Leading Effective Insights & Brand Strategy in a Digital World: The 4S Data Framework

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By David Dubois and Gilles Haumont

With the wave of increasing digital footprints in today’s technology-driven business landscape, more and more brands are stepping up their efforts in terms of harnessing data and extracting value from it. This article presents the next big thing about branding that is shaping consumer-driven data analytics.


Ancient romans depicted their god of time and transition, Janus, as having two faces – one looking into the past and the other into the future. Very much like Janus, most digital disruptions are two-sided; they bridge the (recent) past with the future, offering ever-increasing opportunities to build customer relationships. They indeed accumulate information from our past digital behaviours – from whom we talked to on social media to how we search and shop for products or the route we chose to go to work. This corpus of data is simply the largest repository of information ever produced – an open diary reflecting individuals’ thoughts, wants, fears, aspirations and feelings that brands can leverage to create future value.

In a digital world, the difference between success and failure increasingly rests on brand leaders’ ability to (1) understand and (2) act on digital insights.1 A useful analogy to unpack big data is to think about each bit of data (e.g., a search, a geotag log into social network, an email) as a footprint that customers leave along their journey. As of today, brand leaders can easily access/collect four main types of footprints, which we refer to as the 4S framework (see figure 1 ): social media behaviours (i.e., interactions with public content from social ç such as Twitter or Instagram), search behaviours (i.e., search queries performed on search engines about the brand/category), site behaviours (i.e., visitor pathways on the brand and associated websites) and shop behaviours (i.e., shopping activity on e-commerce platforms or one’s own website).




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About the Authors

David Dubois is Associate Professor of Marketing at INSEAD and Programme Director of Leading Digital Marketing Strategy, one of the school’s executive development programmes. You can follow him on Twitter @d1Dubois.

Gilles Haumont is Vice President, Luxury & Strategy, at TSquared Insights



1. Dubois, David (2017). “The Three Types of Big Data That Matter for CMOs” INSEAD Knowledge (September); Stephens-Davidowitz, S. (2017). Everybody Lies: Big Data, New Data, and What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are; HarperCollins

2. Humphreys, Ashlee, Mathew S. Isaac and Rebecca Jen-Hui Wang (2018). “Understanding the Relationship between Top of the Funnel Search Activities and CPG Purchase,” Chicago, IL: Intent Lab Working Paper.

3. Walasek, Lukasz, Bhatia, Sudeep and Brown, G. D. A. (Gordon D. A.). (2018). Positional goods and the social rank hypothesis: income inequality affects online chatter about high and low status brands on Twitter. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 28 (1). pp. 138-148.

4. Dubois, David, Inyoung Chae, Joerg Niessing and Jean Wee, “AccorHotels and the Digital Transformation: Enriching Experiences through Content Strategies along the Customer Journey,” INSEAD Case 08/2016-6241 and Teaching Note 08/2016-62415.                 

5. Stephens-Davidowitz, S. (2017). Everybody Lies: Big Data, New Data, and What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are; HarperCollins

6. Dubois, David (2016). “The Building Blocks of Digital Transformation: Intelligence, Integration and Impact”, The European Business Review (September).


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