Ellen Valentine, product evangelist, Silverpop
Ellen Valentine, product evangelist, Silverpop
A view from Ellen Valentine

Think BR: Big data for one and all in 2013

Big data; it's creating quite the buzz in the marketing world, and with good reason, writes Ellen Valentine, product evangelist, Silverpop.

With all the social chatter related to brands across Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and more, massive new data streams are being created every second in order to better understand customer behaviour. Yet it remains a largely intimidating and unknown quantity for many companies.

A recent study by Nesta claims four in five businesses feel they are failing to utilise big data, although I would imagine that for the vast majority of those respondents merely agreeing a definition for the term would be a challenge.

Big data still seems to reside only in the domain of the largest companies - those with the scale and resource to effectively process and action such huge quantities. But I believe that 2013 will be the year that big data starts to become truly accessible.

For decades the biggest companies have built data warehouses, had scientists study the data, and used predictive modelling to make highly informed decisions rooted in an understanding of customer behaviour. It may not have always had the big data tag, but the thinking has been the same.

The approach, while immensely valuable to huge corporations, also has its limitations. It’s expensive, slow to process, difficult to store and often fragmented.

But big data is changing. Gradually, it’s transitioning from the aggregate to the individual, and thus is beginning to become actionable for smaller companies. In 2013 big data storage costs will decrease, as will the time to process and analyse this data.

What to do with the data and insights, though, will become a larger problem. The old way was to spend a month getting a huge data set from months ago into a data system, have your scientists crunch it, and then get a report back that tells you how to approach different segments. But this doesn’t necessarily help with connecting on an individual level.

Can you use the data you’re amassing to be relevant on your website, in real time, when the visitor shows up and is ready to make a buying decision? This is a key question marketers must ask and act on in 2013.

Admittedly, we’re still some way away from the day when just thinking about big data isn’t mind-boggling. The key is to not let the data paralyze you like the proverbial deer in the headlights, but rather be empowered by it, implementing a continuous improvement initiative in which you use the data to capture insights that enable you to improve and take action on that data - baby steps.

Fortunately, this is no longer in the 'too hard' pile. With the recent advancements in marketing automation platforms, the time is now to link up your data between Web, CRM, relational tables, email and beyond.

For many, the end goal of big data is to capture social interactions and take automated actions based on these social behaviours, and in 2013 we’ll start to see companies marrying social data with core marketing solutions. But even while the technology is catching up to the social explosion, there’s still plenty you can do with big data, technology is no longer the be all and end all.

Think about the different ways you could take all the information you have about your customers at the individual level, boil it up in a semi-unstructured way, and begin to use it to either prove or disprove different hypotheses that you might make about your customers, when they buy and why they react in the ways they do.

The possibilities are endless, so get started today with the data you’re currently collecting, taking it one bite at a time and integrating and appending other relational data sources, capturing more and more behaviours. By doing so, you’ll be building a strong foundation for using the 'new' big data to the fullest.

Ellen Valentine, product evangelist, Silverpop