Three implications for Big Data and your marketing department

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big data and marketing

Walking through the airport, it seems that half of the wall advertisements are for companies selling consulting services to get our arms around Big Data. Well … maybe not our arms. That might be awkward. Let’s say we need to get our minds around Big Data!

If you go by these ads, you would think this is the biggest opportunity facing our world today. In many cases, it is! I have seen so many inspirational stories of Big Data making the world a cleaner, healthier, and safer place.

But what about Big Data and marketing? Let’s look at three implications of this development and the new marketing opportunities provided by this emerging world of analytics.

1. The Business Case for Little Data

Unless  your Big Data is coming from a proprietary source, it’s likely that your competitors are seeing the same bar charts that you are.  For example, what if you were a marketing executive for a cellular service company and you were looking at a data display indicating the geographic pockets in America that are using the most data minutes/day?

Of course this would be a highly useful chart but the problem is, our competitors will probably be looking at the same data, making the same conclusions. So while this is critical data to interpret and understand, it is improbable that it would result in a unique insight that could lead to a distinctive marketing strategy.

The real clues to where marketers need to go next might be in the Little Data:

  • It is the dip in shoe sales in one neighborhood where a pocket of influential teens have begun to wear leather hiking boots instead of tennis shoes to school.
  • It is the single data point indicating unusually high cardboard cup sales in a small New England town where a husband-wife team just invented the peanut butter-bacon ice cream about to take the country by storm.
  • It is in the obscure journal article announcing a technological innovation that could destroy your most profitable niche for marketing automation services.

If you picked up on any of these trends fast enough, it could radically impact your shoe, food, or software business.

There is tremendous power in Big Data. It is transforming our world. But how will you dig deep to find the Little Data that makes a difference?

2. Beyond Averages and Telling the Story

The other marketing challenge with Big Data is that it can create lazy marketers.

If we distill the complex and nuanced world into only averages and pie charts, we could be missing the important opportunities presented by context.

What’s the story behind the data? What’s there that we didn’t expect to be there? What are the implications of a trend and why is it happening?

We need data to create our marketing plans like we need flour to make a tasty cake. The cake is always better than the sack full of flour that went into it. We need the story to help the data go down in an understandable way.

3. Human Intervention and New Skills

In both of these cases, we can see that it takes more than algorithms to solve our marketing challenges,

At least for the forseeable future, it will take some experienced human being to connect the dots, tease wisdom from the numbers, and tell a story through the data that leads to a transformational idea.

This leads to the third Big Data challenge for marketers: Do you know enough about statistics to even ask the right questions … let alone tell a story?

There are more than 50 universities using my books as texts in marketing classes and I offer to Skype into those classes for a Q&A — so I do this a lot! Nearly every week I am asked about the skills needed to succeed in marketing today and my number one answer is always “statistics.”

Increasingly, marketing is math. Everything starts with data. You don’t have to be an expert in statistics, but you have to know enough to think critically and ask the right questions.

The airport billboards are right. Big Data is a huge business opportunity for almost every aspect of business today. What are you doing to get your marketing, sales, or PR deaprtment ready?

Illustration courtesy of Flickr CC and Marius B 

This post was brought to you by IBM for Midsize Business and opinions are my own. To read more on this topic, visit  IBM’s Midsize Insider. Dedicated to providing businesses with expertise, solutions and tools that are specific to small and midsized companies, the Midsize Business program provides businesses with the materials and knowledge they need to become engines of a smarter planet.

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