questions like, can you explain it to me in simple language, can you help me understand the impact, what is the outcome of the data and insights. I’ve been able to take that information, package it up and share it with the wider teams.

L’Oréal’s Virani agreed that making an effort to understand the workings of data technology pays dividends:

I’d started to work in data-driven marketing but I wasn’t very technical. At Visit London I sat in the coding team, so I learnt how to code, I learnt HTML, I learnt CSS, I learnt JavaScript. I was sitting next to the people who were doing it. That gave me a really good grounding when it came to tech.

“I constantly was leaning over and asking how do you do that? Now I can read SQL databases, I can understand taxonomy, I understand probably way more than my peers when I’m faced with a data piece of work because I asked lots of questions and I got taught skills that probably weren’t particularly relevant to my job, but were very good to have. Be curious.


Image credit - Pinterest

Disclosure - Noorin Virani, Ryan Cotton and Sherine Yap were talking at the DataIQ Summit in London

    Comments are closed.

    1. “Despite the prevalence of technology across all organizations, there is still often a disconnect between the IT department and the rest of the business”

      This ties in with the mantra of quality not quantity, whether you’re referring to the data itself or the customers it represents. As far as the business is concerned, you are replaceable. As far as the customer is concerned both you and the business are replaceable.

      Who your customers are, and what they want / need directly drives what your business needs, and you need to be able to talk to them – customers and business – in their language to understand this.

    2. says:

      wonderful information shared ….