To Prove Its Value, Put Big Data to Work Across the Business

Big Data sign hanging from ceilingBig data is big business. Gartner estimates that total software, social media, and IT services spending related to “big data” and analytics topped $28 billion worldwide in 2012. They and others are predicting continued growth.

Yet, at our NCDM: Where Marketing Meets Big Data conference last week, many keynote speakers and other session leaders decried “big data” as too much hype and not enough value for marketers. There was general agreement that most CMOs feel they need to do “something” with big data, but they are not sure what… or why.

Todd Cullen, chief data officer at Ogilvy & Mather, said that marketing leaders are “interested in big data but they don’t know why.” They are also anxious about big data because they don’t understand it, and feel they are falling behind. He suggested “small data is big, and big data is small,” as a new way of thinking about all the data that marketers access, and to help in planning a path forward.

Generally, I think the reason most marketers don’t succeed with big data is because they are lousy at using the information and data they already have. More data doesn’t make loose data analytics and marketing intelligence operations stronger. It only makes them weaker and less trustworthy.

So is anyone using big data successfully? Sure! There are many marketers who incorporate big data into ad retargeting and real-time page refreshes for product recommendations. There are many brands who can connect some portion of their social fans and followers to real people in their CRM database, and treat them differently. There are hundreds of campaign management approaches that incorporate customer scoring models, which are built from both structured and unstructured data.

I suggest that marketers stop thinking about marketing and start thinking about business success. If we break out of our own functional silo, we can make marketing analytics and our teams the center of a new customer-centric business intelligence group, which will enable customer knowledge and insights to permeate throughout every operational unit.

That is a pretty powerful and important role for marketing! It requires not only marketing analytics ingenuity and operational prowess, but also effective data stewardship. Trust is essential to customer connections, and to the responsible collection and use of customer data. Sure, it should be seamless, but with privacy such a hot topic today, marketers are wise to be purposeful in data stewardship, and promote their good efforts to customers.

According to the Gartner figures, software and database companies are big winners in this large new “big data economy.” Their research cites three big areas of business growth around big data:

  1. Companies with a tradition of fact-based decision making. Gartner puts Procter & Gamble and UPS as exemplars in this area. These are companies that use data to make fact-based decisions, and have infused their culture with that level of accountability to market and customer. This is essential to any organization wanting to become customer-centric and benefit from the loyalty and trust that are essential to marketing and business success. UPS uses data to optimize the efficiency of the fleet and the productivity of their drivers. That customer experience extends to their digital properties as well, and is fed by social and website data. 
  2. Engineering and research functions. Gartner says that many engineering firms rely on big data to make critical operation decisions. This includes oil and gas exploration firms using seismic and geological data and pharmaceutical firms processing DNA and healthcare data.
  3. The best web-native companies. Gartner says that the companies that connect with customers only via the Internet can capture enormous amounts of data about customer behavior. This is the perfect big data opportunity for making fact-based decisions. Gartner cites the widespread use of A/B/C testing for web experiences to gather and optimize in real time Product designers are often shocked to learn how bad their instincts are, the research says.

I know this is a gross over-simplification, but the first and third categories are essentially marketing activities. When we create services that are so good, they become marketing (and marketing so good, it’s a service!), then we are on the way to a richer level of customer centricity. That is only possible if we embrace big data as a business driver, not just a marketing analytics asset.

How are you using big data today? I’ll share more insights from the conference in my next column, but would love to hear if people truly see big data making a difference in your marketing operations. Please comment below.

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