The Role of Big Data & Data Science in Today’s Marketing World

Back in the day, Marketing was a top-down process that is creative-led. We call that “Mass Marketing”.
Where some brilliant minds get together and come up with slogans and phrases, which will push down
to the audience hoping that they will resonate on it. It’s creative, but basically it’s guesswork.

They had focus groups to try on the idea first. But that was not enough. People who may look similar
from outside often want and respond to completely different things.

Let’s look at a few great failures back in the Day.

In 1984, Pepsi market share was gradually increasing and if it continues it was going to overtake
Coca-Cola in a few years. So Coca-Cola conducted marketing research and identified it was the “Taste”
that reduced the popularity of Coke. So they developed a new formula which has more sugar than the
old Coke and Pepsi. And launched in 1985 while discontinuing the old Coke.

It was the costliest marketing mistake in history and received backlash from consumers and the media.

 So what went wrong?

Brands are more than lists of individual physical characteristics. And people’s brains respond to reassurance and conformism that associates with a brand. In the USA, Coca-Cola has a symbolic meaning and it is seen as a cultural icon by some consumers. Most of the customers prefer tradition and stability over novelty. Coca-Cola just focuses on one attribute and customers feel a sense of loss with the discontinuation of the old Coke.

Let’s look at another failed attempt of the rival to Coca-Cola. In 2017, the soda giant Pepsi released an ad featuring TV Star and Model Kendall Jenner.

It was a scene of a street protest where Kendall Jenner joined and tried to defuse the tension between protesters and police by handing a Pepsi to a police officer. This ad triggered a firestorm of anger and outrage.

What went wrong?

Because people felt it underestimated important topics like racism, police violence, and Black Lives Matter. People protest because they disagree with something or outraged, worried, and even scared. This ad makes it look like protesting is a hip thing young people do for fun. So it came out as incredibly insensitive.

This kind of failure can be catastrophic. When they realize things went wrong, they have already damaged the brand name, and probably their competitors will mock them and use this chance to increase their market share. Not to mention the huge money loss.

 So what’s the solution?

Marketing and consumer research has proved that it is not simply effective or feasible to influence everyone with the same message. Therefore, the targeting of smaller subgroups comes into practice, which brings the term Market Segmentation or Customer Segmentation. Market Segmentation is the technique that divides a broad target population into smaller groups or subsets with similar needs, interests, preferences, and characteristics. In addition to that, the individual needs to respond in a similar way to pitched marketing.

We are talking about 4 types of marketing segmentation.

Now let’s look at how Big Data and Data Science come into play.

Before that, we have to talk about Data. Right now, Data is the most valuable asset in the world. Which already surpasses Oil. Whenever we approve a website cookie to monitor our online behavior or allow a mobile app to access our personal information, it collects all our digital trails. Not only the platforms and applications we use, but also a lot of personal information about us. This allows them to track us online, tracking the time we spent on sites, the locations we have visited, Payments we have made and reviews we have left. You may have already figured out that Google is reading your emails and chats with your permission.

Did you ever wonder about how this data is being used?

With this collection of Geographic and Behavioral data with Psychographic profiling, this platform obtains highly detailed insights about their users. And also they will be able to accurately predict and influence its users. These platforms now know “who” are you and “What” you do. And with Psychographics, they can predict “Why” you do it. Psychographics is the new weapon of digital influencers.

Now you understand this Psychographic information can be used to effectively target consumers. If we take U.S. retail company targets, they use predictive analytics to predict customers’ current life situations. Using demographics and psychographic data with search queries and historical product purchase patterns, they can predict when a female customer is pregnant or when someone is going to marry. Likewise, this allows a company to predict customers’ life events and target specific products to the correct people.

Not only that. Psychographic data analysis can be used to influence attitudes and beliefs which can be used to sway the votes. Using demographics, geographic, and psychographic data, they can differentiate the voters into target groups. Then they will pass the tailored messages to improve the communication and sway their decisions. Different variations of the same message can be used to bring all the members in a single family to the same belief and motivation as the way political campaigns are needed. It is believed that Cambridge Analytics used this technique to support the 2015 Brexit campaign in the UK and the 2016 Presidential Election in the U.S.

This is all done by running machine learning algorithms on the Data that is extracted from you, where they are able to predict your personality and behavior to razor-sharp accuracy and adapt content and advertising to fit your persona.

Instead of Mass Communication like back then, today’s communication is becoming ever increasingly targeted. It’s been personalized for every single person which is highly effective and saves a lot of money by directly delivering the correct message only to the right audience. But there is a question mark with this growing technology.

“Are we being controlled? “

Sankha Jayasooriya

Lead QA Engineer

Sri Lankan IT Students: Among the World’s Finest

Sri Lanka has a history of producing some of the world’s finest IT graduates. However, this information is not widely known enough. There are many instances where the skill, talent and the dedication of our people have shone through and The Google Summer of Code program is one such occasion.

