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Big Data!

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Getting Started With Big Data

What is all this talk about “big data,” and why all the hubbub?

These days, business is increasingly data-driven. In marketing, what was distinguished as “digital marketing” is increasingly just called “marketing.” In this new era of marketing, we’re able to collect all kinds of data that can help us not only tailor our marketing messages and offers to individual customers, but also predict their future behavior, anticipate their needs, and be ready to delight them by meeting their needs as they occur.


Big DataWhat is Big Data?

One definition of big data is that it is the explosion of data coming from many different sources, resulting in data sets that are too large to cost-effectively interpret using traditional IT techniques. According to IDC, the world’s data is doubling every two years, and we are creating more data in a single day than existed in the year 2000! Not only that, it was recently estimated that 90% of the world’s data has been created in the past two years.

Sources of this data are everywhere:

  • Retail checkout stands – purchases and coupons redeemed
  • Google analytics
  • Email marketing and marketing automation platforms
  • CRM platforms
  • Social media tracking – posts, likes and followings on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, Instagram, Pinterest and more
  • Mobile device activity
  • Geotagging / location data
  • And more…

However, the above definition isn’t necessarily practical for most of us, particularly marketers at smaller companies. We need actionable data, in chunks that are small enough for us to process without needing a supercomputer, so we can make good decisions about how to focus our marketing, and so we can design our marketing automation programs to deliver personalized content and experiences to our prospects and customers. Most of us have neither the time nor the tools to wade through mountains of data to gain this insight.

A better working definition for our purposes then is this: big data refers to the potential amounts of data we can now readily gain and interpret about our customers, and the potential benefits of harnessing such data. Even a little data can go a long way, so just getting started will help you to gain the benefits of a big data approach.

Using data to focus our marketing efforts is actually nothing new. We’ve been doing that for many decades. But, the easy availability of massive amounts of data and the ability to harness it are exponentially greater than ever before.

In other words, this is a big deal for marketers.


Marketing Benefits

Gathering, analyzing and acting on customer data will allow you to:

  • Further engage with existing customers. Amazon.com is a master at this, making purchase recommendations to its customers based on their past purchases.
  • Target customers based on behavior. Instead of developing generic marketing approaches based on groups of people who share demographic characteristics, you’ll be able to tailor messaging and offers specifically to individual customers based on their actual behaviors and preferences.
  • See new marketing opportunities. Tracking customer preferences, comments and social media posts could reveal missing product features you should develop to win more customers.
  • Better measure marketing campaign results. Analyze all that data on impressions, clicks, conversions, social media interactions and other behaviors to gain a true picture of how your SEO, PPC and other online activities are performing.


Implication: One-to-One Marketing

In the past, marketers relied on survey data and focus groups to inform their creative approaches aimed at mass audiences. Terms like “statistically significant” and “standard deviations” were important because it was understood that the data merely suggested what was true about the entire target market based on interpretations of data gained from small samples. This was the order of the day in the “Mad Men” era and persisted through the ’80s and ’90s.

But in the past decade we’ve undergone a transition to a globally connected digital and mobile infrastructure that enables the gathering of highly accurate behavioral and preference data from massive samples of people, while at the same time gives us the ability to dynamically target messages and offers specifically to individuals.

Think about what this means for a second. Here’s a hypothetical but very realistic example: you and I could go to a movie theater together, each with our mobile phones enabled with location services. Based on data gathered about us from our previous online activities and retail purchases, we might simultaneously receive texts on our phones for different things – you to purchase buttered popcorn and a soda, and me to buy Red Vines licorice and a bottle of water. Better still, we’re happy to receive these reminders, because as it turns out, you really enjoy eating buttered popcorn and sipping soda during movies, and I really love snacking on Red Vines and washing it down with bottled water while I watch a flick. Not only that, you might be texted with a discount code to watch the new Avengers movie when it comes out in a month, while I receive a similar discount on the new Steve Carell comedy debuting in a few weeks – both based on data about movie tickets we’ve bought in the past, as well as, perhaps, movies we’ve each watched on Netflix.

Now we can fine-tune creative approaches to match individual tastes and past behaviors. And thanks to advances in marketing automation and CRM, we can do it automatically.


Getting Started: Marketing Meets IT

We’ve talked about a shift from mass-market creative to laser-focused creative based on rich individual data. Making sense of this data and determining how it influences our marketing efforts will be the job of data analysts. Indeed, a growing function within marketing departments is data analysis, and dedicated personnel who can perform this function are in growing demand. Equally in demand is technology for gathering, analyzing and displaying actionable data in real time dashboards, as well as for conducting automated lead nurturing with personalization. That’s why CRM and marketing automation platforms are so hot right now, and there has been increasing talk of the line blurring between CMOs and CTOs.


Marketing Automation: A Good Start

We’ve talked a lot in this blog about marketing automation, and with good reason. If you’ve got a marketing automation platform in place (here’s a list with major providers), you’re already on the path to harnessing big data. Your marketing automation platform is constantly collecting behavioral and demographic data about your prospects as they interact with your website and consume your online content. With modest programming effort, this data, along with additional prospect data from your CRM, can be collected and presented in a dashboard so you can easily track trends. Then you can make informed decisions about tailoring your marketing automation platform to deliver messages and offers that are personally relevant to each individual prospect.

But this is only the beginning. There are now many online data collection tools that can complement your marketing automation platform and CRM to give you even more detailed pictures of your prospects’ behaviors and preferences, with data gained not only from your own website but also social media, e-commerce sites and other places where your customers are active.



Big data is no small topic. This blog post is meant to give you a very basic introduction. We hope to have whetted your appetite for putting big data to work for you. The next step is to learn more, and to that end, we’ve found some good online resources for getting started:

To dig to the next level of understanding big data, we recommend this ebook from IBM:

Are you already engaged in using “big data?” If so, we’d love for you to share your experiences with this blog community, as well as any other comments you’d like to contribute on this topic.

Here’s to the Marketing Champion in all of us. See you in the next post.




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