Editor's Note: The following is a guest post by Neil Michel, chief strategy officer at Wire Stone, a digital marketing agency that's part of Accenture Interactive.
Harnessing Big Data is high on many marketers' priority lists for 2018, under the assumption that an outpouring of shiny new data points will reveal fresh insights about their customers and how to better attract, serve and retain them. However, the reality is that properly utilizing tried and true methods of analyzing traditional marketing data remains a more effective (and simpler) path forward for most marketers.
In my view, marketing data and Big Data have too often become conflated, or the distinction between them is misunderstood. Properly defined, Big Data utilizes data sets of huge volume — which often include a vast breadth of data types — that arrive with a real-time rapidity that standard database technologies aren't designed to keep up with. For example, Big Data might mean collecting every measurement taken by all the myriad sensors in place across a business' entire supply chain, or every single social media mention of a brand as they happen.
Certainly, there's treasured analysis to be dug out of these mountains of information, but it's important to really weigh the cost of accessing those insights versus their value — no treasure is worth more than the cost of digging it up. Considering the time, energy and new technology investments that gathering and processing raw Big Data requires, it's only wise to pursue this path if the results outperform traditional methods. For most marketers today, this is not yet the case.
The more effective strategy for many — most, really — marketers is to make smarter use of all the "small data" that they already have the tools to properly tap. The standard marketing data that businesses currently have collected in their existing systems certainly contain gems of actionable insight; for many brands, they just more likely require focus and talent to sift it out. Instead of delving into the complex realm of Big Data, devoting a big effort toward traditional analysis will pay greater dividends across the majority of use cases.
The ultimate goal for marketers is to put data to use in shaping their customers' experiences throughout the customer journey. When analysis is successful, it empowers a brand to deliver a relevant offer to the right customer at the perfect moment, while also reducing the cost of each sale due to this highly-targeted efficiency. Compare the difference between Sears and Amazon, or Uber and Yellow Cab; these are businesses that ultimately provide the same goods or services, but have a vast level of differentiation as far as their command of data insights.
In Amazon's case, deep analysis of regular marketing data allows the company to predict customer demand, insights which it puts into action by shipping inventory even before it's ordered to fulfill same-day delivery. In this way, actionable insights based in small data can add up to produce vastly superior customer experiences without requiring Big Data infrastructure and investments.
Achieving the capabilities for this robust analysis of traditional marketing data does require commitment to the approach, as well as capable technology solutions that can process data to produce a single view of each customer and actionable insights on reaching them. Fortunately, these solutions are plentifully available and compatible with existing tools.
While many marketers use an array of niche platforms to engage customers — including solutions from marketing automation to CMS, social listening and management, sales and CRM, customer service and more — the ability to unify these viewpoints is essential. Platforms for business intelligence, such as Tableau or Microsoft Power BI, can provide this single viewpoint and deliver actionable analysis that's only made available by gathering holistic knowledge of the customer. These insights can then be acted upon to engage customers via the appropriate channel and at the appropriate moment the analysis specifies for each opportunity.
While Big Data will undoubtedly remain an exciting and evolving trend in the months and years ahead, for the majority of marketers, the huge insights they're looking for are sitting within data they already have on hand, waiting to be intelligently tapped into and put to work to create the more engaging customer experiences we all seek.