Big Data: What Do Marketers Need to Know?

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When I first heard the phrase “big data,” I thought about the early computers, those Frankensteinian behemoths that helped change the world. The picture below (circa 1945) is the Electronic Numerical Integrator And Computer (ENIAC), the first general-purpose electronic digital computer. It was 150 feet wide, with 20 banks of flashing lights, and about 300 times faster than its predecessor, the Mark 1. This US Army photo from the archives of the ARL Technical Library shows programmers Gloria Ruth Gordon [Bolotsky] and Ester Gerston at work on the ENIAC.

Big Data Today

Today’s Big Data is a completely different beastie: immense, ubiquitous, and intangible. IBM says:

“…Every day, we create 2.5 quintillion bytes of data — so much that 90% of the data in the world today has been created in the last two years alone. (Businessweek puts this in context: By comparison, all of the earth’s oceans contain 352 quintillion gallons of water; if bytes were buckets, it would only take about 20 weeks of information gathering to fill the seas.) Big  data comes from everywhere: sensors used to gather climate information, posts to social media sites, digital pictures and videos, purchase transaction records, and cell phone GPS signals to name a few. This data is big data. Big data is any type of data – structured, and unstructured such as text, sensor data, audio, video, click streams, log files and more.” Big data spans four dimensions: Volume, Velocity, Variety, and Veracity.

  • An example of volume: Could we turn 12 terabytes of tweets created each day into improved product sentiment analysis?
  • An example of velocity:Could we analyze 500 million daily call detail records in real-time to predict customer churn faster?
  • An example of variety: Could we exploit the 80% data growth in images, video and documents to improve customer satisfaction?
  • An example of veracity (or the lack thereof): 1 in 3 business leaders don’t trust the information they use to make decisions. Establishing trust in big data presents a huge challenge as the variety and number of sources grows.

The same things that characterize Big Data in the aggregate also apply to the data marketers are concerned with for their specific purposes. According to Steve McKee, writing on Bloomberg Businessweek on small business and marketing, big data is not just for big businesses. “Data analytics is just another tool to increase revenue and maximize profitability. For any size business to stay competitive, it’s imperative to get a handle on its data because its counterparts are. IBM’s vice president of enterprise marketing management, Yuchun Lee, suggests a very simple starting point: a company’s website. ‘Where there’s traffic online,’ Lee says, ‘there’s opportunity for Big Data.’”

For marketers, this means that the data that flows from website visitor tracking reports, email marketing, social media reporting, real-time reporting and analytics  and more can be integrated and parsed to reveal what prospects and customers actually respond to. McKee addresses the role social media plays: “For marketers, social media’s initial promise was brands’ ability to interact with their fans in real time. Now its bigger value may lie in analyzing those conversations to determine customer sentiment, identify product improvements, head off nascent public relations crises, and understand evolving needs and perceptions.”

As marketing has transitioned from How We Sell to How They Buy, learning what “they” think and feel and want helps you orient your marketing to what works. Getting your slice of Big Data will help you get there.

Read more:
IBM’s Big Data overview
Bloomberg Businessweek: Big Data Can Make a Big Difference in Marketing

Start the conversation: Aside from revenue, what are the most telling numbers you work with?

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  • http://www.iGrafx.com Guedo Fanony

    Its definitely important to think about big data when you are dealing with your own data. When you look at the big picture and what happens across the board, it can help you manage your data on a much smaller scale (in most cases). However, following every bit of data might get a little overwhelming at times.

  • Jeff

    “Data analytics is just another tool to increase revenue and maximize profitability…” You can learn a lot about your potential and existing customers from analyzing your data. It will also help you determine what’s working and what’s not working so well in your online marketing strategies.

  • http://www.jacobcurtis.co Jacob Curtis

    I love how you mentioned the value lies in analyzing the conversations you now have access to via social media. I’d also include product development as well, not just product improvements.

    Think about how much resources you waste on development and advertising when you “guess” what your customer wants. By analyzing these conversations you can save a lot more resources if done right. Very powerful!

    • Mike Compeau

      BINGO. I’ve seen so many disasters in NPD as a result of the failure to really listen to what was being “screamed” from the field by customers. A construct for receiving and understanding the input is necessary. But such tools exist in the standard VOC methodologies — it’s just that sadly, so few marketers are really trained in these, and come into their roles from MarComm and not from more (dare I say it) disciplined realms of the arena.

  • Tim

    Data is definitely important to marketing. As digital marketing has evolved and inbound marketing has become increasingly important to B2B marketers, the more data we can have on our website visitors the better. The increased web analytics data that act-on provides is very valuable to an organization, Being able to determine who is on your site, what they are looking at and in real time is the type of data that allows a sales team to strike while the prospect is hit. Its kind of like an online B2B version of the point of sale displays in retail. Be available when your prospects are most interested din your website. Being highly responsive to prospects when they are interested and looking is something that website analytic data has made possible.

  • http://www.mybusinessintegrated.com Chris Kiersch

    If you can spend a little time each day 15 minutes the value will compile into big results. It’s a marathon, sprinter’s are very good at marketing automation:) Cheers, Chris

  • Dani Calvert

    Maintaining a handle on data is so important – it can often seem daunting and overwhelming to look at all of the figures, but tackling the statistics daily can help to spread it out into manageable material. I agree that it’s so completely necessary to understand and evaluate the customer base (including potential customers).

  • Greg Palmer

    This is a great high-level overview of big data and how to analyze it. I would love to see more in depth coverage on the topic and real world examples of this in action…using ActOn products of course.

