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Big Data Is Here, Get Used To It

I hate big data.

Yes, you heard correct - big data is the new thing and marketers, including myself, hate to learn new things (as do most people once they are used to a system). Hell, we just got used to the “norm” and “that other” thing, now they want to throw something else at us?

But my hatred of big data isn't going to stop it, so my acceptance of it is now in full gear. It’s here and if you fail to bring yourself to use it, plan on entering the Stone Age. I'm comfortable saying this as I know your competitors are using big data and are likely taking away market share from you as a result.

“Hate it or love it, you can't ignore it,” says Neha Signh Verma in an article in The Economic Times. “Data science, especially big data, spans out across industries including HR. Companies, processes and products all want to be more intuitive in future thus, relying on data sciences.”

Jeff Sopko from the Baseman Group agrees. “Data is the foundation of fact based, measurable marketing. It’s here to stay. Those that can put it to work will better understand their customers, and therefore develop more compelling or engaging strategies to communicate with them.”

So now you know you need big data, but how exactly do you use it?

What is big data?

Lisa Arthur gave what I feel is the best definition of big data

“Big data is a collection of data from traditional and digital sources inside and outside your company that represents a source for ongoing discovery and analysis”

Sounds great, but what exactly does that mean? Simple.

Big data is nothing more than information about your customers that you can use for future marketing purposes. It may include anything from a person’s shopping habits (amount they spend and what they buy) to social media metrics (interactions with your brand including dates, times, and number of people interacting).

According to Brylee Kay of the New York Institute of Technology, the word “big” in “big data” says it all.

“The amount of information can be overwhelming and may confirm hard truths about your marketing strategy. Big data offers marketers with clearly defined marketing objectives the ability to see what is working and take corrective actions if they determine it’s necessary based on the data.”

Big data can be intimidating, particularly as most people collecting it don't know what to do with it once they have it.

Think about it - if you have a list of dates and times when people interacted with your social media accounts, what do you do with it? I mean, it's safe to say that you would try to find out the best times to post content, but is there a definitive way to do that?

Sometimes collection of too much data can be overwhelming to marketers.

Start off “small” with “big” data

The name itself can be intimidating. “Big data” just sounds scary to most marketers as it means more work with something they really don’t understand. In fact, marketers should be intimidated by big data.

Think of it like this.

An auditor goes to school for auditing. They were good in math (at least good enough to pass their CIA exam) and numbers are their business. You can throw numbers at them all day long and they absorb them like SpongeBob on a rainy day. After all, that is what they are trained to do. Give them a 500 page spreadsheet of income and expenditures and they will have it all laid out in easy to understand graphs in no time.

Now let’s take that same spreadsheet and give it to, let’s say, an attorney.

While an attorney is highly educated (at least by length of schooling and passing of the bar exam), they're unlikely to complete the same task in the same time with the same accuracy. This is because most of the methods used by auditors are foreign to them. Trust me, I don’t recall a single lesson on auditing during my time in law school.  

Big data is the same way for marketers. It's a new phenomenon that's being placed in their laps. They're like attorneys expected to perform like auditors and it really isn’t fair, though it's necessary, for them to learn it.

“Most people in marketing had minimal exposure to analytics and have told me they hated and did poorly in their single statistics course,” says data scientist Nicole Prause from Liberos. “I think big data fear is just a reincarnation of old math anxiety,” she added. “Marketers are under increasing demands to make data-based decisions, but they rarely have sufficient training to understand basic analytics.”

So what's a marketer to do?

Many experts in big data suggest starting small and working your way up. Many marketers drag in as much data as possible and this is their downfall - why take in data that you have no way of effectively analyzing? This is waste of time and can cause stress just looking at it.

So, start with collecting small amounts of “big” data and analyzing accordingly. Once you're comfortable, move up in the world and start absorbing more. Think of it this way - how many people, with absolutely no knowledge of social media, would be able to jump in and master it in a day? Exactly. Big data is no different.

Use available tools

You don't have to go at this alone. You also don't need to outsource your data analysis as long as you're willing to put the time in. As with social media and other forms of marketing, there are many tools available to assist.

Some of you are probably already wondering how to collect data - one way is through data mining software. Data mining software comes in many forms and can be adapted to help collect the data you want. Once you know what data you want to collect, you can then narrow down the specific software that you need.

Now that you've collected data, how exactly do you use it?

One of the latest and greatest tools is dashboard analytics. “You can use dashboard software to monitor all relevant business information in just one place,” says Martin Blumenau, CEO of datapine. You can use dashboards to help organize and present data in a way that is easier to understand. In fact, datapine also recommends to start off small (as stated above).

Dashboards bring big data to a useable level without having to dig through every bit of info you've collected. Again, marketers are not data analysts, yet we're expected to deliver results, making us defacto analysts.

With any tool, I also suggest that you evaluate each one independently to make sure it works for you. This will also help you choose the tool that provides the exact data collection and analysis you need.

“As marketers, we need to look at the software and services we use and determine what true insights they provide,” says Heidi Sullivan, a Senior VP at Cision. “Do they simply provide you with data or do they provide a contextual analysis of what that means for your business?” She also recommends using Google Analytics for big data which is a tool that ALL marketers should already be using.

I also recommend reading “How to Analyze Big Data to Get Results,” a “For Dummies” book that helps you understand the collection of big data and how exactly to use it. There are also tons of articles online that can help you dissect the field of data analytics, as well as podcasts on the topic that you can find on iTunes.   

All in all, don’t worry, you'll get the use of big data and conquer it if you are willing to put in the time. Once you feel comfortable, you can move onto artificial intelligence and how it uses big data for predictive marketing (hopefully you can sense the sarcasm). Who knows? Maybe us marketers should have become auditors or lawyers after all. Time will tell.

Main image via Shutterstock

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