A conversation with Wes Hunt, leader of Alliance Data’s Analytics & Insights Institute
What is the Analytics & Insights Institute, and what is your role as its leader?
The Analytics & Insights Institute is Alliance Data’s data-driven in-house consultancy. We believe it’s essential to be deeply focused on data, analytics, and innovation so that we can add the most value for our cardmembers and brand partners—ultimately driving their total business. Through the Institute, we provide world-class expertise, resources, insights, and thought leadership to our partners across the industry. We create the perfect combination of what I call “insight professionals,” which includes the right people—experienced data scientists, strategists, and thought leaders—and proprietary and industry-leading toolsets to take a deliberately different approach to data-driven precision marketing. As the leader of the Institute, I focus on the big picture: how can our best-in-class data do even more to help brands reach customers? How can we use precision marketing to reach more customers with the right message at the right time? I love focusing on these strategic questions, then empowering the experts on my team to bring ideas to life.
What’s an example of how the Institute is using data in interesting ways?
We’re laser focused on ensuring our data and analytics are continually working harder for our brands. One of our areas of focus is using machine learning to understand when a customer is “due or overdue” to shop. In the 2017 DMA Analytics Journal, we introduced our Shopping Cycle Model and how we leverage it to predict the “on- and off-cycle” behaviors of consumers. Our brand partners rely on these models to make strategic marketing decisions and know when to target which customers. We have the opportunity to add an important level of sophistication to the models by exploring how the holidays impact these patterns and consumers’ purchasing behavior, creating a new Time to Next Model. By evolving and testing our modeling approaches, incorporating seasonality signals into the mix, we were able to not only continue to define when consumers are on and off their normal shopping cycles, but also when consumers who might have originally looked to be in an off-shopping cycle moment were actually still within their normal shopping pattern range. These simple seasonality-based adjustments resulted in an increase in model performance of approximately 88%.
What innovations are the Institute focusing on now and why?
Retail’s revolution requires brands to be smarter, faster, and more effective than ever before, so the Institute is focused on the future of alternative data and innovative technology, exploring things like artificial intelligence, virtual assistants and robotic process automation, and sensor data to improve consumer insights. It’s a fascinating time to be diving into these ideas. According to Tata Consultancy Services, more than four out of five companies view AI to be essential, and nearly half see it as a transformative technology. When looking at virtual assistants, Gartner estimates that by 2021, more than 50% of enterprises will spend more each year on bots and chatbot creation than traditional mobile app development. So, as these technologies become more and more central to the retail industry, our Institute is examining the value they can add to our brand partners and the customer experience.
What do you see as the most important part of the Institute’s approach to data, analytics, and innovation?
At Alliance Data, we truly understand that the customer is the only channel that matters, and so the Analytics and Insights Institute keeps the customer at the heart of everything we do. When we combine that filter with the power of our best-in-class data and precision-marketing expertise, the results are incredibly valuable to our brands’ overall businesses, and I find that genuinely exciting.
What energizes you about the future of data, technology, and innovation?
We are at a moment in history when so many innovations are at our fingertips. Not only do brands stand to benefit from those innovations, but so do customers. The experiences and memorable moments that we’re going to be able to create for consumers over the next few years are game-changing, and I’m looking forward to helping bring them to life.