Turning Big Data into Actionable Marketing Intelligence

To a good 21st-century marketer, the most-hyped IT buzzword of this year (so far) is largely meaningless unless you are able to associate it with practical, positive effects on marketing activities and business decisions.

To illustrate this point, consider the trend line for “big data” over the course of the last year as seen in Google Insights for Search (below). The relative search interest is clearly surging through the first 5 months of this year (see blue line):

What’s unfortunate, though, is that the same search interest does not exist for “big revenue”— note the decidedly flat red line. While I am sure there are reasonable explanations for this, the current lack of popular association between Big Data and “big revenue” presents an opportunity for CMOs to connect some dots between their marketing budgets and robust ROI.

That being said, here’s why savvy marketers should be correlating Big Data with “big revenue” in their daily practices:

1. It’s about intelligence.

Knowing what to ignore (see “noise cancellation” below), and knowing what a real trend indicates: This knowledge will lead you to make more intelligent decisions about marketing messages, timing and channels.

2. It’s about speed.

Real-time adjustments in messaging and campaigns can lead to incremental improvements via enhanced treatment that continues the lead-nurturing or accelerates buyers into the transactional stage of conversion. Just as milliseconds of data-center processing time gives financial trading systems a competitive advantage, the minutes, hours or days you save through mid-course corrections to your latest email campaigns, for example, can yield significant incremental lift in your message open rates, click-thru rates and ultimately, transactions.

3. It’s about noise cancellation.

Just like high-end Bose headphones, you need to cancel out signals that distract you from the sweet harmonies in your data input:

“Big data practitioners consistently report that 80% of the effort involved in dealing with data is cleaning it up in the first place.”

–Edd Dumbill, “What is big data?” via O’Reilly Radar.

4. It’s about more than CRM.

Consider how Dr. Peter Fader, co-director of the Wharton School of Business, compares Big Data to CRM (also a serious buzz word): “Like big data, the CRM concept focused on collecting and analyzing transactional information, but failed to achieve its given goal.”

So, why would Big Data be any different? Maybe because Big Data as applied to marketing encompasses more than CRM: Info from platforms like Salesforce.com are only one of its many components.  Perhaps it’s also because of the capacity of Big Data (applied correctly) to provide a richer depth of information and more powerful subsequent segmentation in real-time inbound messaging strategy than any one CRM alone could.

5. It’s about helping your country.

This may not be the most persuasive argument, but don’t laugh. As Steve Lohr noted in The New York Times a few months ago (“The Age of Big Data“), a 2011 McKinsey Global Institute report projected that the United States needs an additional:

  • 140K–190K workers with “deep analytical” expertise
  • 1.5 million data-literate managers (retrained or hired)

Employ Big-Data people (whether in-house or outsourced), and you’re not only helping your own marketing bottom line, but you’re also creating crucial new knowledge jobs that keep America competitive in an increasingly global economy.

Now that’s “Data we can believe in.”

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