SINGAPORE: Brand owners like Unilever, PayPal and Telstra are heightening their focus on marketing analytics in Asia Pacific, as they seek to understand the rapid shifts taking place across the region.

In a new report, the CMO Council, the trade body, partnered with SAS, the software provider, to conduct qualitative research with 24 senior executives from various nations.

Most firms were emphasising "market listening" to acquire insights but are "not there yet". Unilever, the FMCG giant, is an example, as it has teams that study marketing and retail data, but no equivalent for user-generated digital material at present.

"I think one of the reasons for that is because we feel the investments are much higher in this area than the returns, because the FMCG category is not as involved," said Rudratej Singh, Unilever's global brand director, marketing. "It certainly makes a big difference in our medium-to-long-term strategies."

Interviewees also typically argued that the existing data were inadequate, incomplete, out-of-date or tailored for functions like finance and billing, and not customer-centric.

Geoffrey Kerry, the Commonwealth Bank of Australia's head of analytics, said "We are doing a lot of exploration, looking at how to more effectively capture that data, store, analyse, and more importantly, how to act on and disseminate it."

An additional challenge lies in generating actionable insights. ING BOB Life Insurance, trading in China, is currently creating an integrated data set combining customer, call centre and sales data.

"It will make all the difference in terms of which campaigns we can launch and which ones we cannot," said Pieter Bas Vos, its CMO. "We'll be able to distinguish customers. I expect the success ratio, or the pick-up ratio, to at least double, which makes our marketing dollars much better spent."

Liz Moore, the head of analytics at Telstra, the telecoms group, warned that companies must be willing to dedicate sufficient resources to this aspect of their activity.

"As we move closer to real-time data analytics and improve one-to-one marketing strategies, there are investments that need to be made along the value chain to make that work," she said. "Some of it involved turning up the functionality, and some of it requires getting the data strategy and feeds right."

Firms in the telecoms, banking and insurance sectors are due to allocate some 20% of their budgets to this discipline going forward. PayPal, the payments provider, should reach this benchmark in 2013.

"We are seeing that we can do a lot more in mobile, so data has helped us make the decision to put in extra dollars into mobile," added Yogesh Sangle, the firm's regional head of marketing.

Data sourced from CMO Council; additional content by Warc staff