Marketing Needs Big Data – Explained in Plain English [Research]

2012 The Year of Big Data (or Is It?) – 10 Experts Weigh In

Looking to improve your digital marketing efficiency? Whether it’s social media, content marketing, mobile, search or email, the answer is two words: Big Data.

Before you roll your eyes, this article is written to help marketers and executives enhance their business results. At a minimum, scan the article’s charts to help you build your business case and strengthen relationships across your firm.

Big data can make you a marketing star; taking your business to the next level by increasing operational efficiency, guiding your strategic direction and improving customer service, based on Economist Unit Research done by SAS in their report, Big Data:  Harnessing a Game-Changing Asset.

Big data is all the information required for business intelligence including the mountains of digital footprints created by the explosion of social media, mobile and other forms of digital marketing and engagement. Due to the explosive growth of this tracking information, it’s earned the name, Big Data, making it sound sexy while, in reality, the datasets have become so difficult to handle they raise other issues related to information capture, storage, search, analytics and visualizing.

Here’s what ten data experts say about big data along with related research.

  1. Why is 2012 the year of big data? What makes this year a turning point for analysis?

    Big Data has provided immense opportunities for enterprises to grow.  By turning Big Data into actionable intelligence, companies have experienced benefits such as increased revenue either through bringing new products to market or by reducing operating costs, as well as improved retention rates. By effectively managing Big Data and leveraging automated solutions that can analyze massive databases, organizations can deliver answers to questions like, “Where is the market heading in 2012?”
 Gina Cerami – Vice President of Marketing
, Connotate

    As social media continues to mature and the devices consumers use proliferate in 2012, the number of trackable steps in the sales process increase and companies amass more data. Once marketers get beyond the initial phases of social media and content marketing, improvements and efficiencies require better understanding of how these digital footprints contribute to initial sales, positive word of mouth and longer term revenues. To achieve this level of analysis requires enhanced use of internal and external information tools, aka big data. For marketers, the goal is the conversion of this data into actionable recommendations to improve marketing strategies and tactics that matter. Heidi Cohen – Riverside Marketing Strategies 

    I wouldn’t say that 2012 is the year of big data, the fact is that big data has been around and accumulating for a number of years. That people are starting to take notice speaks to the fact that this data is so accessible, being exposed and explored in such public and interesting ways and that it’s actually that Big! I do agree that it’s a turning point for analysis because for people like the team at bitly, such large amounts of data are extremely attractive to work with and analyze. Imagine the most experienced technical climber in the world, that person’s apex would be summiting Everest, right? Well for the uber-intelligent groups that look at big data sources, they’re now looking at some of the largest sets of data to ever have existed that continue to grow exponentially every day. That the data now exists and is acknowledged is profound and now the challenge becomes what to do with it? It won’t be solved in 2012, but in-roads and profound discoveries will be made. Tim Devane – Director of Sales and Business Development, Bit.ly

    Big data is everywhere, regardless of industry.  We are capturing information at every turning point, every step in the process, every customer interaction.  The world in which we live is changing quickly.  Even our conversations are being captured and being analyzed. To capitalize on the use of this “big data” to driving heightened ROI for customer interactions and reduce costs and make various processes more efficient is key more than ever.  It is the next big opportunity.  We can finally store this information so now it finally time to tap into it for great insights.  It is an exciting time and one with many opportunities. Perry Drake – Drake DirectAssistant Professor at NYU

    2012 is the year when Big Data moves from being the bastion of back-end enterprise architecture into a situation that involves all of us. With 5.3 billion mobile subscribers in the world today and 1 out of every 13 people on Facebook, we’re the ones whose digital interactions are leaving contrails of data that are overwhelming average data management tools. While it can seem overwhelming to some, Big Data represents an unprecedented opportunity to leverage the power of real-time information to inform instantaneous decisions. Lara Mehanna – Mobile General Manager, Data Xu

    For marketing in particular, there is an explosion of data – programs, especially online programs, spin off lots of information, and we now have more insight than ever about buyer behaviors.  At the same time, analytic tools – like Marketo – to make sense of all that data are now available as SaaS, putting power that was previously available only to large enterprise into the hands of companies of all sizes. Jon Miller – Chief Marketing Officer, Marketo

