By nickjohnson - July 17th, 2013

In the run up to the Incite Summit East, we  interviewed several of our leading corporate executive speakers. In this interview, we talk to Nora Denzel. Ms Denzel is now a director of Ericsson, Coinstar (the makers of Redbox), and Saba Software.  Up until September 2012 she was the SVP of Big Data and Marketing at Intuit.  We spent some time talking with her about the role of big data in consumer and small business marketing.


To kick things off, you were at Intuit for over 4 years, tell me about your role up until September 2012?


First, Intuit is an over $4B personal finance cloud company targeting the consumer and very small businesses.  It has leading brands such as Turbo Tax, Mint, Quicken and QuickBooks.  The company has over 50 million customers and growing.


My role was establishing and leading the Big Data strategy for the company. Our goal was to convert the insights from the data into value for our customers.  We called this strategy “Big Data for the Little Guy” meaning you didn’t have to a Fortune 500 company to benefit from the data insights.


How did the data portion of your job relate to the marketing portion?


At Intuit we recognized he evolution of marketing from a mantra of ‘sell’ to one of ‘service’.  We asked ourselves how we could use data to serve our customers better.  We wanted them to have an experience with us that so profoundly better they couldn’t imagine going back to what they had done before.


We used many things, along with data insights, to create amazing customer experiences.   However the name inside the company when were using data to enhance the customer experience was “data for delight”.


Can you give me one example of “data for delight”?


Sure.  As we observed small businesses, especially in the downturn we noticed something that virtually all had in common – the desire, almost primal need, to compare how they were doing versus other small businesses.


It could be a florist wanted to compare his or her revenue growth to other florists, or it could be the same florist wanting to know if any small businesses in their state or county were hiring new employees.


Observing business owners underscored that there was no place they could go, like the big companies could, to see how others were doing—even the US Government doesn’t’ report data or trends on the smallest of the small businesses (from 1 -10 employees). So small businesses were essentially operating in the dark when it came to how they were doing.


So what did you do to satisfy this need?


Quickly testing different ideas, we realized we had real time data that measured actual small business owner behavior – not their intended behavior as a marketing survey would – to answer their comparative questions.


So we issued a series of indices.  Indices which answered the businesses’ questions such as  ‘Is anyone hiring?’ ‘How does my revenue growth compare to others?’.  We decided early to make this new service available to all small businesses, those that were our customers and those who weren’t.


This is an example of marketing ‘serving’ our customers through the use of data, and not just using data to ‘sell’ to customers.


We’ve heard a lot about data privacy, how do programs like this deal with this issue?


Intuit has been providing financial services for over thirty years so the concept of data privacy isn’t something that is new.


Obviously complying with all the industry, state and local laws is table stakes in financial services.  One must go beyond what’s legally required and do a fair amount of self regulation.  To that end, companies like Intuit have clearly written data policies and provide easily-understood ‘opt-in’ and ‘opt-out’ policies when it comes to customer data.


At the end of the day financial services companies like Intuit are essentially selling ‘trust’.  So to behave in any way that erodes that trust would be opposite of the company core values.


Where does big data go in the future for marketers?


Big Data, or really big analytics and insights, get us closer to the marketing holy-grail—a more complete view into customer behavior, including their intent.  This is a marketer’s dream.


There are new tools to combine the transaction data (What have you bought from my company in the past?), with the behavioral data (How do you behave in my web store?), and with social data (What are you saying in public about certain topics including my services?).  Combining these together to harvest insights in a customers intent, sentiment and behaviors gives marketers more tools in their tool kit to service customers.


With the ability to harvest insights from Zettabytes of data we’re getting closer to making your customer experience similar to that in a small town where everyone knew who you were and knew what you liked.


Does this mean marketing gets more scientific?


I think marketing has always been a blend of art and science.  Today the science end has to do with the ability to measure almost everything often in real time—so in some sense the science is being used to inform the art in places that were unheard of just 5 years ago due to the lack of tools and storage capabilities.

We thank Nora Denzel, former SVP of Intuit’s Marketing and Big Data. If you'd like to hear more from Nora, you can download a recording of her speaking at Incite: Summit East held this September in New York City.  For more information visit (

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