If you’re not an ASX top 100 company, with billion dollar revenues, then stick to your current approach of data analysis in segmented forms and glue it together for marketing decisions.

It’s such a buzz-phrase that Aussies are saying it with an American twang, “BIG DATE-A!”

So is it simply just a buzz-phrase or the real deal? To answer that question I need to throw down more questions.

Let’s start off with, what the hell is Big Data? My interpretation, in a nutshell, is simply that – data has become so BIG that it’s impossible to aggregate, process and utilise to drive organisational value. However the value of Big Data is that if it is properly harnessed, it has the power to ensure that decisions are informed by real information in addition to instinct and experience.

Vendors may tell you that it’s possible to aggregate and process, because there are big revenues to be made by the new terminology that is being spruiked.

If you are going to buy into the hype and change the way you operate, then:

  • What is the impact of big data?
  • How do we prepare for big data as complexity intensifies?
  • What are the best practices to ‘attempt to’ process and leverage big data?
  • Is it possible to aggregate and process from a single repository?
  • What decisions do we already make on the data we have?
  • How much is this going to cost? And;
  • Is it worth our while to engage in the hype and justify the challenge?

The term Big Data is being hyped because of the rapid progression in faster computing power, flash memory technology replacing disk and a plethora of new silos of data flowing in from contemporary channels of customer engagement (most of which is unstructured).

The key challenge that any Big Data initiative must address is that it needs to be driven by marketing, but unfortunately the CIO and IT department may be reluctant to join forces because Big Data is not useful for them, and sadly for marketers, technology is an essential ingredient to make Big Data work. Customer data is the catalyst for Big Data and if you want it to be successful, you need to move beyond just engagement and use Big Data to drive real value into the marketing decisions of the organisation.

Additional challenges include data centralisation, multi-channel communications such as social media, device growth, shifting consumer demographics and behaviors, optimising the marketing mix and making sense of the analytics, metrics and insights already flowing in.  Data proliferation will always be the primary hurdle; if you are like most organisations then you will have the following marketing technologies and respective data; such as email marketing metrics, web analytics (SEO and SEM reports), social media insights, B2B and B2C CRM systems, contact centre recordings and information, sales statistics and financial numbers, knowledge management systems, intranets, extranets, ecommerce CMS’s and in-store insights. I am sure there is plenty more.

We all understand that our consumers don’t just want, but expect an agnostic channel of our products and services embracing them with a personalised, timely and intuitive engagement. I have no doubt that having your hands on the right data at the right time will make you a better marketer, but at what cost?

Multiple systems have been supporting marketing for many years and will continue to do so while we are in the midst of this current digital revolution, but here comes another question, will fragmented systems equal fragmented customer experiences? While many vendors attempt to integrate multiple systems, the areas are too niche and advances in technology channels too rapid. Mobile, social media, email marketing, web analytics, eCommerce and paid search wont be a single system any time soon, there is plenty of opportunity for consolidation but there won’t be one system that does it all well.

And it doesn’t stop there, who (and what) are we going to pay to collect, integrate, analyse, attribute and report on to visualise the right data. Big Data is big, very big; as indicated, it’s a concept of software, hardware and a strategy that involves multiple departments, people and technologies, mapping them together to find insights that have previously been hidden due to the size and disconnected nature of the data.

There is a tremendous business case to attempt to sink your teeth into Big Data and change the way you work with it, especially with the opportunity for real time analysis. In many ways we have already been addressing Big Data, by trying to make sense of our marketing actions, its cause and effect within the channels that we already market our products and services through.

I don’t know about you but I am going to continue to review the data in its segmented form and join the dots with experience combined with anecdotal assumptions.  I work for a private organsiation that turns over several hundred million dollars a year, we are dwarfed by big corporations, entities that have deep enough pockets to attempt to consolidate and centralise data and make it accessible from one place with fancy dashboards and for all to use.

My mindset is in the right place to embrace big data but I’m going to continue with an early majority to late majority diffusion adoption curve on this crazed hype. There are plenty of ways to translate business insights into strategic recommendations through a willingness to seek analytical answers through my current silo based data approach.

I have a short-term piecemeal strategy for customer data, anything else is too much of a challenge at present, attribution alone is too hit and miss.  My recommendation is to run your business units and departments to the best of your ability and work with the tools and data you have. I have no doubt you can do a lot more with the data have at your fingertips as unstructured as it may be, I know I can.

You can still push a unified message that caters for a one-brand space ‘total retail’ approach, so engagement by the consumer is agnostic.

Analytics are continuing to evolve, try and look deeper than vanity metrics towards conversion data. Mine the useful piles of data you are already sitting on and ask business questions on the information you currently possess across your mobile, social media, email marketing, web analytics, ecommerce and paid search channels.

Big data is real because the amounts of data are multiplying at compounding rates at incomprehensive exabyte amounts, but don’t get caught up in a new buzz phrase that makes you think you should be instantly doing something differently. In this situation of BIG DATE-A, watch and learn from the early adopters. For now, make sure your marketing channels are inline with your business goals, ensure tactics are derived from the source of data you have formulated and visualised, and just do what you do, but do it well.

After all, no matter how Big the Data is, it’s worthless unless you can act on it now.

Dominic Byrne

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