    It’s the tipping point. For years, we have seen leaders like Amazon leverage data, turning it into highly leveraged content for their users and an extreme competitive advantage. They have been providing a great learning example for the industry for quite some time now.  In 2012, there are mature tools and other technology available to companies who, unlike Amazon, can’t develop much of this sophisticated technology from scratch.  When you combine the tools and technology that are available now with the emerging awareness of data’s power to fuel new products, improve experience, drive marketing and leverage market intelligence—it’s easy to see that we are at a tipping point. This is the year of the data-driven company, and more companies will be modeling after Amazon’s success.  Kathy Greenler Sexton – Vice President & General Manager, Content Division, SIIA

    More platforms are offering ways of visualizing and manipulating big data, and in a very economical way, (mostly unstructured social data, but not limited, as internal company house data, call center lists, email lists, and other information is also being visualized).  In addition, more data is being shared by governments, including the UN (with it’s Global Pulse Initiative) attracting the World Economic Forum in Davos (seeking to understand and solve “The Worlds’ Problems” in various ways), this is being mashed together and visualized in ways that were not possible, till now.  Reference Google Insights that shows 2012 as skyrocketing in references to Big Data with Amazon offering DynamoDB and Big Data predicted to be a 50 Billion dollar industry this year. Cisco’s summary of advances in hardware and software do a pretty good summary as to why 2012 is the year of Big Data. Marshall Sponder, author of Social Media Analytics: Effective Tools for Building, Interpreting, and Using Metrics. (Affiliate link)

    2012 is the Year of Big Data because the popular business press has finally cottoned on to what we’ve been talking about for the past ten years. Yes, it helps that Big Data is Bigger and that there are new software systems to help manage massive datasets. But the essence of Big Data is gleaning meaning from data. Been there, been doing that. Jim Sterne – eMetrics Marketing Optimization Summit,, author of Social Media Metrics: How to Measure and Optimize Your Marketing. (Affiliate link)

    The reason we are talking about big data is because it is finally becoming accessible. When big data was strictly the realm of the IBMs and SAPs of the world, the discussion was largely concentrated, and private. There seem to be two reasons for this.  First is access to infrastructure.  The falling cost of computing power, Internet bandwidth and storage is a triple threat to the exclusivity of big data. I think infrastructure happened a little while ago, and paved the way for what’s happening now: the diffusion and acceptance of the big data language.  15 years ago people of all types began to adopt a language that had previously been reserved for the technically minded: www, URL, hyperlink, domain, internet.  Now, we are all learning and adopting another language: API, SQL, social graph, behavioral targeting, big data.  2012 is the first year practically everybody I meet has heard of APIs. 2012 is the year that Big Data will get a little more ‘sex appeal’ with more businesses looking to understand what opportunities it can bring. Nate Walton – Data Scientist, Brandwatch

  2. What do I need to convince senior management to use big data?

    If nothing else, realize that about half of the companies surveyed found big data to be a useful strategic tool. The top 10% of the firms changed how they did business. At a minimum, this should be an eye-opening insight for your executive team. 

    Graphs are pretty, so are visualizations – I would assume you need something simple and to the point. However, big data isn’t always that. But at the end of the data is valuable because its a record – whether its a time stamp or a click or a retweet – it tells you something about something that you may not have known before and certainly didn’t record before. When this can be shaped to immediately influence the bottom line at a company – seeing how your customer base acts online for example, should easily make the case for using large data sets. Big data creates Big transparency and senior management wants to engage with its customer-base. If you want to get into the head of your customer, find a way to figure out what data sets can help you. Tim Devane – Director of Sales and Business Development, Bit.ly

    The data revolution is upon us.  Data is everywhere.  Not harnessing the power of that information is a major mistake.  There are many surveys and reports talking about what is about to happen with the data explosion and how companies are preparing to embrace the tools and skills required to take full advantage of what the data will provide us.  A company not paying attention to this fact will be left behind.  No doubt.

