Data is now top of the table and key to long term competitive strategy. What was noticeable at Smarter Data this year from the range of speakers and topic areas was the move from data being used just operationally – i.e. for direct marketing campaigns, retention strategies or performance optimisations – to now becoming part of the organisational narrative. Leadership teams have recognised data as a core strategic pillar for organisational change, sustainable growth or at a bare minimum, survival.

The abundance of data, including unstructured data, has opened up new possibilities. However the challenge many face is making sense of data and operationalising it in their business. Further to this, being clear on the commercial return from data investments was also a big theme. There is no longer appetite for open-ended data projects or transformation engagements without clear commercial outcomes.

Education New Zealand showcased their lead valuation tool which can track the value of the student funnel from consideration to visa approval. IKEA shared how they tag every loyalty member with a customer value to help manage customer investment and marketing activity. And Paymark is able to prove their segmentation ‘ROI’ across most aspects of their business including retention, sales, and customer experience.

Further to the commercial mindset around data, it is also evident that the industry has evolved its appreciation for data policy considerations. From taking into account the ‘creepy factor’ when communicating to customers, being transparent of data sources used, through to providing customers with options to take control of their own data use. IKEA’s global head of data discussed their open approach to data and how they allow customers much more control of use, frequency, and detail of information, all with the intention to improve the relevance and engagement with customers. However, they acknowledged that this does impact the volume of contactable leads in the short term.

An unexpected highlight for the conference was hearing from New Zealand’s Privacy Commissioner, John Edwards. Privacy is an increasingly important topic area and focus for all of us, not only in business but in our personal lives too. The important takeaway for everyone at Smarter Data was that the privacy commission is not just about rules and regulations, but they are passionate about helping make data privacy accessible for all of us…. don’t be scared of them, embrace them! And if you don't have a privacy officer, you should get one.

It is great to see the ever-increasing maturity in the data industry, blending advancements in technology and data techniques with a real commercial mindset and human empathy. It will be interesting to see where we get to by Smarter Data 2020.

Written by Shaun Fitzgibbon, Managing Partner, TRA