    The biggest disconnect for me, is more often than not, people simply say something along the lines of “analyze the data to see the results”. While this is all well and good, it doesn’t actually say much. Looking at numbers, for a lot of people, is daunting. How can we make big data more appealing and accessible to marketers of all types?

  • Brittany

    I love to integrate multimedia as a way to present information. These days, people don’t want to read as much, maybe a little, but usually only if it’s brief. Show them and they’re more likely to pay attention to you in the little free time they have.

  • http://www.taos.com Dave Gross

    A big part of our marketing is done through knowing what our customers don’t want as much as what they do. Less is more and time is everything. We know that people have the ability to take everything with them evrywhere now so how do you become one of those things that they actually acknowledge and interact with rather than carry around like a pet rock?

  • Jonathan

    It’s crazy to think that just “90% of the data in the world today has been created in the last two years alone”. We’re just standing at the tip of the iceberg, how do you think things are going evolve over the next 5 years?

  • http://overnitecbt.com thomas craft

    Couldn’t agree more. Our company has been using this philosophy in regards to big data and using it to adjust to what our potential client base responds to and what our current client base would like to see. As an organization we feel it is in our best interest to track and breakdown data from all of our platforms online and not just our website.

  • http://www.firstcal.net Kat

    Data seems to be more important than ever however a correct interpretation of that data is really important. Being able to segment data to market to specific audiences is key to making sure your message is heard.

  • http://twitter.com/LisaLaura Lisa L

    I completely agree with Kat; what you do with that data is most important – collecting what you need to know to segment properly is ideal.

  • Brad

    John Battelle has a really cool post about this topic as well. On thing he said that really stuck with me was that Big Data is something we haven’t even started to understand. It is something that’s significance can’t be overstated. The simple reason he gives is that “Big Data” is our way of defining every single entity that matters to us, and then making that liquid to to world. If you think about the shear magnitude of that concept and the potential uses of quantifying that information, it will just make your head spin.

    Collecting, defining, and using this data would certainly create competitive advantages for businesses, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t offer up a word of warning. Having access to this level of information about individuals brings with it an inherent level of responsibility to protect that information. Business that use the information for marketing but don’t properly secure it are setting themselves up for horrible long-term repercussions.

  • Bobby Holt

    The biggest issue with big data is that most people either don’t know how to store it or how to use it. There’s an incredible amount of information within it. However, getting a chance to use it lies the biggest secret. Breaking down what would be relevant and what isn’t is a large step to making sure that the information doesn’t bog you down. Using web traffic and social media can really help you expand your business and find more opportunities. Great article.

    • Megan Larson

      Storing and managing that data is an important point to consider, but also triangulating that data with other systems in order to get actionable information as a marketer.

  • David Bonan

    I have actually just been involved with two webinars on Big Data and they are both available on dynamicscafe.com ! Big data can be of value to corporations of all sizes and it needs to be clean.

  • Mike Compeau

    Crunching numbers as marketers has always meant asking the right questions of the data. Any market researcher with more than a few months experience knows that the wisdom isn’t at the surface–in the flat report of results to each question–but in the “cross-tabs”; The insight comes from gazing into the mind of the customer and wondering about the WHY questions, forming hypotheses (like good scientists), and then “asking the question” of the data.

    Marketing automation VENDORS should be seeking to Create a tool to allow the flexible positioning of the data, as one positions various polarizing filters to selectively filter out wavelengths of light to illuminate Truth heretofore hidden. Reporting of the ‘flat data’ should be assumed. Intelligent, forward thinking vendors will move beyond this to crafting intelligent algorithms based on fundamental client-set parameters that will illuminate anomalies, patterns, and consistent outcomes.

    When the standard for Government “big data” becomes so immense we can hardly get our heads around it (think Carnivore and ARGUS – http://youtu.be/13BahrdkMU8) we are coming close to the issue explored by Baudrillard and developed in “The Matrix” (See http://www9.georgetown.edu/faculty/irvinem/theory/baudrillard-simulacra_and_simulation.pdf)

    So, what will be the model for our brave new world of behavioral prediction?

  • http://twitter.com/matthewmilad Matt A

    I think the most important thing with big data is to make sure that the data is both accurate and relevant. More caution is needed as the data gets bigger and is managed through multiple systems.

  • Megan Larson

    It can be overwhelming to step into big-data marketing. With Act-On we have access to much more information about our customers, but honestly the reporting functionality makes it difficult to parse out important info or trends. Hopefully newer releases to the Act-On platform will help us to really get meaningful, actionable data from all that is available.

  • http://twitter.com/pepper__shaker Todd Holbrook

    I’ve recently read in addition to this post that we live in a world where data has grown vastly exponentially than it was just a decade ago. In an increasingly technological, cloud-centered world, that will only grow. Even small businesses are putting their data analytics out there, and it needs to be tracked and managed. Definitely a big space to fill.

  • Zachary Winnie

    Tracking data through analytics is very important and can help an organization make decisions about what marketing strategies work and which ones don’t. I’ve found that it’s very time consuming though, and getting something real and meaningful out of mountains of data can be a struggle.

  • http://twitter.com/kdelucia22 Kristen DeLucia

    We spend a lot of time using our data to see which types of content converts to the most number of qualified leads. There is a big difference between a white paper with 300 downloads that results in 2 leads and a webinar with 20 attendees where we get 5 leads.

  • Sarah

    Now this is the kind of article I like to see. My company analyzes data constantly to make sure we’re working smarter, not harder to accomplish our goals.