Five tips to get best value from Big Data

20th Aug 2012

Matt Hollingsworth outlines a five-step plan to extract the most value from Big Data.

Data has been getting considerably bigger for many years, but “Big Data” has only recently emerged as an industry catchphrase. No longer merely the domain of the geeks and techies in the IT department, this explosion of data has been caused by changes in consumer behaviour and consumption - the way people shop, work and relax.
To paraphrase an old advertising adage, marketers could be forgiven for thinking, “I know up to 95% of data is of little value to me; I just don’t know how to find the most valuable 5%.”
The fact is the explosion of data has been caused by changes in consumer behaviour and consumption; the way we shop, work and relax. The growth in numbers and kinds of channels, devices such as smartphones and all the realtime data they provide through apps and social networking has led to big data. Consumers have created it, and marketers must care about it – this is their space.
Marketers are indeed recognising they have a chance to make the most of the opportunities for growth that big data represents. But, let’s face it, the volume and complexity of the task at hand will have some people quaking in their boots. So what’s the best way of dealing with it?
To borrow another catchphrase: don’t panic! To make brands more successful by better understanding, targeting, engaging and serving consumers using Big Data, marketers should consider this analogy of human vision which features both ‘focused’ and ‘peripheral’ abilities.
Consider this analogy: human vision features both focused and peripheral abilities. We walk down the forest track looking at the path ahead, not seeing every leaf around us, but when we sense movement our eyes immediately swivel to the source and respond to the threat or opportunity. Marketers need to create the ability to manage signals but continuously be aware of new ones within the noise and react appropriately.
The starting point isn’t always clear but the following five-step plan can extract the most value from Big Data:

1. Put the consumer first

Every marketer knows that for a brand to be successful, it has to have a compelling offer delivered to consumers via the right channel at the right time. Big data does not change this, but creates new opportunities. Data can be used to enhance the product, improve the price and make the promotion far more relevant to the place.
One of the main challenges is deciding where to begin. The first step of a journey into the fast-moving world of big data should be to ensure that you are aligning your efforts to your business objectives.

2. Define the starting line

It’s necessary to have a good overview of what big data your organisation already has. The way to approach this task is by conducting a consumer-centric data audit. With those involved in the process a comprehensive list of the raw materials you have available for any big data initiatives and identification of the gaps where the data is unavailable needs to be created.

3. Create ‘Plan A’ – a proportionate response

Having understood the objectives and your organisation’s landscape in steps one and two you must now build a strategy for managing and making big data actionable– a ‘Plan A’. This needs to test and invest, proportional to the strength of your analysis and findings. The challenge here is the volumes and variety of data involved. Furthermore, unless the data gets processed and actioned rapidly then it quickly becomes stale.

4. Run a big data proof of concept test

This step is a reality check. There may be a significant investment required to establish a big data environment, not just in terms of hardware but also skills. Demonstrating return on investment is therefore crucial to securing sponsorship from the business. Ironically many of the use cases do not actually require big data. The volumes are so large that the decisioning necessarily becomes simplified.

5. Create a roadmap

Finally, you are ready to build on the results of the proof of concept. This is where you can begin to achieve both focused and peripheral vision: the ability to focus on the data that matters most whilst being aware of other data, and be constantly on the lookout for new or previously unavailable data. Your roadmap should outline how any proof of concept tests can be operationalised and how they will help the organisation move forward, with future tests already defined.
It should be a strategic and tactical plan that puts big data trials into practice, generates results, enables learnings and identifies potential opportunities so that marketing, your brand and its customers continuously benefit.
Given consumers create big data and brands need to engage, serve and delight them to be successful, it follows that marketers are best-placed to plot the course towards finding that golden 5% of your big data, ensuring it delivers benefits to both the consumers and the brand.
Big Data has been evolving and growing in the background for some time. Now it’s here, can you afford not to take it on?

Matt Hollingsworth is managing account director at Acxiom.

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