Storytelling in a Data Driven Era

13th Peer-to-Pier Networking Event in San Francisco Spotlights UC Davis Marketing Experts

Peer to Pier
Associate Professor Ashwin Aravindakshan shares about his research on social media customer sentiment.

What inspired us as children, still does today—a good story. In today’s marketing world, advanced analytics is raising the art and science of storytelling to a new level.

In the era of big data, savvy companies across all industries are benefiting by being mindful of both data and emotion to grows audiences and engage consumers.

Featured Panelists

  • Ashwin Aravindakshan, Associate Professor of Marketing, Graduate School of Management
  • Aaron Carpenter BA 94, MBA 98, Chief Customer Officer, Hubnami
  • Abby Lunardini BA 97, Vice President – Brand Marketing & Communications, Virgin America
  • Lisa Maulhardt MA 92, Moderator, Executive Vice President, SY Partners

Yet there are landmines that companies face when trying to balance quantitative data-driven demographics, for example, and qualitative data such as customer psychographics and personal beliefs and values.

Against this backdrop, the Graduate School of Management convened an all-UC Davis affiliated panel of marketing experts at the 13th annual Peer-to-Pier Networking Event in February hosted by Deloitte in San Francisco.

More than 120 alumni, students, faculty, staff and prospective students were treated to the insights and experiences of three thought leaders and executives who shared how the new reality of big data is impacting marketing and the experience of being in marketing and communication management roles.

Art and Science of Data in Marketing

As chief customer officer at Hubnami, GSM alumnus Aaron Carpenter helps social media managers and agencies aggregate statistics across the different platforms, which are proliferating a rapid clip.

“It’s a very fast moving, global space,” Carpenter said. “If you are a brand and using social media data, and you mismanage that trust between a brand and an individual you can run into trouble.”

Data won’t take over gut decision making in art-driven, life-style brands such as in the apparel industry, argued Carpenter, who before joining Hubnami two years ago served as vice president of global marketing at The North Face. “But people who use data to inform their gut are going to leap frog everyone else.”

He said a Hubnami client, Stich Fix, which offers online personal stylists and has been adept at combining trends and customer data to deliver hand-selected women’s fashion. Carpenter said Stich Fix has applied the data-driven NetFlix model to clothing.

Aravindakshan, who teaches an MBA course on Customer Relationship Management, said marketing managers must think carefully when using marketing automation and collecting and analyzing relevant data.

“If you do you do not develop the ability to ask the right questions or to understand what’s next for your brand, then you are more at risk than if you can be creative with the analytics that you produce,” he said.

Carpenter said one of the key is getting marketing managers and data scientists speaking a common language. “What I learned is you have to take it in small bites, go slow and simplify it,” he said.

Data Informing the Customer Experience

The Wall Street Journal recently described Virgin America as “younger and cheekier—a flying boutique hotel with black leather seats and darkened cabins with purple and pink mood lighting . . . focused on the experience in the air: entertainment, cabin comfort and hip atmosphere.”

Virgin America is known for its innovative web and social media, including a jazzy video featuring breakdancers on seat-back screens that has been viewed on YouTube 11.5 million. And like every airline, it’s more like an IT company with planes rather than a travel company with IT—data drives everything, from fuel to tickets.

As vice president of brand marketing and communications, UC Davis alumna Abby Lunardini curates the San Francisco-based airline’s irreverent reputation. She said behind every seat is both quantitative data-driven, revenue-generating yield management and qualitative customer experience feedback to improve loyalty.

“For us, as a smaller player, that qualitative feedback is super important because it opens up to us what are the opportunities that the big airlines are not seeing that we can take advantage of,” she explained.

New Marketing Frontier

Aravindakshan said the data analytics world has three components: descriptive, predictive and prescriptive, with a movement toward the latter in industry informed by cutting-edge academic research.

“We are trying to craft the future by playing around with the controls that you have now,” said Aravindakshan, who has been researching patterns and trends of customer sentiment over time, modeling the results. “It is getting to stage where you can set targets and see what you can do today to meet those targets. It is the next frontier.”

“The brand story is no longer just yours. The consumer is going to contribute to that story. Sometimes that contribution is negative and sometimes it is positive,” Aravindakshan said.

“The idea is how to understand how you can leverage these conversations toward creating your brand story because you no longer own it—it’s a shared story now.”

Carpenter said the work Aravindakshan is doing is critical to help marketers in a world where brands have to rise above the information overload to tell their compelling stories.

“He’s using data to understand and give context to delivering the right message at the right time with the right thing,” Carpenter said.

Education Front:  Master of Science in Business Analytics

To meet the explosion of corporate demand for managers who can harness the power of data, the Graduate School of Management has proposed a new, one-year Master of Science in Business Analytics to launch in fall 2017.

Aravindakshan said the school is well-positioned to be a leading educator in the space, drawing on the world-class expertise of UC Davis faculty business, computer science, statistics and communications.

“At Davis, almost all the management school faculty are driven by data in their research and data drives their decision making,” said Aravindakshan. “Our research needs to lead to new insights, including building new models of analysis.”

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