Paul Alexander, CEO of Beyond Analysis
Tell me a bit about the company's history, and why you chose this market.
I set up Beyond Analysis in 2007 after having held senior positions at consumer insight and strategy businesses such as dunnhumby and C6. Our main aim was to challenge the view that data & insight consultancies were large, ponderous and expensive. We believed that insight was a right, not a privilege and we knew that understanding and acting on a client's data didn't have to take six months and cost the earth. We were determined to turn the world of data consultancy on its head and challenge the norm. The fact that we're only five years old and yet are quickly delivering actionable insights to major brands across the globe is proof that we're practicing what we preach.
You are planning to expand to the US - why the US?
The move to the US seemed like a natural next step for Beyond Analysis, having already achieved successes in Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia. Although America is well-known for prioritising customer service, some studies suggest that traditional customer loyalty programmes are failing . In North America, just one in six (17 per cent) US consumers say their purchasing decisions are influenced by loyalty programmes . Our aim is to help our clients in the US to develop targeted loyalty programs by driving deeper customer engagement with the ultimate view to drive sales for the business.
Who are your key rivals?
A common misconception is that our competitors are companies like dunnhumby and the number of me-too businesses spawned in their wake.
Instead, we see our rivals to be the large consulting firms that have previously dominated the financial services and retail sectors. How we differ from them is that we're young, think differently and are passionate about the wins that can be created from customer insight. Customer insight does not only benefit the businesses we work with, but also their suppliers and most importantly, their customers.
What techniques do you bring to the table that are perhaps different to your rivals? What kind of intelligence do you use in your evaluations?
Now that would be telling! Here at Beyond Analysis, our primary goal is creating positive outcomes. This doesn't mean getting drowned in big data - far from it. We find one or two hidden gems in the data and 'unlock their value.'
There's no point analysing a piece of data if the cost vastly outweighs the benefits to the business. No one will thank us for something that is merely 'interesting.' The key is finding the 'meaningful' in that data. We have recently trademarked Customer DNA™ (C-DNA™) which allows businesses to translate a combination of relevant lifestyle, demographic and affluence measures, into meaningful customer patterns and segments. By having a holistic view of the customer, businesses can utilise the best data sources available and derive marketing communications that are tailored for each customer. For us, results are what drives the business; all of our IP is focused on that.
How do you prove a quantifiable benefit to your work - i.e. cost efficiencies, ROI, etc.?
Quite simply: financial gain for the client. That's why tracking the results are so important. If we can't track it in the data, we can't learn what worked and what didn't. Through data, businesses are able to constantly evolve and change with the consumer. Through our data management systems, we provide a direct line of insight to what is happening in the marketplace.
What are some of the big trends you are seeing in retail?
Retailers are now - more than ever - realising value in their data. Unfortunately, one big trend that has surfaced is the hiring of Insight leaders who empire build, a bit like IT did a few years ago. They hire all these analysts and buy lots of kit, even before they have worked out how to derive insight from the data and how they are going to deliver it back in to the business.
There are lots of analytical brains out there with superb qualifications, but businesses will get nothing out of them unless they can translate insight into action.
Many companies are still operating under a 'silo' mentality when it comes to data sharing - i.e. their technology development units are completely separate from marketing, advertising, HR etc. - Is this a problem you're seeing a lot of? How can businesses improve here?
Unfortunately, we do see a lot of this. What can businesses do about it? Frankly, grow up. A business may have many divisions each led by people with different agendas but what we need is consistency to know the true health of a business. Those who operate under a 'silo' mentality when it comes to data sharing should remember that they ought to be trying collectively to influence a single customer many times over, to do something positive.
What role do the payment companies have in this new world of retail and big data? i.e. Visa, Mastercard... How can companies work with these powerhouses, and how can they leverage their data?
I can't speak for Mastercard and Amex, but I can for Visa Europe, as we are part owned by the company. What they can provide from data is context. Common questions that businesses want to know are a) What do my customers do when they aren't shopping in my stores? And b) Are they really loyal to me or are they spending a lot of money with our competitors?
We recently did some work with a big fuels business that believed that they had a good grasp of their customers and knew who their most loyal customers were. Using insight from the Visa data, we found that their high spending customers bought fuel from other companies, not just with them. Once we knew that, we gave the retailer the opportunity to do something about it by providing the channel.
We're doing some pretty exciting stuff in this area with our friends at Visa and you'll be seeing a lot more from us on this towards the end of the year.
How are technologies such as iPads and iPhones changing retail? What about mobile banking and payments - are these expected to take off? Augmented reality apps?
We live in an 'anything, anytime, anywhere world' and this is reflected by the popularity of gadgets such as the iPad and iPhones. In order to capitalise on the rise in m-commerce, retailers also need to understand exactly what their target audience uses mobile devices for. In a world of 24/7 media and instant communications, people turn to their mobile devices for two things: to save time or to spend time. Banks need to develop revolutionary payment methods to meet these demands.
Do you see mobile wallets and NFC taking off? Why or why not?
It's already taken off. Last year, around 50 European members had issued more than 26 million contactless Visa cards and the recent launch of various apps that will allow people to take out money from cash machines using their mobile phones, show there is a market for mobile wallets. Here at Beyond Analysis, we've noticed that consumers have been increasingly involving mobiles in their purchasing. But regardless of the channel, retailers need to ensure that every avenue is consistent and engaging to customers, including their traditional bricks and mortar stores.
What about daily deals companies, such as Livesocial, Groupon? Are these business models sustainable? How can high street retailers take advantage of these opportunities?
The proliferation of daily deal companies is significant - notably Amazon have just launched its own. There are many competitors out there offering similar services with little differentiation other than the deal. Retailers can only really benefit if relevant, timely communications to specific customers or customer groups are targeted. Another important factor is the ease of redemption and payment - the easier it is for the customer to buy, the better.
What about other new technologies, such as the cloud? How can companies leverage this? Is it worthwhile doing so?
The cloud provides opportunities for organisations of all sizes, for instance lower cost of ownership, differences and accounts to important company information from any internet connection. However, as with any new technologies, any businesses considering the cloud need to look at where they are today and where they want to be in the future. Ultimately any significant investment should support the business strategy. If it improves the business strategy, improves customer engagement and reduces cost to serve, it is worth while doing so.
Who are some of your key clients and what work have you done for them?
One of our biggest clients is Visa who we work with to deliver loyalty solutions for member banks and retailers. We use the Visa data sets to provide market and consumer intelligence and insights. In fact, we analyse one in four transactions that are made on the card.
We've also worked with Waitrose where we used their data to inform store opening hours & their investment in new locations, and Penguin to design their data & insight strategy, so they can better understand and engage with consumers directly.
I understand you plan to list the company at some point - what is the threshold to making this decision, and what would be the advantages?
We will know when the time is right. When and where we list will be dependent on market conditions.