What Is Big Data: A Guide For CMOs

Big Data is a Big Topic for 2013. But what’s it all about, and what does it mean for marketers? Sometimes it’s easy to dismiss the latest buzz-word and to want to sit it out until the hype dies down – but you could be exposing your business to risk.

Here’s what CMOs need to know.

What Is Big Data?

As everything we do in the world increasingly becomes digitized – like eCommerce, hanging out with friends via social networking, or how your waiter now enters your order through a handheld device at your table – the amount of data being collected is exploding.

Big Data is the term that has been widely adopted to describe the large amounts of data now available to organizations (more on terminology at the bottom).

Big Data Growth

Why Has Big Data Become So Important, So Quickly?

The increasing volume and detail of the information captured is growing exponentially. A few years ago this meant data could be managed by a few in-house specialists, but today the implications of data are now wide reaching.

There are logistical challenges in managing, sorting, and maintaining this data; but there are also the subsequent benefits from having these large quantities of data available.

McKinsey’s recent report suggests, “Leaders in every sector will have to grapple with the implications of big data.” So what will the implications be for CMOs?

Big Data And Marketing

Marketers need to be aware of the impact of Big Data in three key ways -

1) Big Data Will Become The Basis For Competitive Advantage

Big Data can support almost every single marketing objective – from deeper customer profiling and targeting, to campaign analysis and even predictive analytics. Overall, most industry experts agree that Big Data, when handled effectively, will improve marketers’ decision making.

The near future: All digital marketing planning, tracking, and measurement will be supported by sophisticated “dashboards” updated with real-time insights enabling marketers to rapidly deploy activities and continually optimize.

What you need to do today: Set up a meeting with your in-house analyst, analytics agency, or CIO to discuss current status of data, the businesses road map, and how marketing is going to be impacted.

Some organizations are setting up in-house Big Data “working groups.” Does your organization have one? Bag yourself a seat at the table or suggest the idea to your CIO and CEO.

2) Creative Will Take A Back Seat To The Analysts

Traditionally marketers develop “…“big ideas” around 30-second TV spots and then try to coordinate their radio, print, and online campaigns to match.” [Source] But with the majority of adults across the globe not only online but also using the web to manage everything from their shopping to their personal health, this approach to marketing has to change. Forget Mad Men’s Don Draper, the Harvard Business Review says that data scientists will be “The Sexiest Job Of The 21st Century”.

The near future: Marketing will become insight led. The majority of that insight won’t be purchased from external agencies, or even commissioned from market research companies – you’ll start with your own customer data set and augment with external data as required.

What you need to do today: If you have them, start inviting data analysts to contribute to marketing planning at the strategic level (they can also be used to help set up-front metrics) instead of solely relying on them for retrospective reporting.

In preparation for an anticipated skills gap in the near future, set up an in-house up skilling programme now. Have your marketing and data analyst teams regularly shadowing each other in their respective roles to gain a greater understanding of what the other does.

3) Enter The New World Of Compliance; You’ll Need Your CIO To Navigate

With Big Data comes Big Responsibility. As a marketer you are already capturing and holding large amounts of customer data. But with your increasing usage of social media, multi-media, and the web generally is there a chance you have forgotten to update your CIO? They are the ones responsible for writing and maintaining your data policies and ensuring the company is compliant in every market you operate in.

For example after the EU Cookie Directive was introduced last year, a study from TRUSTe found that only 12% of top 50 British websites had taken steps to comply. Trust is of increasing concern to today’s data savvy consumers with another TRUSTe survey revealing that 72% of smartphone users say they are more concerned about privacy on their smartphone than they were a year ago.

The near future: As consumers escalate their concerns over privacy, we’ll see regulators establishing precedents with high profile prosecutions and large fines to warn all organizations to get compliant with how they collect, hold, and use data.

What you need to do today: It’s simple, ask your CIO to audit the marketing department’s data compliance with in-house policy. Better an internal audit uncover any issues for you to resolve quietly now, than be on the receiving end of a full-fledged investigation.

Alternative and Associated Terms For Big Data

BIG-DATA-InfographicAs with all buzz-words there are limitations to the usefulness of the term Big Data. “Forget Big Data” espouses Rufus Pollock, Founder and Co-Director of the Open Knowledge Foundation. “…we risk overlooking the much more important story here, the real revolution, which is the mass democratization of the means of access, storage and processing of data.

Here’s some other terms you’ll need to be familiar with:

  • Small Data: Many experts make a case that we should be focusing more on small data than big data. “The real opportunity is not big data, but small data. Not centralized “big iron”, but decentralized data wrangling. Not “one ring to rule them all” but small pieces loosely joined.” Says Pollock.
  • Democratization of data: Information was once only available to a select few, now it’s increasingly available to more people. Whether that’s unlocking data so that it can be utilized across an organisation, or opening up data beyond an organization to drive insight and innovation. Vivek Kundra the White House’s first Chief Information Officer pioneered the democratization of US federal government data by making data sets available to the private sector and even individuals.“If you think about what happened when the Department of Defence started to release satellite data, it gave birth to this entire new GPS industry, and soon people were navigating cities using that data… or when the national ministries of health released human genome data, that drove a huge explosion in advances in personalized medicine.
  • Data visualization: Referred to by Harvard Business Review as big data’s “stylist” data visualization is often thought of as those cool infographics you currently see circulating. HBR says that “Ultimately, data visualization is about communicating an idea that will drive action” and “For information to provide valuable insights, it must be interpretable, relevant, and novel.

Recommended Reading:

McKinsey: “Big Data: The next frontier for innovation, competition, and productivity

The Guardian: “Forget Big Data, small data is the real revolution

Vertica: “The growth of Big Data, the demand for data scientists, and the power of Community


Reuters via Vertica.com “Big Data: The Demand for data scientists and the power of community

SITA.aero “Big Data Big Insights

Categories: Big Data

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