Google Summer of Code is an annual program that provides a platform for university students from around the world to work directly with open source organizations worldwide, to learn open source development while earning a stipend for it. Over 14,000 students have been involved in the program from over 109 countries and 651 open source organizations. (1)

“GSOC students every year go from being complete novices to being contributors for organizations,” states Carol Smith, program manager for Google. Over the course of the program, GSoC has seen a shift away from participants in the US and Northern Europe, to more students in South Asia and other developing nations. (2)

Ever since the program’s inception 14 years ago, Sri Lanka has been among the top ten countries with the most number of accepted students, thanks to University of Moratuwa. From 2005 to 2011, many students have won competitions for the program, while in 2017 it had the most amount of submissions (3). With only a yearly intake of 100 students, the university has built a reputation for consistently producing world-class IT graduates, as they not only focus on an innovative approach to education, but also honing the soft skills of their students as well (4).

Rajan Anandan, Google’s vice president for South East Asia and India, has commented that Sri Lanka’s software engineers are some of the best in the world, but should expand on their capacity of student intake, as there is much untapped potential left to be discovered (5). The island has produced many gifted IT graduates, which can be attested by the many awards they have received: from winning Hackatrips (6), Microsoft Imagine Cups (7), IEEEXtreme (8), and of course Google Summer of Code.

In an interview, Vishaka Nanayakkara, lecturer at University of Moratuwa for department of Computer Science and Engineering recalled how students kept on writing proposals and submitting it year after year. They had started out with four students joining the program, and had never imagined it growing it to the scale it had developed. She proudly announced that the University of Moratuwa had not only reached the top in 2014 in winning awards, but in terms of submissions of well, compared to countries like US that were happy to be either third or fourth (9).

It also revealed the capabilities and commitment of these young Computer Science and Engineering undergraduates, as this was not just a one-time effort, but also something they have been consecutively contributing to for years (10). Up to this date, their enthusiasm has not waned.



Thenuji Gunathilaka

Thenuji Gunathilaka was an Associate Trainee Content Writer at Zone24x7.

“Inspiring Emotions” – The Story of Zone24x7’s Unique Ethos That Fuels Our Innovative Solutions

Do you remember the last time you got absolutely awed by something? So awed that you kept going back to that experience, you wanted to relive it as much as you want, you felt surreal. It was an experience so visceral, you briefly forgot your reality, you temporarily forgive yourself for your sorrows, you briefly felt hopeful and then you transcended into what felt like a fantastical, augmented version of reality.

Can you remember what it was?

It may have been an award-winning film from a legendary director; for an instance, say perhaps Schindler’s List, by Steven Spielberg. At one moment you’re on the couch in your living room and decide it’s time for a film. You hit the play button on the TV remote and see Liam Neeson’s face in black in white on the TV.

“That’s a bit odd,” you think.

“Didn’t this film came out in the 90s?” you wonder.

After a while, you forget all of that. Suddenly, you’re not seeing Liam Neeson on the TV. You’re seeing Oskar Schindler. He’s an Industrialist, a member of the Nazi party, and a saviour of lives; he’s a man riding against the tide despite all odds on a quest for absolution. This is a man hell-bent on doing the right thing in a world of relentless adversity. You see his sorrow, you feel for his guilt, you cry with him, you root for him.

You’re in awe. You feel enthralled.

See, experiences like this make us feel things. These experiences make us feel emotional. They lead us to engage, to question, to wonder. They make us feel alive. If you think about it, at the end of the day, these experiences and emotions make us, us. They are what makes humans, humans.

And that, brings us to Zone24x7’s tagline, “Inspiring Emotions”.

Initially, you may wonder what “Inspiring Emotions” means for a technology company. Let me explain.

At Zone24x7, we believe that contrary to popular belief, technology shouldn’t just be mundane. We believe that much like movies, music, deep conversations with people we like, which are essentially things we really enjoy, which makes us feel human, technology itself needs to make us feel those same things. We believe that technology should make us feel emotional (after all we humans create technology for ourselves).

This is why the solutions we provide for our clients go beyond mere technicalities. Staying true to our beliefs, we go one step further when we deliver solutions; we deliver solutions with an emotional edge.

Zone24x7 does that in two ways:

First, we operate with a heavy emphasis on Human Experience Design; that is to engineer solutions that resonate seamlessly with human experiences. In the intricate and fully technologized world we live in today, we want our solutions to be comprehensive and in alignment with ourselves as human beings.

With our emphasis on Human Experience Design, we deliver solutions that aren’t just excellent technologically, but solutions that make us feel, solutions that Inspire Emotions.

Secondly, when we deal with clients, we make sure that we deeply empathize with them. We make sure to understand their requirements at an absolutely fundamental level.
Once we have this understanding, we take complete ownership of the problem and the requirement so the client does not feel as if they’re dealing with an outside party.

Our clients often tell us that we are more like a deeply committed in-house team that is working on their problem with maximum care and earnestness. We make sure our client would not only get a solution of excellent quality but a solution that would Inspire Emotions.

The glowing testimonials we’ve received from our clients for over 15 years attests to the emotional impact we’ve created.

Despite being a relatively small company, it is this unique vision and approach that has enabled us to deliver staggering results to many businesses around the world for such a long amount of time.

