The CEO of one of Cincinnati's fastest growing companies challenged the winners of Cincy Magazine's Tristate Success Awards (TSA) to understand the power of big data and how to use it to reward existing customers.

"There are no silver bullets, by the way. But when you make decisions across the board based on your customers, you win," Stuart Aitken, CEO of dunnhumbyUSA, told TSA award winners at the Sharonville Convention Center April 9.

In its fourth year, the TSAs, created on the premise that the region's strength as a business center is built on the growth of its businesses, recognized nearly 50 large and small companies that grew revenue and employment last year.

New this year: three companies received special awards for the largest percentage growth in employment. They were Ingage Partners, 15 or fewer employees; Without a Doubt Truck Repair, 16 to 55 employees; and RoundTower Technologies, 55 or more employees.

Over the last decade, dunnhumbyUSA, a joint venture of the Kroger Co. and the United Kingdom's dunnhumbyLtd, has gone from three employees to 650 and grown its annual revenues to $340 million by helping some of the area's biggest companies such as Kroger, Procter & Gamble and Macy's reward their best customers.

"If you think of customers in a big bucket," Aitken says, "too many companies focus on turning on another faucet to fill the bucket. We focus on plugging the hole in the bucket."

Started 25 years ago by husband-and-wife team of Clive Humby and Edwina Dunn, dunnhumby uses data to understand clients' customers and what they like and don't like.

It's based on the idea that if you reward customers, they'll buy more of your products.

It goes beyond demographics to measure not their similarities but their personal preferences.

"You and I may live next door to each other and each have 2.5 kids," says Aitken, a native of Scotland. "But I eat the haggis and you wouldn't touch it with a lodge pole."

Using dunnhumby's expertise, Kroger rewards customers with coupons and discounts for the things they purchase, not items they don't. The power of that idea is behind Kroger's dramatic growth over the last decade. The supermarket chain has grown for 37 consecutive quarters.

"Ninety-five percent of Kroger's growth is from its existing customers, not new customers," Aitken says.

The exponentially growing volume of data from Facebook (700,000 new posts every minute), Twitter and other social media sites is giving businesses unprecedented opportunities to not only reward their customers, but turn them into advocates for the products they like.

Aitken said Cincinnati's expertise in consumer branding and marketing gives the region an edge over other parts of the country in understanding and utilizing big data and personalization in rewarding business customers.

Support for this year's TSA event was provided by platinum sponsors Humana and First Financial Bank; sponsors Flagel Huber Flagel and ITA Audio Visual Solutions; and partners Northern Kentucky Tri-County Economic Development Corp., Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments and the Sharonville Chamber of Commerce.