Big Data’s Big Evolution

Big Data Evolution

Over the past five years Big Data’s taken off in a colossal way and has permeated nearly every industry. From energy and healthcare, to retail and sports – it has provided many companies with previously unimaginable opportunities to better understand the world we’re in, how it works and how we engage it; including how we understand and engage each other.

This isn’t slowing down either. According to IDC, the Big Data market is forecasted to be worth $32.7bn/pa by 2017 – that’s a ten fold increase on its value in 2012, so whilst this shows that Big Data has clearly evolved from being an unknown entity to become a valuable asset, it’s yet to fully mature. The potential for growth is, therefore, huge. But how did we get here and, more importantly, what’s the next stage of evolution for the industry?

90 percent of data that exists today didn’t at the time of Facebook’s IPO in 2012, and we are still pioneering solutions that allow marketers to truly unite many disparate data sets. The end game is to develop a better, actionable understanding of audiences and the signals they display on a day-to-day basis.

The vast amount of technology-based solutions suggested so far are simply Big Data versions of existing approaches. For example, people often talk about Big Data analytics, but this is a more specific term that’s frequently used in the wrong context.

There’s a huge difference in dealing with Big Data and just large amounts of data and the two cannot be compared in terms of methodology or results, but don’t let the semantics stop you talking what you see to be your Big Data challenges.

Big Data started off as largely a conceptual discipline but it now has a more generally accepted, though often tweaked, structure in place and frequently refers to the 3Vs:

1. Volume – the amount of data you’re dealing with

2. Velocity – the speed at which you receive this data. Measured in anything up to real-time

3. Variety – the way in which you receive data, structured, unstructured, persistent, transient

The ability to get to grips with this new world of data is fundamental to our ability to identify, understand and engage consumers. The better you are, the happier the consumer will be and the better off your brand will be.

So amongst the hype, what have people done? The reality is, most have jumped on the bandwagon. It certainly feels more comfortable to be on the bandwagon than watching it pass you by! Some have insisted the bandwagon needs more hardware, more software. Some have claimed this bandwagon is the most important of them all, others have fundamentally doubted its validity and worth.

Big data can’t be ignored. We may grow to hate the term and the hype but we cannot escape the fact that many of the biggest challenges when it comes to generating consumer and business value from data, come from managing the 3Vs effectively.

And, perhaps we should go easy on those who may only be dealing with one or two Vs. Is it really big data? Who cares! So long as we’re using data responsibly and securely to build better value of consumers and a better economy, let’s not focus on semantics so much as the challenge of making good things happen!

The biggest big data challenge for marketers is how to bring the various silos of the ecosystem together. Back in the heyday of direct mail, marketers bemoaned the silos of data. Fast forward to today and with the bolting on of everything from email platforms, to mobile platforms to social platforms, the risk is, we have more now than ever!

Frankenstein’s monster would never have had quite the impact it did, if it lay around his laboratory in parts, its full potential (in this case, to wreak havoc) was once Frankenstein integrated the parts! And so, today’s marketers and CIOs need to bring together the consumer, by bringing their marketing together and their data together. That means, being able to integrate consumer data, online or offline across all media, channels and devices, at scale. Common sense perhaps, but common practice?

Take a company that has a wealth of offline data which it uses to send out a monthly newsletter database based on customer preferences and their purchase history. Traditionally, it would have been difficult to pinpoint an exact individual online, but by utilising specialist software tools, such as the knowledge base, customer-relationship managers are able to target specific individuals through multiple channels and offer the best message, product or service to them.

Knowing your audience better than your competition is a core main aim for all marketers. This can be achieved by gaining a holistic view of a customer and assessing their behaviour in on a macro and micro level. By investing in the infrastructure and processes that can give you exposure to the remarkable insights that the CRM or offline world can offer and combining this with the use of cookie synchronisation, you can gain a more accurate view of individuals’ behaviour and interests, even in real time.

As the Big Data industry becomes more saturated and mature, competition will only get stronger. Getting a head-start and choosing to invest in the right strategy will help drive a higher level of innovation and ability, faster than those around you.

The growing problem nowadays is consumers expect the brands they interact with to know them and personalised their engagement. An example of this would be when a customer is looking to buy a new TV – as their current one needs replacing – and the best deals online. It can be very hard to predict this without using an adapt cookie synchronisation framework and gauging consumers’ online behaviour.

Marketers frequently used to combat this by creating mass marketing campaigns that offered promotions to customers whose details they had. However, if you chose the wrong time to engage with a customer it can easily go awry. It can be extremely frustrating for customers to receive an email from a company outlining a promotional offer when you’ve only just recently made a purchase from them.

In this case, a marketing campaign will serve as a disincentive and achieve the polar opposite of its intended effect. There can be no doubt, the smarter integration of data allows brands to better predict and anticipate and in the case of serving ads and offers to customers who’ve already bought, to develop a trusted rather than flawed relationship.

A pragmatic approach can be found by operating an increased amount of partnerships, be that with websites such as Facebook and eBay, or with companies that traditionally would have been seen as competitors. Joint innovations and ventures will be a force for good within the industry – both for consumers and marketers.

Anything that can help process the 2.5 billion gigabytes of data which was generated every day throughout 2012 will be met with joy from marketers. It’s clear that partnerships will play a vital role in shaping the future landscape of Big Data. Putting all these partnerships in place and getting them to work effectively is not easy and this is where companies with Audience Platforms with pre-integrated partnerships can accelerate capability.

Investing in the right technology and software is however, only part of the equation in the real big data world. Every bit as challenging is ensuring you create the right business processes and structures and critically, staffing that structure with the right talent. You can’t have one without investing in the other and recruitment and investment in skill hold great potency in unlocking the masses of potential we know lies out there.

As our industry continues to develop, these individuals especially analytics and the much vaunted Data Scientists will be in higher demand – raising the average wage for specialist workers – and this in turn will lead to increased competition for the most highly prized assets. Technology and software alone will not solve a businesses’ Big Data challenge.

Of course, if you forget this final, but most important fundamental, and you can forget big data success. The top of your priorities should be protecting the privacy of the consumers you’re engaging with. Always keep privacy clearly defined within your strategy and plans. It used to be a tactical ‘must do’, it’s now mission critical and strategic.

If you can do this and invest in talent, infrastructure and find the right direction to travel, the possibilities will be truly endless. Those that embrace the evolution of Big Data and these simple steps will be best placed to offer effective marketing campaigns that universally appeal to customers and deliver real results. Big Data may be a buzzword that’s brought us a bandwagon, but the issues are real and we’re way passed defining it and talking about it. Let’s not wait for tomorrow’s worlds – let’s make it happen today.

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Jed Mole

Jed Mole is the European sales support and marketing leader for Acxiom, a leading enterprise data, analytics and 'software as a service' company. Jed is based in Acxiom's London office with responsibility for European operations. Acxiom also has offices in the United States, South America and Asia.