As a company based largely in Sri Lanka as well as the Silicon Valley, we harness certain values that are characteristic of Sri Lankans to deliver these results. Sri Lankans, of course, are renowned for their unorthodoxy and ingenuity across various fields. This ingenuity, of course, emanates from a thorough comprehension of fundamental concepts and an inherent sense of empathy that is typical of Sri Lankans; and those unique characteristics are exactly what Zone24x7 uses to deliver solutions with standout excellence, emotional impact and thereby to Inspire Emotions.

Ashen Monnankulama

Ashen Monnankulama was an Associate Business Designer at Zone24x7.

Managing Innovation with Design Thinking: Part 3

The story behind the RFID Inventory Tracking Robot continued . . .

Part III: The Need for Collaboration in Design Thinking

Retail and more precisely department stores in the United States is a business under severe pressure from online pure plays like Amazon. Apart from few “Off Price” retailers, almost everyone else is facing stagnant revenue growth and increasing costs resulting in dwindling margins. It is for such an industry that we are developing this revolutionary product, a RFID inventory tracking smart robot (to obtain one single view on inventory). An industry, which by all measures is on a downward spiral.

So how did this rather bleak industry outlook influence our design thinking approach for innovation strategy?

We realized the need to offer flexibility to clients in terms of “getting on board”. They would be naturally averse to large CapEx investments in an area, which they consider to be not yet mature (robotics in retail).

We understood the need for other “auxiliary” benefits for a retailer from a robot beyond inventory, for ROI justification. However we were conscious not to waver on the key offering of retail inventory management across channels.

It was evident that the robot must be autonomous in every possible way to avoid involving store associates in its operation. Store associates are already stretched with many different and demanding tasks and they simply do not want to take care of a robot. We even went to the length of actually checking job postings for store associates, in order to understand their required skill levels. This enabled us to determine their suitability to operate a robot.

We had to build a RFID inventory tracking robot, which behaves less like a robot and more like an appliance. An inventory appliance, which does its job without much fanfare. Just like how our washing machines and refrigerators work.

It was clear that if we want to appeal to the so called Innovators and Early Adopters and Cross the Chasm as per Geoffrey Moore’s Technology Adoption Life Cycle, we had to create a value proposition in line with above realities. I must admit that the above revelations impacted our design in a significant manner. We also did not want to limit ourselves to these explicit needs of our customer as we payed attention to rather latent needs as well. We understand that some of these could be quite futuristic in retail, which is positive from a product road map standpoint. Some of these latent and implied needs were identified by looking at competitor offerings and also by thinking deep about our clients and their challenges in Omnichannel fulfillment.

Image: RFID Inventory Tracking Robot, AZIRO. A product of Zone24x7.

When embarking on a project like this, one needs to clearly assess the strengths and capabilities (core competencies) of the team. We were under no delusion that we are capable of doing everything on our own. We believe that the right kind of partnerships would immensely improve the chances of reaching our customers faster.

Human Centered Design and Collaboration as a Force Multiplier

We are already in discussion with potential manufacturing partners. We leverage on their knowledge not only to enhance the design to be technically feasible but also to ensure that it is desirable and viable from a client’s business standpoint. Once fully operational, we realized how critical these RFID inventory tracking robots would be for our clients and the need for minimal downtime. Hence, we are thinking long term and reaching out to partners with the necessary infrastructure and capacity to repair and maintain these robots for our customers.

A thorough value chain analysis was conducted to understand, where exactly we fit-in in this value chain equation of our retail clients. To our delight, we saw many more potential opportunities to partner with organizations, who are already marketing complementing solutions and services for a common clientele in retail.

The kind of complex and connected systems, which are required today to solve challenging business problems of our clients, cannot be solved with the creative genius of an individual or an organization. Interdisciplinary collaboration is the key.

The Mind of the Design Thinker

In a world where technology is fast becoming a commodity, I would like to consider the more right brain leaning task of design thinking and the design thinking processes as a true competitive advantage. Once internalized by every individual and every business function of an organization, design thinking and its processes should be part of an organizational culture or rather “How we do things here”.

Tim Brown in his 2008 HBR article “Design Thinking” has highlighted several characteristics of a Design Thinker such as Empathy, Integrative Thinking, Optimism, Experimentalism and Collaboration. It’s advisable for a team to reflect upon themselves to see how much they demonstrate such behavior.

Final Thoughts

Developing disruptive products, like in our case pose many challenges to a team. Design Thinking brings clarity into the process and helps the team better articulate the purpose or the “why” of the products or service. Out of many benefits, finding our “why” for the Autonomous Retail Inventory Tracking Robot might probably be rated as the best outcome of adopting Design Thinking and Design Thinking Processes.

You can read Part 1 and 2 of this series, Managing Innovation with Design Thinking, here.

References and Further Reading:

  • Brown, T. (2008) Design Thinking. Harvard Business Review
  • Brown, T. (2009). Change By Design. New York: HarperCollins
  • Kelley, T., & Littman, J. (2001). The Art of Innovation (1st ed.). New York: Random House
  • Kelley, T., & Kelley, D. (2013). Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential within us all. New York: Random House

Nuwan Weerasinghe

Head of Marketing