Advancements in technology and rapidly increasing access to information are enabling customers to be better informed, dramatically shifting the balance of power from businesses to the consumer. And no business, large or small, global or local can ignore the now obvious fact — it’s all about the customer. A recent IBM survey confirms this consensus with 85 percent of CEOs expressing that “getting closer to their customers” is a top strategy moving forward. The goal is clear, but execution remains a challenge for many businesses as more and more customers and influencers are consuming content and interacting with brands online. The companies that can harness data and mine that data for key insights into customer behavior across all potential digital touch points — mobile, tablet, wearable technology, etc. — and drive personalized interactions based on those insights, will be able to turn existing customers into loyal brand advocates.

At the heart of this customer-focused strategy must be the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO). According to Gartner, by 2017 the CMO will spend more on information technology than the CIO as more tools become available to better engage and react to consumers throughout the customer journey. Considering IDC Digital Universe’s prediction that the world’s data will grow by 50 times over the next decade while the number of IT professionals will grow only by 50 percent, the digital transformation task facing CMOs can certainly seem daunting. Marshaling internal resources, agency partners, and technology solutions providers will be key for creating storylines and roadmaps to drive successful digital engagement strategies with Big Data.

As customers continue to adopt and engage with more digital platforms, CMOs and CIOs must integrate their efforts to deliver superior and consistent multi-channel experiences that provide relevant content and offerings to the right person, at the right time and in the right place. With a smart, strategic roadmap, the application of innovative business technology provides businesses the chance to embrace their users across the entire customer journey in an intimate and authentic way. Yet, the internal mind shift that calls for technology and business processes to be driven by customer preferences and customer needs has still not happened in many organizations. How do you as a business begin to make this critical shift a reality? Embrace a data-driven culture that makes use of first and third-party data to drive contextually accurate offerings to your customers.

When talking about embracing analytics, it’s important to view it as an evolving journey and not a project or one-time initiative. Data comes in many formats — structured data, unstructured data, unstructured content, etc. — and a company’s existing technology infrastructure can often be the greatest impediment to ongoing reliability and speed, which are paramount when there is a need to connect with the customer in real-time to drive growth. Faster analytics improves the experience for existing customers and prospects — spurring revenue growth through targeted cross-selling — while at the same time decreasing costs through greater efficiencies. However, the trick isn’t only to react faster. Rich data with the proper analytics also provides insights into future consumer behavior. As a result, implementing high-end predictive analytics creates previously unrealized opportunities to improve IT functionality while reducing expenditures, increasing customer retention by providing greater value, strengthening risk management and spurring the integration of social media with business processes and strategy.

A versatile digital integrator can help ensure legacy digital architecture will work seamlessly with new data inputs and processes, so a CMO and CIO can rest easy knowing their strategy is being implemented smoothly and effectively across all consumer-facing channels. As an example of the power of data, my firm, LiquidHub, recently worked with a specialty biopharmaceutical company in their new Multiple Sclerosis (MS) product launch. The company needed a defined set of key performance indicators and metrics, which weren’t available through existing solutions, to drive tactical execution of the business marketing strategy. By creating a new process that enabled greater collaboration between the client and pharmacies/healthcare payers and integrating multiple data sources, we were able to develop a real-time and accurate picture of the entire patient journey, eliminating supply chain issues and expediting the delivery of the medicine. In the end, the patients received the medication faster and had better outcomes, while the client saw a revenue increase of over 20 percent through accelerating the product’s time to market.

There are other companies utilizing Big Data with similar results, and there is an incredible opportunity for businesses to better leverage existing and future data to drive ROI. Unfortunately, as Gartner notes, 70 to 80 percent of business intelligence projects fail. So, while the potential is tremendous, it’s critical to partner with a strong digital integrator to avoid common pitfalls, and the unintended consequence of alienating the customer if data is misinforming the marketing strategy. Instead, a well-conceived, closed-loop, data-enabled program will deliver proper measurement and allow optimization for marketing performance. Only then can technology enable businesses to truly connect with customers and establish themselves as market leaders. The opportunity is here for forward-thinking CMOs, and their partner CIOs, to seize the moment or be left behind.

Robert T. Kelley, PhD, is a founding partner at LiquidHub.

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