Business applications have failed to satisfy growing reporting and analytic needs of business users. To overcome this limitation, most IT organizations have embarked on implementing business intelligence solutions. The promise of BI solution is to provide reporting and analytics from disparate systems to all types of business users. However, carefully designed and developed BI solutions have not been successful in generating a higher user adoption. According to a study by TDWI in 2008, only 24 percent of the potential BI users are using BI solutions. The adage “build it and they will come” does not hold true. BI solutions that are designed fairly well, fail to increase end-user adoption and user engagement. While implementing the right tools and technologies for the solution plays a key role for any BI implementation, companies must effectively promote the BI solution in the organization.
Every company has a marketing team that promotes the right products to the right user segments. The function of the marketing arm is to collect data about consumers, align product marketing to specific customer segments and develop a comprehensive communications strategy for implementation. To reach the goal of pervasive business intelligence across the enterprise, rollout of the BI solutions should also be approached as a marketing activity. An integrated communications strategy aligned with the BI implementation strategy can provide effective promotion for the BI implementation and result in increased user engagement and adoption.
This document borrows fundamental marketing concepts to provide five key steps to develop an integrated communications strategy to promote BI solutions.
Five steps for developing a communications strategy for a BI solution:
- Understanding customer needs.
- Define end-user segments.
- Evaluate brand image segment by segment.
- Develop a communications implementation plan.
- Implement, measure, monitor and revise.
Understand Customer Needs
The focus of marketing is to understand user behavior before recommending products to the customer. The BI team should strive to understand who the current or potential BI end users are and how are they using or will use the BI solutions. End users of BI solutions will range from people who run reports to users who consume these reports and make decisions based on these reports.
While the BI team conducts frequent requirements sessions, understanding customer behavior in this step is to understand how users perceive the BI solution, what the barriers are to the adoption of the new tools, and the needs and wants of the users from the BI tools. To understand barriers to adoption, the BI team should also use other tools such as customer workshops, surveys and interviews. How the customers use information and tools for information searching, retrieving and consuming will be key in formulating a communications implementation plan and understanding user behavior, which is necessary to develop end-user segmentation in the next step.
Define End-User Segments
Effective marketing teams segment their customer base strategically and select the most attractive customer segments to target. Segmentation also allows tailoring product offerings and marketing messages to appeal the preferences of the targeted customer segments. BI team should also segment the end-user base of the BI solution to effectively design marketing strategies around each end-user segment.
As a starting point of segmentation, list all the attributes or preferences that the end users believe are important in selecting how they use their reporting tools. Some of these key attributes for BI solutions are user expertise, history requirements, key performance indicators, analysis at detail level, multidimensional analysis by department, by decision-making, by exceptions, etc. Once the key attributes are identified, use a tree diagram to segment end users based on their preferences to these attributes. Define segments where the needs are similar within the segments but are different across the segments. One way to check if segmentation has been done correctly is to check if each of the segments requires a separate marketing mix.
Two popular frameworks used to segment users in BI implementations are Bill Inmon’s “DSS End-User” and TDWI’s “MAD Framework.” BI teams should use these frameworks as a starting point and drill down further to develop their firm specific end-user segmentation.
Once the appropriate end-user segments are identified, define market size (number of users) in each of these segments. As a company cannot sell to all the market segments, a BI team cannot focus on all end-user segments and must prioritize end-user segments that will be targeted first. The end-user segment prioritization is usually based on the attractiveness of the segments and the relative capabilities of the BI solution to appeal to the segment. The relative attractiveness of the segment can be derived from several factors, such as number of end users, growth rate in user base and resulting business value to the company.
The BI team should first target the primary and secondary segments and then develop a roadmap to address the remaining segments.
Evaluate Brand Image Segment-By-Segment
Brand invokes a certain image in the minds of the customer, differentiates the products and provides a consistency in message and experience. We are all aware of well-known brands such as Apple, IBM and Coke and the kind of emotion they create in the minds of the customers. In a similar way, a BI brand in the company should be carefully managed and maintained. The BI team should strive to understand and assess the BI brand and position as it relates to the various end-user segments.
