Big Data: Is History Repeating Itself?

Is it a leap forward helping the world to run smoothly on exabytes of unstructured, unprecedented levels of data? Or is Big Data a new buzz-word used by sales and marketing teams to persuade companies to buy multi-million pound IT platforms?

If you ask me, history is repeating itself. I remember the birth of CRM and how the industry was split between IT companies and their solve-it-all multi-million pound databases, and the pointy heads claiming it was their domain. CRM turned out to be data driven marketing using IT as a tool, and eventually became the industry buzz-word of the ’90s.

With this in mind, it is important that we monitor how the conversation around Big Data evolves and monitor how it is impacting on our industry. There are, however, some cautionary steps that can be taken. Some organisations are rushing to buy costly machines to capture what is in many cases vast amounts of ephemeral data without giving thought to how it will be of value to them in the long run. Others are burying their heads in the sand as they find Big Data to be too overwhelming and are still stuck with figuring out whether or not Social Media is worth it (it is!).

One can throw enormous volumes of data into a mega machine costing a fortune and it will come out with all sorts of interesting figures, but are these details useful or (more importantly) even usable? Is a machine really better at understanding how human data can be used?

The most effective way to approach Big Data is to combine the entirety of a company’s data collateral and then decide where to look within the Social Media plane. The data is not thrown into some black box, but analysed by humans using IT tools and software. It’s the creative interpretation of the data which will do most to drive the bottom line.

Some marketers may struggle with the sheer volume of data, but it is important to have the relevant skill sets and understand the technology being used. Many brands may have the right data analysis software which can pool data from various touchpoints, but without having the personnel that can properly analyse the incoming data, the insight is wasted. Brands should look at how their teams can make the most of customer information and deliver comprehensive insight based on this. Furthermore, those brands that look most likely to succeed are those that can translate this personal data into tangible strategy and activity.

This is doable, scalable and most importantly actionable. But the most important question to ask an organisation before embarking on any ‘Big Data’ project is what they want to get out of it!

Essentially, despite the hype and fanatical strategies surrounding Big Data, it’s not difficult or confusing; it’s just about asking the right questions. 

Ultimately, those brands that can accurately analyse customer data and apply it to segmented marketing campaigns are more likely to deliver successful campaigns. Being able to correctly identify target audiences with data-driven insight and having the right team to analyse this information will give marketers the tools to produce campaigns that are not only cost effective, but achieve strong ROI.

The marketing industry certainly faces another challenging year and marketers will have to demonstrate a deep understanding of their customers to succeed. A fully-rounded picture of a customer is the key to delivering the required levels of understanding and big data offers many opportunities to build upon and enrich your view of the customer.

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