But in an age where marketers are becoming increasingly inundated with data about everything their customers do, I think it’s important to point out that bigger doesn’t always equate to better. Data is merely the raw material of useful information. It’s still as much of an art as science to get at the “ah-ha” moment – to collect, analyze and interpret the most relevant data, turning it into actionable and value-creating information. That information, and the knowledge of what to do with it, is what creates competitive advantage from big data. It is still as much about quality as quantity.
Of course, the concept of “Big Data” is not new, as what constitutes “big” is relative. 30 Years ago a terabyte of data was considered a massive amount –only used by NASA and chess computers; today multiple terabytes of data are collected monthly by mid-sized retailers. But the term itself has recently come into vogue as our internet age now produces enough data to be awe inspiring by any standard (140 million people will make purchases - worth over $2 billion - on Cyber Monday alone), and IT costs have come down enough to store & process it all. Yet the question that remains in my mind is what to do with all of that data? Where does one begin to find the few nuggets of really insightful information in that sea of bytes?
This piece from SAS insightfully points out these connections between big data and good marketing: http://www.sas.com/en_us/insights/big-data/big-data-marketing.html
The recent obsession over big data would have you believe that the bigger the data sets (i.e. the number of records in a set of data, and the total number of data sets in a data warehouse) are the competitive advantage in and of itself. But this “more is more” approach does not really focus in on the critical success factor: collecting relevant data in an organized and well-thought out way – based on asking yourself the right questions before the data is even collected.
Check out this article by Forbes contributor Greg Satel. He also makes the case that marketing savvy is still needed in an age of big data and machine learning: http://www.forbes.com/sites/gregsatell/2014/10/12/the-future-of-marketing-combines-big-data-with-human-intuition/
I am not a data scientist, nor a data modeling expert, so I cannot claim to know every last thing about big data. But I do have enough experience as a data-driven marketing professional to know that getting your hands on the right (most relevant) data, and then knowing what to look for (in terms of potential correlations) can separate good from great, and truly create a competitive advantage without wasting time, resources and money. A conversation I recently had with the CEO of a large marketing analytics company confirmed this notion, as he remarked “there is a lot of ‘fool’s gold’ out there with people thinking that big data equals good data.”
So, my point of view is that while the idea of pursuing big data make sense, it is more important (and often under-rated) that the best, most relevant data is collected; that the true skill lies in selecting the correct analytic approaches, and asking the right questions going into the analysis. A skilled marketer will lift themselves above their competition by thinking through these issues before diving into all those terabytes collecting in their data warehouse.