While assessing the BI brand, think of attributes such as awareness of BI in the department, type of BI tools used in the department, the level of automation in the department, the department’s interest in performance management and its general analytic awareness. Brand awareness can be measured through interactions with customers in design sessions, customer workshops, surveys and interviews.
End users in different segments can have different levels of BI brand awareness, and recognizing these differences will allow the BI team to develop an appropriate communications plan. The BI team can devise effective marketing strategies, such as introduction to BI solutions, or BI tools to increase the brand recognition among the user segments where brand awareness is low.
Develop a Communications Implementation Plan
In this step, we develop an integrated communication plan from the information collected in the above sections. The BI team should align with the BI implementation team to work through the finer details and produce a marketing implementation plan. This is an iterative process and will go through a number of changes based on feedback from key constituents.
A communication plan should be customized for end-user segments to ensure that the right/appropriate message is conveyed to each end-user segment. At times, communications items will cover more than one segment and more than one product.
The communication strategy should also include communication items to enhance the brand value of the BI solution throughout the project. BI teams should carefully recruit the right resources to support and implement the marketing plan such as business sponsors, technology sponsor, project team, vendors and BI trainers.
For each communication item, follow the steps below:
- Define the objective.
- Choose the content.
- Choose the media.
- Decide on the execution and timing.
- Consider any costs.
- Don’t ignore the people aspect.
Define the Objective
The BI team should always define an objective of each communication item, which could be an introduction to the brand, an infomercial about a certain tool or the motivation to use the BI solution. Objectives can be clearly communicated by developing a before and after strategic profile of the end-user segments. Keeping the objective in perspective and the target change in mind will significantly increase the effectiveness of the communication.
The BI team should tailor the content of the communication to send the right message for a particular end-user segment. Some content ideas to be considered are: introduction to BI tools, status of the BI solution, benefits of BI tools and implementation status of the solution. Ensure that the BI technical team has reviewed any content related to the implementation details of the solution.
Choice of the media for the communication should be based on the end-user segment. While some users may prefer email updates, others might prefer elaborate demonstrations of the product or lunch and learn sessions. Popular media choices would be newsletters, talk shows, podcasts, road shows, Q&A sessions, posters, blogs and other promotional items such as t-shirts.
Decide on Execution and Timing
The timing and frequency of communication plays a major role in effective advertising. The BI team should get direction from the copywriter’s pyramid and AIDA (attention, interest, desire and action) models for execution. The amount of the communication should be carefully tailored so that there is meaningful information for the end users without an overload.
The BI team should carefully control the timing of the communication. BI teams should also consider using pulse marketing, a popular timing strategy that marketers use frequently. In pulse marketing, communication is triggered on a periodic basis to avoid lowering the awareness of the solution, much like a pulse sent out at regular intervals.
Most of the BI marketing activity should be relatively low cost. However, ensure that every costly communication activity has a clearly defined objective. Putting costs and objectives in perspective will ensure higher returns on the investment.
Don’t Ignore the People Aspect
People buy from people. In any company, there are a few influential who hold the power to influence others because of their position or their knowledge. Recruiting these individuals as solution champions and focusing communication efforts around these users can lead to greater gains.
Implement, Measure, Monitor and Revise
Once the communication plan is ready, the BI team can implement the plan working in conjunction with the BI technical team, project team and key business sponsors. The BI team should carefully monitor the results of the communication plan and measure the effectiveness of each communication activity. Additionally, the BI team should collect feedback from sample or test groups of the end-user segments during implementation so that corrective action, if any, can be taken appropriately.
Peter Drucker said, “Every company has only two functions, to innovate and to market. Innovation develops better goods and services. Marketing connects the company with potential customers to make them aware of the benefits of ownership or use.”
Most BI implementations focus on tools and technologies and often overlook marketing of the BI application. However, for effective end-user adoption and pervasive BI solutions, a marketing plan should be considered at the outset of the project and appropriate resources should be allocated to build the marketing plan.
BI has gained significant importance among business users and executives, and it remains a top investment for a majority of the companies. Enterprises should take a strategic approach toward BI to include comprehensive data and analytic needs of the organization instead of using BI to address tactical and immediate needs. Effective marketing and a communications marketing strategy should be an integral part of the BI implementation to ensure there is value for every dollar spent on BI solutions.