    Last year IBM conducted a large scale survey of approximately 1,700 CMO’s asking them what challenges they are facing today. As you can image the data explosion was at the top of the list.  In particular, how to tap into the big data and ensure a workforce with the skills required to capitalize on the use of that data. Perry Drake – Drake DirectAssistant Professor at NYU

    You don’t really need to convince anyone to use it, it’s more helping them to understand how. Marketers in particular don’t get the resource and attention of IT and they’re going to need to convince them to invest in an integrated technology stack that can harness Big Data, turn it into actionable insights and transform those insights into real-time automated decision-making. And when I say “real time” I mean all of these processes should happen within milliseconds. They don’t exist for all industries, but there are systems that come close. The problem with traditional business intelligence systems is that they process data and spit out insights after several hours or days. By that time your customer is no longer considering the same purchase decision or the pattern you see in bank transactions is too old to be useful. SAP has HANA, Oracle has Exadata, IBM has Watson (though that’s not commercially available) – if you’re looking for high-performance appliances for Big Data analytics that are applicable to multiple industries. If you have enterprise digital marketing needs, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that my company has the industry’s only fully-integrated programmatic buying, data management, and attribution management platform that makes real-time decisions.  Here’s a good primer on some elements which comprise Big DataLara Mehanna – Mobile General Manager, Data Xu

    Marketers need metrics to establish their credibility.  Without the right metrics, marketing is seen as a cost center – but when the CMO can use analytics to tie marketing actions to hard metrics like pipeline and revenue, they build their power and respect and earn a seat at the revenue table. Jon Miller – Vice President of Marketing, Marketo

    Senior Management needs to understand, educate them, on how they can use Big Data to reliably drive business results, otherwise they will be slow to adopt it, perhaps even make wrong decisions on the data (like playing with fire). Building a business case for Big Data is also needed in order to show the impact of such a project(s) on business results, along with the cost of implementation and the expected benefits of adoption. The education part, according to Greg Smith, CIO of Yodel, comes with showing how Big Data will make money for a organization and David Rajan, director of technology for Oracle, conducted research and found that 77% cent of CIOs thought data should appear on the balance sheet as a key metric to define the value of a business. Marshall Sponder, author of Social Media Analytics: Effective Tools for Building, Interpreting, and Using Metrics. (Affiliate link)

    If you haven’t read the Forbes article on the (mis)use of analytics by Target stores, you’ve been asleep at the wheel. Jim Sterne – eMetrics Marketing Optimization Summit, author of Social Media Metrics: How to Measure and Optimize Your Marketing. (Affiliate link)

    I would position big data as a means to an end.  What’s more important than big data is the success of the business, however that is defined. What big data is able to do is provide a foundation, and justification, for choosing to do things a certain way.  Big data by itself is just an expense.  Good executions using big data can be difficult to see sometimes from the outside, mostly because they should be. Nate Walton – Brandwatch Data Scientist

  3. What’s the one thing people need to know that they don’t understand before they start using big data?

    While every marketers and data analyst has their own views of what’s important to know, often the issues are data quality and recency which can be overlooked once the data is converted to more easily understood formats.

    Embrace the Big Data that is most relevant to your business… IT organizations often see Big Data as a nuisance – they need to collect and store a huge amount of data at a low cost, and find ways to process it efficiently.  In many cases, IT is also a producer of Big Data though it may treat such output as useless.  Business Leaders are starting to realize that there is a lot of value in Big Data and, in fact, new revenue opportunities can be created out of vast amounts of data available inside and outside of the organization.  Once IT understands that Big Data is raw material for the creation of new products and services, they will become more aligned with their business leaders.  Business leaders need to view IT as partners in leveraging Big Data value.  Business leaders should also encourage IT to avoid status quo and realize that more and more useful products are becoming available for efficient management of Big Data and value extraction.  IT should embrace these innovations to faster meet business goals.  This movement is already in progress as illustrated by the adaption of such technologies as Hadoop. Gina Cerami – Vice President of Marketing
, Connotate

