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The coming of age for online data analysis

For a few years now, we have been bombarded everyday about the latest gadget, appliance or website that is going to transform our lives both at work and at home writes Daniel Guest, head of itarget.net, Wegener Direct Marketing.

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Things are certainly changing. For example, who would have thought five years ago that this Christmas, two-thirds of Brits are predicted to make a purchase online and expected to spend approximately £3.34bn?

Even though many people are starting to find the convenience of online shopping a huge benefit to their lives, technological revolutions are still few and far between. But in the work place, online technology is definitely beginning to have an effect on data analysis and the way it is conducted.

Online analysis is really starting to come into its own. It's helping to speed up the time it takes for brands to profile their customers and prospects - essential in today's world of 24/7 when time is of the essence.

Traditional profiling techniques through a bureau can take anything up to a couple of weeks, but online technology allows users to produce profile reports in minutes using their own browser.

There are specific tools available that allow users to profile customers in as much or as little depth as they want. Add to this the power of the new Census data, lifestyle data and "build your own classification" type technologies, and marketers can create and test different customer segments with ease.

This means that users no longer have to invest large sums of money in desktop profiling tools, training, licence fees and data directories -- instead they can simply log-on and use what they need, when they need it.

Creating customer groups and translating these segments easily to any data source is a challenge facing many of us. To do this, you need access to quality data and the ability to try different strategies quickly, easily and cost effectively. The online medium is perfect for this type of interactive analysis, as it allows users to carry on with other important tasks, only returning to pick up the results or start the next analysis.

Being online doesn't mean losing any flexibility either. Users can discover how their customers compare to the UK, certain regions or even to other customer and prospect files. Some online tools even build predictive targeting models and will identify the best postcodes or postal sectors to target, essential when planning campaigns.

So what do these technological advances mean for marketers? Quite simply it means marketers can be in charge of how they choose to profile and target their customers. Additionally, it means that access to profiling data will become wider and no longer limited to data specialists.

One of the growing problems in the industry is the lack of data specialists. Few companies have the ability to develop, manage, implement and evaluate their data strategies because traditionally, a diverse set of skills and expertise is required.

With online analysis coming of age, data planning no longer has to be for the statistician alone. Online analysis is allowing marketers to quickly get up to speed on profiling and analysing data without having to learn a whole new skill set, giving them more power, speed and availability, for far less hassle and cost.

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