Marketing Cruncher

Monday, 5 December 2011

Drowning in the Sea of Big Data

To say that we are now swimming in enormous amounts of data is in itself an enormous understatement. To get an idea, this video from The Economist says we'll be creating 2,720 exabytes of data in 2012. With the sheer number of numbers being tossed around, it's no wonder why Big Data keeps CMOs up at nightAs a result, we're now seeing a proliferation of research/analytics/datasolutions companies that aim to make sense out of Big Data for us. But will investing in Big Data really generate value for marketers?

I do believe the best choices are informed choices. However, the incoming data deluge is making it more and more challenging for marketers to make those informed choices. Utilizing Big Data can involve substantial investments and so misusing it can turn out to be more costly than beneficial. Nevertheless, the rewards of knowing how to use it properly will be substantial. Here are some things that I think will be key in maximizing value from big data:
  1. Optimizing the Process - Just as supply chains are carefully designed to efficiently transform raw materials into products to be delivered to the end consumer, organizations as well should be carefully designed to efficiently transform data into action. With a lot of new metrics especially in the digital age now being used to measure pretty much everything, it can be hard to keep track. Establishing new (or even revamping existing) organizational processes to facilitate the efficient collection, utilization and dissemination of data will be crucial. This involves not only being equipped with appropriate tools (e.g. software) to process data but also organizing people who have a stake in the data in a way that makes the most sense. For instance, this might require bridging gaps of communication with other departments that the marketing team doesn't typically work with.
  2. Knowing the limits - Sometimes, the costs of incorporating data (in terms of time or actual dollars spent) into marketing initiatives might outweigh its benefits. It might turn out, for example, that a highly personalized product designed from granular customer information isn't something that the customer really wants or becomes too costly to produce. Marketers should know when to stop and keep the focus on the specific data that generate the most value.
  3. Taking it with a grain of salt - Even with all my belief in hard numbers, there are still just some things that are unquantifiable. For instance, try as they may, social networking sites can't tell you how many "friends" any single person truly has. At the end of the day, people will be making the decisions, not numbers. Data should work with and not replace sound judgment based on intuition and experience.
Big Data can be intimidating for any marketer. And the fact of the matter is that there still is a lot to learn in this realm. With some proper footing however, I do think that organizations can rise above the current and transform Big Data into a source of sustainable competitive advantage.

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