    Don’t panic.  Tim Devane – Director of Sales and Business Development, Bit.ly

    Before embarking on the use of big data, the right team must be in place.  Analytical skills are a must.  Your marketers must be comfortable with touching, playing with and displaying data.  Many think being a social media marketer is a sexy and fun job.  It is tough.  It is heavy on data, metrics and data visualization.  To succeed, ensure your staff is properly trained to maximize and harness the full power of the big data.  The rewards will be phenomenal. Perry Drake – Drake Direct, Assistant Professor at NYU

    That you probably don’t need to do anything with Big Data. While as a consumer you’re part of the force that’s creating huge collective quantities of digital (and to a lesser extent, analog) data, as a business – unless you’re dealing with a high volume of constantly-changing information that informs your decision-making – you don’t need to worry about managing Big Data. Lara Mehanna – Mobile General Manager, Data Xu

    It’s not about proving ROI, it’s about IMPROVING ROI.  Make sure you embark on the journey knowing what kind of decisions you will want to make up-front. Jon Miller – Chief Marketing Officer, Marketo

    “Big Data” is “unstructured data” in almost all cases, therefore, one should to take an enlightened approach to it, understanding that the context and meaning of the data will need to be envisioned, perhaps enriched, often taking considerable extra work and, ultimately, resources. The benefits of Big Data are massive, yet without a clear understanding of what it takes to utilize the data, the value may never be achieved. Marshall Sponder – author of Social Media Analytics: Effective Tools for Building, Interpreting, and Using Metrics. (Affiliate link)

    No silver bullet, no short cuts. The technology is complex – not impossible, but not off the shelf. These are systems that need to be wired together, even if you are outclouding everything. It takes a good deal of bailing wire and sealing wax to get these systems to wake up and get in a good enough mood to be willing to play. But then you have to be wicked intelligent about where the data come from, what the data really represent and how to ask the questions that unlock the mysteries of customer acquisition, conversion and retention. Otherwise, it’s all a lot of blinking lights and pretty charts and graphs. Jim Sterne – eMetrics Marketing Optimization Summit and author of Social Media Metrics: How to Measure and Optimize Your Marketing(Affiliate link)

    You may get the answer you’re looking for from big data, you may not, or you may get no answer at all. Nate Walton – Brandwatch Data Scientist

  4. If I’m a marketer who wants to use big data, where to I start if I don’t have a huge budget? How do I start if I have a “sky’s the limit” size budget? What do I need in terms of business skills and other resources in-house? Can it be outsourced

    Big Data has played a major role in allowing businesses to continually monitor competitors, customers, and emerging market trends. Through automated tools and solutions, organizations have a better chance of keeping abreast of ever-changing or newly created data sources, enabling knowledge-driven decisions and answers to industry questions that were once too time-consuming to resolve. Gina Cerami 
– Vice President of Marketing
, Connotate

    Well for any size organization I would recommend throwing out Big Data as a term or need and focus very specifically on the metrics that can help influence or shape your business in more meaningful, valuable, or profitable ways. Would it be helpful to see analysis of your audience’s sharing trends online? Are mentions of your brand of paramount importance? Once again, the sources for ‘big data’ are so vast that wanting to simply get into it while not get your very far or at least will leave you quite puzzled. So definite your valuable data sets/metrics and then apply the tools that revolve around those specific areas. Tim Devane – Director of Sales and Business Development, Bit.ly

    Any marketer of any size can tap into the use of big data.  There are tools for everyone. Regarding the tracking of your web traffic, there is Google Analytics, which is free and a great tool. Or for those with the budget and the need for a more enterprise wide solution, there is Adobe Sitecatalyst that allows you to also incorporate email campaign data, search campaign data and surveys. Regarding social monitoring, there are also many tools you can used and many are free including Klout, Social Mention, Twitter Sentiment and Technorati.  Regarding paid tools, most are approachable including Radian6, Lithium or Sysomos. Then for your hardcore modeling and data discovery there are SAS and SPSS (purchased by IBM in 2009).  Both are nominally priced but do offer larger scale solutions.  They also offer point and click versions of the software to make them more approachable by marketers. Perry Drake – Drake DirectAssistant Professor at NYU (Note: Perry teaches data mining at NYU.)

