For a few years now digital experts have discussed the importance of “personalization”, the so-called “guest experience.” While the concept is not a new one, like so many marketing or “buzz” terms, the reality of providing real customer value is often lost in the shuffle. Is Big Data really so useful? Can your business leverage customer and industry analytics to improve? I’ll address these and some some pluses and some hindrances to business’ operational readiness. It’s time we identified the true scope of innovative possibility, and identified the difference between “things”.
I just got done reading a keenly insightful article on the subject of data and relevance by Tnooz’s Kevin May. Like any other industry, the travel niche is a playground for cutting edge adaptation of tech, as well as a stagnant pool of non-adaptors, for whatever reason. Within this realm, like most others, Big Data and analytics play and increasingly important role. May approaches the subject of “conversions”, or traveler decision making from the standpoint of internal versus external data use. Internally, hotel executives have been crunching, mixing, and mashing guest and hotel data since forever. So in this regard we are simply talking about innovation aimed at simplifying and making more effective/efficient the system for crunching this data. Externally, the situation is somewhat different. Using data in ways no hotel operator previously thought possible, this is the new paradigm marketers and technology gurus discuss. May makes some good points on how travel brands currently utilize data potential.
The Tnooz founder and editor uses the example of weather as a destination/property specific point of focus. The short version being, no hotelier currently plugs in the fact it will rain cats and dogs today, into how their business is run. At least not in the sense their sales and analytics teams can do more than just react to acute conditions. This is a good point for showing the “localized” problem of industry adoption. May uses a wonderful example of a data company addressing the “rainy day” problem. DigitalMeteo, a Spanish company, provides weather forecasts on demand. The real value proposition there is not simply forecasting rain or shine, but the old conundrum of “relevancy” or context. May’s article interjects the idea of marketing and content distribution here, and aptly so.
What DigitalMeteo (and other innovations) is capable of, is gleaning highly relevant data for later use by brands, in order to better serve services and products to travelers. A “for instance” May iterates, is how DigitalMeteo can crunch historic guest or traveler data, and then suggest alternatives for “known” users via marketing channels. But from an holistic approach, the minute function of a service like DigitalMeteo, while fundamentally useful, is child’s play compared with what is now possible. As far as weather data for interlacing with human travelers is concerned, there’s already stunning technology available for API integration and more. A company I simply Googled and found, Weather Decision Technologies, Inc. has the capability to deliver up surfer dude preferred data, at the end of the day. This case study deals with acute weather conditions and how Royal Caribbean cruise lines customers probably were affected by a hurricane force gale in the open sea (Instagram below). These companies, and most others, are only taking baby steps in the overall incremental innovation coming up.
Customer expectation, this can only be partially satisfied using any singular data analytics platform to date. You see, all this discussion about Big Data and analytics is really focused on niche sales, narrow markets, the PR and marketing “funnel” that requires (or directs) our attention. A mobile app builder is focused narrowly, just as larger entities like Expedia or Booking.com are, on the short term points of pain their businesses encounter. Nowhere is this more apparent than in discussions around something called the Internet of Things (IoT). Without jumping off into a sci-fi trilogy here, the IoT is about inter-connectedness, mankind and machine, so to speak. But while the new “IoT” trend is wholly focused on connecting consumers, their are distinctions that bear looking at.
Big Data, you see, will ever increasingly be transmitted from devices, cars, machines of all kinds, and remote sensors etc. This article on Computer World by David Knight, is particularly useful. Those fuzzy connected pieces of hardware, even our cars and utility items, they’re categorically separated. According to Knight, using the IoT for businesses demands a clear differentiation and prioritizing. The Internet of Things is actually segmented into consumer, industrial, and commercial IoT. What’s more, the “connectedness” and relevance of innovation today, it’s actually ultra-commercial given where the money comes from to develop it. Now that I have created more questions for your business, let me narrow the focus. What we’re looking at is enhanced “networking” – tying the fibers of connectivity together in new and meaningful ways. These startups I’ve menetioned, they’re only points along that connected path. My theories here fall in line with what this paper from Cisco speaks of.
“Network architecture and components must be flexible enough to adapt and integrate the multifunctional needs of Big Data at variable scale.”
We live in a “sales-self-centric” digital universe now. I know this, more so than most others, my business is about informing people of services and products, be they destinations or hotel rooms. We have arrived at the point of demarcation, you see? Big Data and the IoT are at the threshold of humungous scalability. The problem with ANY technology innovation you will run across for your business is going to be universality versus local/limited capability. The “scale” of thought and construct are simply limited. Big Data can be used in its totality, as can so-called “small data” – all that is required is the machine. I know, that’s an oversimplification, but this is what many businesses and practitioners of technology just don’t get. Let me amplify. If your hotel or restaurant, or whatever truly wants to “convert” new and repeat business, what is it you really need to do that? I mean in the long term.
My good friend, multiple award winning speaker, author, and entrepreneur Brian Solis makes my argument here for me in a recent article about the IoT:
“While IoT and its everyday impact is nascent, the applications for and benefits of IoT in business are practically infinite. While we’ve explored just a few brief examples, what lies ahead is a new era of connected products and services. What ties everything together is the data and services exchanged between people, devices and systems. The real magic happens though when the vision to design new, integrated experiences are enhanced because the ecosystem is designed to improve itself with usage.”
People, relevance, connectedness, projection. We’re far too focused on what I would call “patches” of brilliance, and not nearly focused enough on collaboration and true excellence. Innovators adapt an API to another software or service for a narrow purpose. While this is necessary at some level, the overall “ecosystem” of data utility is under-utilized. Solis shows us this “system” improves with use, and that a guest or traveler experience can be honed to nearly a fantasy level. Brian’s latest book details many crucial aspects for business engaged with new-age customers. Perhaps the most pertinent point being; “How our own experience gets in the way of designing for people not like us.”
This is the whole point, and the potential, but selling a technology product, or a single hotel room for the night even, is what we seem focused on. Business is, by and large, getting in the way of better experiences. I am not intent on being critical of singular innovations like DigitalMeteo or any other startup potential, what I am focused on is expanding on the idea of technology for serving humanity. In the end, it helps every business to truly “understand” its customers. This is personalization, and that’s a Big Data breakfast for thought.
To be continued…