Marketers, Are You Sinking or Swimming in the Ocean of Big Data?

Big data is called big data for a reason – it’s big. Repetitive, I know. The overall hugeness of big data requires repetition to truly drive the point home, though. In the case of big data for marketing, it’s huge for two reasons. First, because of the huge implications it has for the future of sales and marketing. Second, because it’s a huge amount of data.

Defined by Inc. as “a collection of data sets so large and complex that it becomes difficult to process using traditional data processing applications,” big data’s growth shows no signs of slowing down. According to CSC research, by the year 2020, there will have been an estimated 4,300% increase in annual data generation.

Big data in marketing was born from the shift to digital marketing and thus, will drive digital marketing into unexplored and ambitious territories. The data resulting from digital is allowing marketers to see transparently into the online behavior, buying behavior, audience locations, social media interactions, mobile usage, audience operating systems, and more. It is creating a whole new context and landscape for marketers to operate in.

The Implications of Big Data on the Future of Marketing

In truth, big data could affect marketing and overall customer or client relationships in endless ways. It can be pretty confidently assumed that big data will lead to improved customer and client service, audience relationships, audience engagement, and overall marketing performance.

Specifically, though, over the next few years we’ll see big data make the following impacts on organizations and their marketing teams:

  • The application of big data will allow marketing efforts and resources to be more precisely allocated.
  • Prospect and audience targeting will become more granular and accurate.
  • Sales efforts will become more data-driven, thanks to increases in pipeline forecasting veracity.
  • Real-time data will become more accessible and will allow salespeople and marketers alike to be more agile and responsive.
  • Marketers will become more reliant on technologies that help to manage, analyze, and explain big data findings.
  • Measurement of overall marketing impact as well as individual marketing successes will become more precise, increasing attribution accuracy.

Unlike platforms such as marketing automation—which is in its heyday as I discussed last week—full adoption of big data into strategies and processes will likely not hit its stride for a while. Naturally, adoption will begin with the larger enterprise companies that have more resources to invest in processing technologies and more to gain from mining their existing databases, which are likely already quite sizable.

Still, the little guys won’t be left behind for long as they will need to catch up to the new marketing standard being set by the leaders utilizing big data to their advantage. While the early adopters may struggle with the best ways to manage and utilize big data, they will reap the benefits early on. The late adopters, though, will benefit from the ability to follow in the footsteps of those before them with ease.

Big Data is Not a Good Thing

Go back and read that line a second time, maybe even a third time. Big data is not, on its own, a good thing. It’s also not a bad thing on its own. In and of itself, big data is pretty neutral.

Like so many big (no pun intended), buzzy happenings in marketing, big data has taken on a reputation of omnipotence in the sales and marketing world. The term big data gets thrown around as if it’s a kind of Holy Grail, the key to an ultimate, sought after source of knowledge.

If there’s anything I learned in my time studying statistics, though, it’s that numbers may not lie but they also don’t necessarily tell the truth. The stories that numbers and data tell depend entirely on how you gather, analyze, and interpret them. And what you gain from those data stories depends on how you handle them and what you do with them. In fact, big data can be a negative thing if it’s not properly understood, analyzed, and implemented.

Most marketers struggle with knowing which data to gather and analyze, how to analyze this data and what tools to use to do this. They also likely struggle with figuring out how to make seemingly unrelated data tell a story and how to make the leap from strategic insight to strategic action.

If it’s handled right, though, big data will open that Pandora’s Box of knowledge you’ve been seeking all this time.

So, Will You Sink or Swim?

While every situation is unique, there are some specific best practices that marketing teams can follow to ensure they get the most from big data–instead of getting lost.

  1. Select a big data champion who intimately understands the nature of big data as well as the way it plays into marketing efforts. This person will own your efforts and will help to keep the rest of your team educated on the importance of big data.
  2. Invest in tools to help you deal with big data and help implement your big data findings.
  3. Begin by focusing on a few areas, objectives, or goals you want to look into. That way, you’re not overwhelmed by all of the possibilities and information associated with big data.
  4. Don’t rest on surface-level observations. No matter how impactful the data might seem from a 10,000-foot view, it’s nothing if not combined with research and best practices and then implemented into your strategy.
  5. Assist your data analysts in communicating with your marketing and sales specialists. In other words, elect a translator to help your data analysts speak the language of marketing and vice versa.
  6. Share your big data findings with every person involved in aspects of sales, marketing, and customer or client relationships. Ensure that these findings are not just known, but are also pulled into strategies and goals.

Also, if you’re one of the organizations I talked about above that won’t be able to wet its feet with big data anytime soon (e.g., you lack resources or infrastructure to support the use of big data), there’s hope yet.  Simply staying on top of the wave and keeping yourself abreast of the best data management strategies will allow you to seize the moment when big data becomes a possibility for your organization.


Diving into the challenge that is big data management, analysis, and implementation is nothing to take lightly. With the right people, tools, and mindset, though, you too can effectively explore the ocean of big data.


Did you like this post? Let us know why (or why not) in the comments. In the meantime, check out our blog Abandoning the Marketing Campaign: How to Think Long Term and discover the ways utilizing big data can help you adopt the long-term mindset that it necessary for long-term success.


About Fathom Team Member

Leave a Reply