    Companies don’t “use Big Data.” They harness and capture an influx of Big Data and need processes and tools in place to analyze that data and formulate insights. That’s where many companies stop, for some reason. New technologies have enabled businesses to then take these insights and transform them into real-time decisions, which is where the idea of Big Data truly becomes revolutionary.

    If you’re a marketer and don’t have a huge budget to start managing Big Data, you probably don’t need to be managing Big Data. Big Data is not a universal problem for businesses. If I’m running a lemonade stand I don’t have a Big Data problem. There’s not a deluge of data flowing into my data repository or CRM or digital marketing management systems. Healthcare insurance companies, for instance, can benefit from analyzing the Big Data that flows into their systems constantly. Financial services companies and high-frequency traders can leverage insights and decisions from Big Data (they’re making and collecting information on huge volumes of transactions). Any brand with a comprehensive, multichannel digital marketing initiatives should have a Big Data decisioning platform.

    If you’re an enterprise looking to start taking advantage of Big Data, you need to start by investing in complex event processing technologies and real-time analytics. Traditional BI or data integration tools that reconcile static, outdated information from ERP repositories isn’t going to cut it. And then you need to hire analytics professionals and data scientists who can understand and glean insights from data. Data management should not be outsourced. Outsourcing your data management is like giving a stranger the keys to your house and inviting them to steal your valuables. Customer data is a tremendously sensitive corporate asset. Lara Mehanna – Mobile General Manager, Data Xu

    The first step is to break down the separation between creatives and quant people that exits in Agencies and Corporations of all types, let both work on the same pitches and problems, together, at the same time, as one integrated team, with equal control over the results,l earning from each other. I’ll admit, this requires a different type of leadership that is just beginning to catch on.   However, research firm Gartner says the needed skills to creatively use “Big Data” are of a different than those for Information Technology, with a focus on integrated frameworks, asking the right questions and bringing together teams from all parts of the business, that can help to provide context and meaning around massive amounts of raw, unstructured data. Obviously, you need the Quant people, with the database and statistics skill, but you also need the creatives here, as well, so there’s room for both. Perhaps the Data Nerds will inherit the Earth, after allMarshall Sponder, author of Social Media Analytics: Effective Tools for Building, Interpreting, and Using Metrics.(Affiliate link)

    It helps to contextualize the “Big” in Big Data. It simply means more that you are used to. If you are only used to a few data points, then a megabyte of data is Big in your eyes. Cramming it all into an Excel spreadsheet is a great place to start. The real trick – the secret sauce – is not in the technology, it’s in the ineffable magic of creative thinking about whatever information you have. If you have petabytes of data and a budget from here to eternity, you can start playing in the clouds from the get go. The technology can be outsourced. Using that technology in inventive ways to get your mind around a sea of data and turn it into insights: priceless.  Jim Sterne – eMetrics Marketing Optimization Summit, author of Social Media Metrics: How to Measure and Optimize Your Marketing. (Affiliate link)

    Do your due diligence regarding any new technology before you adopt it, regardless of size or price.  After discarding those that don’t seem to meet your business objectives, you’re basically left with “you get what you pay for.”  For example, regarding small budget tools for an eCommerce site: Google Analytics.  Setup it up properly, so that eCommerce data flows through and sales are recorded alongside site data.  All pages on the site should be tagged, and issues with structure ironed out.  If you can’t manage this in-house, try to find a service you can afford that will do this for you. Then, if you’re feeling bold: Quickbooks, Facebook Insights (if you have a page) and a copy of Microsoft Excel.  Try to connect people’s behavior on your site and Facebook page with sales from Quickbooks using customer IDs, email addresses, etc as linking information in Excel.  Somebody in-house should try to learn to manage this setup. If you have a “sky’s the limit budget”, build an OLAP cube.  Use whoever will produce the best result – in-house or outsourcing.  Match your business objectives to slices in the cube to answer the direct questions first.  Then apply aggregate statistics, graph theory, or other functional methodologies to exploring emergent relationships. Nate Walton – Brandwatch Data Scientist

