Big data: should marketing really care?

Well, yes. Sort of.

In many ways it’s obvious why they should. Marketers (or ‘marketeers’ as others would say) capitalize on trends that potentially influence how products and solutions are perceived. It’s what marketing folks do. And organizations benefit from knowledgeable teams who not only substantiate why a given trend is relevant but also understand its nature and long-term implications.

So what are marketers, entrepreneurs, techies and scholars saying? Well, you hear a lot of these terms being referenced: exponential, analytics, petabyte, terabyte, insights, business intelligence, real-time and sensemaking—oh wait, let’s save that one for last.

In the interest of offering raw, top-of-mind views into big data I thought it sensible to knock on a few doors and ask some feedback from my Twitter follows—some of whom in fact are seasoned marketers.

Marketeering the predictable
No surprise that data analytics, predictive modeling and the like are the obvious areas where marketing can benefit from tapping into “what the data is saying” and crafting innovatively aggressive marketing strategies, which are non-intrusive, of course (in a no-telemarketers-here kind of way).

Imagine analytics software that could help yield mind blowing insights from those petabytes [of data],”

notes @mktgdouchebag citing a random example in retail where a multitude of daily transactions are logged and accessible. Imagine indeed how effective this would be via behavioral targeting tactics.

Enterprise is naturally one of the most active users of big data. And according to @noellechun it’s an emphatic ‘yes’,

…big data has enormous implications on our ability as marketers to deliver relevant messages on the web…We can use big data to help others understand the effectiveness of those messages. There are a bunch of us at big tech companies who analyze the data to tell business stories.”

How about the ability to analyze your competitor’s data? @erniehuber points to the upper hand of competitive intelligence where big data plays into

…how well marketers will be able to leverage all this new intelligence from their customers as well as potentially their competition’s customers.  Having access to this level of  information has to be a differentiator…”

Parsing ways to monetize
While analytics itself is not new, offering novel—and efficient—ways of tapping into vast data sources is a clear opportunity for entrepreneurs and tech professionals alike.

The number of data points is growing exponentially, so I fully expect that in time, marketers need to be equipped to deal with big data. I see this as an opportunity for technology start-ups to build software-based analysis tools for marketers to help them make sense of relevant [big] data,”

says @dshiao.

An equally intriguing proposition comes from @jshuey whose prolific (and technical) feedback includes a suggestion for a service model for big data use I had not considered before (but which I’m sure is already being done). Consider

real time monitoring: I think a fee structure (i.e., way to monetize access and timeliness) will be imposed to provide access in real-time to the highest bidders. Some people don’t need access in real-time and should not have to pay a premium.”

I don’t have to tell you why real-time is a big deal in this scenario, right?

Now comes the ‘sort of’ part
See, to me, data (big or small) is a component, or series of components. When aggregated, these components become large bodies of information, which I viscerally identify as a type of building block or infrastructure piece.

It’s good to be aware of how these building blocks are growing. But personally I am more fascinated by the computational science that enables these data sets to be intelligent. But that’s another post, really.

Meanwhile, back in big data land…I wouldn’t call them naysayers or party poopers. Probably because I strongly identify with some of the points they raise. And the reason why I do tend to agree with most of their views circles back to the way I view data. It’s a component. A component in itself is interesting, but not that all that relevant to the day-to-day machinations directly affecting and influencing individual and social behaviours.

Amplifying pitfalls
This is the type of stream-of-consciousness thinking that I find refreshingly candid and sobering. And it may seem lazy on my part not to attempt articulating @andymci’s thoughts, but if I were to do that I would likely end up with a poor paraphrasing:

I worry that “big data” will distract marketers. I worry that businesses will rely too heavily on big data to find insights and opportunities and answers to all of their problems. I worry that the big data trend will be used as a scapegoat, with lines like “according to the data” being used as an excuse for when things go wrong.

I worry that the big data trend will throw too much weight behind database marketing at the expense of other marketing strategies, and the pitfalls of database marketing will be amplified.

Don’t get me wrong – I think that having access to this much information is great. But we need to maintain a balance. There are things that marketers can’t glean from databases.

As meaningless as web 2.0
I do like saving the best for last. And for the crème de la crème of opinions that help justify why I sort of care about big data, I am very pleased to share @Liberationtech’s thoughts. I identify with this response because it offers a fairly holistic and balanced view IMO:

I may not be the best person to ask because, personally, I think the term is as meaningless as web 2.0.  Moreover, big data has been with us since the emergence of the commercial net in 1995 (and of course, before that too), and we’ve always analyzed large datasets both in academia and industry since then.

It’s really more like sensemaking than anything else because once we analyze big data, we extract it from its context, so we can only have very little to say about its structure and semantics.

As a result, for marketing purposes, it’s only as good as polling, except that polling measures people’s attitudes and has longitudinal limitations, whereas big data can enable you to see past and current behavior and track it in real-time to see dynamic changes.

But as you know, predicting future behavior on the basis of past behavior requires a set of assumptions about a static world that doesn’t exist in practice.

So to make a long story short, if you’re a marketeer, and you want to see shifts in the opinions and sentiments of your consumers in real-time, big data is a good tool.  e.g.,

So. Is big data a big deal to you?

To read complete feedback from the above follows, go here.

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