Damien Cummings, chief marketing officer at Philips ASEAN and Pacific, discusses with TRUE how the Dutch technology company is using big data to inform its social conversations with customers. Colby Vogt, a senior data specialist with FleishmanHillard, conducted the interview.
TRUE: How has big data changed Philips’ marketing strategies and the connection it now aims for with its customers?
Cummings: Big data is fundamentally transforming what we’re doing in marketing. Historically, much of what we’ve done has been based on gut feel or a very limited metric. Now, we’ve entered a world where we take gut feel out of the equation and focus exclusively on scientific data.
If we can track an individual, look at that person’s preferences, look at his or her history with Philips, and then link that back to other tools, such as Salesforce.com and our social listening tools, it gives a very different perspective on who that customer is and what he or she would want to engage with.
For us, it’s all about conversations right now. We are moving to a format that makes it more than a Philips-centric conversation, makes it a conversation that makes sense for that customer whether or not it involves Philips.
So instead of talking about an air purifier, what we can do is talk about clean air, haze and the search for solutions to that problem so endemic to Asia at the moment. People are having that conversation 24/7 365 days in parts of Asia today. What Philips brings to this, which allows us to have a very different conversation and engagement, is knowledge through personalized data about how that customer and other customers are reacting to poor air quality, whether their children might be sick with respiratory illnesses caused by allergens in the air. We can have a genuine conversation with that mother, and say, “You know what? Yes, the haze is really bad today; the air quality is actually quite low. Have you checked out our infographic on how to make your home into a shelter away from that haze?”
We are marketing on the fly. We don’t need to wait for a large television campaign or a digital campaign. We are just talking and actually providing that customer with valuable information, much of which has nothing to do with buying something from Philips. That kind of engagement can lead to creating a loyal customer and really a long-term sale. That’s what our Conversation Engine technology is all about.
TRUE: As a global company, how do you balance local versus global when having these conversations?
Cummings: In this region, we look after 10 markets. They’re quite geographically and culturally different. In some like Singapore, Australia and new Zealand, you can have these conversations in English; in others like Korea, Pakistan or the Philippines, you need to do these very much in the local language. In all cases, the substance of the conversation has to be based on local knowledge. It’s not something that can come from our global headquarters in Amsterdam and be relevant for, say, the Thai market. The nuances are quite different from a Thailand versus Singapore versus Australia, and just translating content into the right language doesn’t reflect that. So language is one barrier.
Then there are topics and what’s relevant to what area. Haze, for instance, is a very specific phenomenon to Southeast Asia. Indonesia burns off large tracks of forest, and that creates a huge smoke cloud that actually blankets Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and other parts of Southeast Asia. It’s super topical, like wildfires in parts of the U.S. or bushfires in Australia. Haze would not be relevant for Korea or China, for instance.
That’s not to say that air quality isn’t a topic for those countries. In China, the conversation has to do with the really terrible air pollution from industrialization and urbanization. And because Korea and China share a border, that is an issue for them as well. So while a conversation like clean air most definitely has a global theme, the way you represent that, from a cultural perspective, must be very different if you want to have meaningful conversations.
In ASEAN Pacific, we’ve identified five conversation topics – 1) clean air; 2) look good, feel good; 3) living to 115, or aging; 4) smart home; and 5) connected workspaces. And we have three tiers of conversation: engrossing, engaging and everyday. Something engrossing might be a major documentary or a major white paper on one of these topics — something that takes us months to prepare and we put money behind it. We look to create one of these each quarter. Then Tier Two involves 10 pieces of content a week and could be a 30-second YouTube video or an infographic or a webinar. Tier Three is everyday communications, and we look to create 10 pieces a day, or 3,650 a year. This could be a tweet or an Instagram photo or Facebook status update. Those are for each conversation, so when you multiple that by five, you’re talking about creating or finding 20,000 to 25,000 pieces of content annually.
So we’re not talking about the Philips Facebook page or its Twitter. If you want to have an authentic conversation, that tends to happen at a Philips Singapore level, or a Philips Australia level, where people can authentically talk about local issues. They can deal with issue in real time, without sending a tweet over to Amsterdam and waiting four days for a customer service response. That’s probably the key difference. Globalized platforms tend to be somewhat generic and a little bit faceless. Local platforms are much more fertile ground for engaging customers on a personal, meaningful basis.
TRUE: Given the breadth of your topics and the scope of your content creation, you’re describing a situation in which a company could be dealing with the collection and analysis of significant volumes of big data on a daily basis. Are most companies flexible enough to respond to stimuli and insights in such volume that require such an immediate response?
Cumming: That’s a good question, and let me try to be a little controversial as I answer it. I don’t think any global brand has got their social media marketing strategy right at this point.
When you talk generally about social media, people think about the ability to respond in real time to what I would term a “customer service inquiry.” Someone has broken something, someone wants to know more information about a product, and so on. In Asia, in the tech category, that represents about 40 to 50 percent of what we see. If you’re a telco, that number is about 75 percent; if you’re a bank or financial services company, it’s at least 80 percent. Frankly, that’s tough, because you have to respond to every customer, for every inquiry, in a similar way. That requires the customer service team to level up and understand how to deal with those in real time. But I’ll put those aside for the moment.
It’s from a marketing standpoint, where people are using no filter and go so wrong because they try to deal with the entire fire hose of stuff coming out of social media. That’s where I think we are doing something unique. We use one filter — VIPs, people who are influential to the industry, key customers, thought leaders and influencers. Of course, these people might not talk very often, but when they do say something, it’s really important for us, and a big red flag needs to go up. It has to be at the top of our analytics: Customer X, who is a VIP, has just said something really complimentary about our product. “Sales people, you need to get on the phone to this person ASAP.” If someone is talking about the brand, maybe we care less, but when it is a VIP we understand that the comment can reverberate so it is imperative we pay attention. If you apply that filter, then suddenly you bring a little bit of sanity around what we do.