Do the words ‘Big Data’ make you yawn? Don’t worry – this post is not a technical trawl of data analysis techniques. Instead, it aims to show why Big Data is a trend we cannot afford to ignore. And more importantly, it offers some tips on where to jump in.
What is Big Data?
The digital age has brought about an explosion of information that is both incredibly valuable and dauntingly complex. All digital channels – the web, mobile devices, PCs, email, social media, etc. – generate data ranging from customer accounts, passwords, contacts, networks, photos, videos and even seemingly throwaway comments about likes and dislikes. All of this leaves traditional database management tools bursting at the seams, giving rise to epic new storage systems such as Google server farms and The Cloud.
Mining for gold
The World Economic Forum report ‘Big Data, Big Impact’ recently declared data “a new class of economic asset, like currency or gold”. Yet unlike gold, Big Data is a mine that keeps on giving: global information is doubling every two years, and by 2020 data is expected to have multiplied by a factor of 50.
Big Data may seem daunting, but it’s a genuine game-changer, so understanding it is crucial to maintaining an effective online marketing strategy. As the 2011 SAS/Economist report concluded: “There is a strong link between effective data management strategy and financial performance.”
The missing link
So how do we get from point A ‘data management strategy’ to point B ‘financial returns’? The answer is interpretation. To adopt a social cliché, knowledge is power. And data analysis unlocks that knowledge. Wherever digital data is created, it can be stored, analysed and interpreted. Brian Solis, a man who knows a thing or two about disruptive technology, stated earlier this week, “the role of CMO and CIO is becoming closer than ever before”, with Big Data being the catalyst.
Three things you can do right now
1. Find someone who gets it
Big Data has massive potential to drive analytics and accountability, so you need someone in your organisation who can embrace those changes. In a PR Daily article listing essential ‘non-PR’ skills, Jeremiah Sullivan, owner of Framework Media Strategies put it like this:
“There is an enormous race to not only attain data from customers and competitors alike, but to also crunch the numbers and research the plethora of information ascertained from Web analytics to communicate better, smarter, and faster with target audiences. These days, being able to interpret data and statistics is essential.”
2. But do the basics yourself
You don’t need a maths PhD to collect data and manipulate it on a spreadsheet. Writing on Spin Sucks, Kami Huyse says it’s time we learned to embrace Excel:
“One of the best gifts you can give yourself is to take an advanced Excel course to learn how to manipulate data in spreadsheets. We need to move beyond the basics. Take a course locally, or the one linked to above. It is the skill that will pay back in spades.”
Kami also makes an important point worth bearing in mind not just in data analysis but more broadly in all marketing efforts: use your brain. Don’t be intimidated: ask questions and apply your professional judgement.
3. Get the right tools
There are plenty of free or relatively cheap tools to give you a helping hand. Google Analytics and Facebook Insights just keep getting better, while services like Social Mention add greater insights to their monitoring. And as Web Metrics Guru Marshall Sponder points out, companies like ClearStory are making software for ordinary business professionals because:
“The world is talking about the size of Big Data sources, but at the end of the day it will be about the ease of consumption.”
If all this is starting to sound interesting, check out Heidi Cohen’s excellent summary of ten data experts’ views, containing nuggets of insight such as this from Kathy Greenler Sexton:
“When you combine the tools and technology that are available now with the emerging awareness of data’s power to fuel new products, improve experience, drive marketing and leverage market intelligence—it’s easy to see that we are at a tipping point. This is the year of the data-driven company, and more companies will be modeling after Amazon’s success.”
So, what’s the lesson?
Well, you should know that big data is out there and its getting bigger by the day. However, you shouldn’t have to worry about the ‘big’ part of big data because Inkybee and other solutions use clever new technologies like Apache Hadoop to deal with that problem.
But, you should be aware of the power of big data and how it is going to affect marketing and public relations. Big data is game changing and agencies that understand the potential will be well placed to dominate in the coming months and years.
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