  5. What are the issues when you’re dealing with legacy systems in an organization? How do you recommend overcoming them?

    Mind you, without incorporating Web data that is unique to your business into that mix, you may be overlooking some of the most important data.  You need to embrace the legacy systems and data but integrate the fresh, ever changind Web data into your business decisions. Gina Cerami 
- Vice President of Marketing
 - Connotate

    Cut bait – transferring to new tools, systems, products has never been easier – you can usually port old data and the simplicity with which many of the newer/start-up companies provide a product or service has been the major disruption in many cases against legacy systems. Don’t be afraid of new or unknown. Embrace the fact that you can do things better and don’t have to rely on old systems that aren’t performing as they should. Tim Devane – Director of Sales and Business Development, Bit.ly

    The mash up as I call it is important.  We must pull it all together — the social, web, and traditional data.  We will not be able to most effectively communicate with customers if we do not.  We must recognize them in any channel, especially if they have told us that is what they want via their desired preferences.  Time and effort must be put in place to ensure logins are put in place on the web and tags attached and brought back to the database.  Implement a loyalty or reward program to ensure sign-ins.  Regarding capturing what your customers are doing socially, push for sign-ins using Facebook or Twitter to make the “social” connection and bring that data onto the customer database.  These are just a few little things one can do that will make a big difference. In addition, other issues we must address regarding legacy systems include variations in pricing and inventory management online versus store versus catalogue.   This is the number one problem facing retailers today.  Not having a consistent message and offer across channels does not lead to a good customer experience. Perry Drake – Drake DirectAssistant Professor at NYU

    Legacy systems present a problem most often because they act as repositories for duplicate, incomplete, and outdated information. Unless you have some particularly aggressive compliance requirements you don’t need to maintain databases from twenty years ago. Also, if many different departments within your organization have been accessing the same types of data (like customer address data or product classification codes) and edit this data locally, you’re going to have siloes of duplicate and incomplete information. To deal with legacy data the first step is to work towards building a data governance program. Hire a data steward who can act as a liaison and owner of enterprise-wide data management. Start by reconciling your information and cleansing and standardizing it. Once you’ve established a fully-functional data governance initiative that has buy-in from leadership and the support of everyone at your organization, then you can assess technologies for master data management (MDM) – creating a single version of the truth for your customer and product data, but real MDM is a holy grail that can take several years to achieve. Lara Mehanna – Mobile General Manager, Data Xu

    A recent survey by O’Reilly Strata suggests but 20% of organizations have a “Big Data” strategy in place and 60% of the organizations surveyed said they were still gathering information about what Big Data is and what it means to them, along with the privacy issues surrounding using unstructured data, perhaps suggesting a shift away from propitiatory database and web Analytics silos has yet to take hold.  This appears to be the main bottleneck, right now. The best way to deal with “Big Data” adoption is to provide data governance groups and standards, that can integrate with the business models within corporations who wish to harness big data. Good Data requires a strong governance function that is too often missing.  Poor data, inaccurate data, is worse than no data. Marshall Sponder, author of Social Media Analytics: Effective Tools for Building, Interpreting, and Using Metrics(Affiliate link)

    Baby steps. Change Management 101: Show off your approach in a small way with a proof-of-concept and then hold out your hand for funding. Jim Sterne – eMetrics Marketing Optimization Summit, author of Social Media Metrics: How to Measure and Optimize Your Marketing. (Affiliate link)

    Legacy systems can have multiple problems compared to newer systems: less functionality, slower, steeper learning curves.  When trying to improve legacy systems, I think of three options: improve legacy system implementations, replace them with newer systems, or hybridize new and old systems.  What approach to choose is dependent on the situation, but I’m wary of the hybridizing solution because I think it often leads to future problems. Nate Walton – Brandwatch Data Scientist

To make your digital marketing more efficient requires analysis. With the increased ability to track prospects and shoppers across digital platforms including social media and mobile devices translates to more information and the ability to transform it into useful marketing strategies. What’s important is to start tracking the most critical aspects of your sales process, use trackable promotion codes and ensure that the information you’re gathering is accurate. Often this aspect of the process gets the least monitoring.

How is your organization using big data? Do you think that 2012 is the year of big data?

Happy marketing,
Heidi Cohen


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