Big Data: Nine Things Marketers Need to Know

By Michele Nemschoff

Winning today’s customer is all about providing the most relevant and enjoyable experience, whether they’re online or offline. Thanks to the GPS and “check ins” on social media, location based marketing (LBM) has taken off to provide real-time interactions with consumers based off of their location and information about what’s nearby. While LBM has been successful in targeting consumers based on proximity, do you realize you can now make a mobile offer based off of what your customer was searching for on Google, pinning on Pinterest and talking about on Twitter? Instead of a general coupon offer, you could send an offer specific to the shoes the customer has been raving about on social media, complete with suggestions of what hot new jeans would go great with those shoes.
How is this possible? The answer is Big Data. Big Data enables capturing the massive amounts of information generated every day on the Internet and makes it accessible to marketers. With access to this information, marketers have a chance to significantly change the way they create and communicate their marketing messages. Here’s what today’s marketers need to know.
1. From Pastime to Real-time
Marketers have been identifying their target markets for years. The goal has been trying to catch that customer at the right time and the right place in order for the customer to actually make the purchase. In the old days, this meant spending millions on TV, radio and print ads, direct mailers, and bombarding the market with the hope of occasionally getting the message across to the right constituent. Now, we’ve been doing the same thing with banner ads, email offers and tweets. Marketers have been able to collect some of the response data and get some insights into purchase patterns and consumer demographics, but the data has been incomplete and by the time it was analyzed, it often has become stale and new trends already had begun to emerge.
LBM is one of the first moves to using real-time data. With LBM marketers can pinpoint the consumer in the right place based on their current geo-location, but this fails to provide demographic information, purchasing patterns and social behavior. However, Big Data can provide this additional information in real-time, allowing companies to alter product offerings and marketing messages based on what the customer wants now.
2. Don’t Get Caught Up with the Hype: Figure Out What You Want 
Big Data can and will change the way marketing is done, but there are many ways for marketers to use Big Data incorrectly. If you decide to move forward with Big Data, it will be imperative to learn how to glean useful, actionable insights and not just get caught up in the hype. With so much information available, many marketers will end up with a stack of data with no meaningful takeaways or worse, incorrect takeaways. Spending hours sorting through data with no purpose is not a wise use of time. So set your objectives up front.
Likewise, some marketers have started to take the data too far without remembering basic marketing principles, such as reaching out to the consumer through the channel the customer prefers. The goal should be to provide the customer with a unique, relevant experience, not to bombard them with sales pitches or irrelevant promotional offers.
3. Know the Enabler of Big Data 
The reason Big Data hasn’t been available until now was because we didn’t have the tools or systems to store, manage and analyze that much information affordably. Now with the development of frameworks like Hadoop, companies can store and access more data faster and at a fraction of the cost compared to traditional data warehouse systems.
4. Be a Data Marketer, not a Scientist 
The key to not getting caught up in the hype is to become a data marketer and to not become a data scientist. There’s a difference between being able to sort through data and being able to apply the insights to an actual marketing effort. When using Big Data, identify the questions and problems your potential customer needs to solve. Put some effort into analyzing customers’ actual ambitions and patterns over time, rather than short-sightedly assuming their intent based solely on demographic data and past purchase history. In other words, you control the data, not the other way around.
5. Prepare Your Organization 
Working with the IT department will be crucial to your success with big data analytics. The IT department can scrutinize technology integrations and help ensure your data and infrastructure is deployed correctly. You may also want to consider hiring a marketing technologist who can assess the technology ramifications of a marketing strategy, look to simplify and accelerate implementation, and even handle the implementation themselves.
6. Map Valuable Data Inside & Outside Your Organization
The advantage of Big Data is you no longer have to limit research to your target consumer. You can look at much broader consumer trends, including those of your competition, to pick up on more accurate marketing research. For example, why is the consumer buying the competitor’s new gaming system but not yours? Not only can you track this information, but you can then go in and change your marketing strategy or even the product much faster than if you had to complete a survey or a focus group.
7. Learn How to Communicate the Data’s Story
Marketers understand the importance of being able to communicate their big idea. If the client doesn’t get the experience you are going for, the idea will fall flat. Likewise, if marketers don’t know how to communicate the importance of the data they have, they are likely to be met with blank stares at Board meetings. Be sure you completely understand the data and the implications it supports, and figure out the best ways to present the data to multiple audiences. 
8. Respect the Customer’s Need for Privacy
Consumers are going to notice that you are accessing their social media activity and analyzing their purchasing behavior; and naturally many are going to be worried that you are creating a database of their personal information. While most Big Data initiatives do not collect personally identifiable information (PII), reassuring your customers that you will respect their privacy and not share personal information will be more important than ever. 
9. Prepare for Simulation
A big change Big Data will make for marketers is that instead of going through a lengthy testing process with sample markets, marketers will be able to simulate a population sample on the computer. This has the potential to save marketers a lot of time and budget allocations, while significantly increasing the accuracy and understanding of why a certain advertisement or campaign works. For example, marketers using LBM can test which types of promotional offers or services work best in different locations, based on cultural habits and interests of certain groups or individuals.

Published Wednesday, August 7th, 2013

Written by Michele Nemschoff

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