Every now and then I'm confronted by a stat that I absolutely know is going to have deep and widespread implications for the digital marketing industry. I usually begin to feel the ripples within a few months even though it may take years to truly understand the full effect of the change. Whether it was the first time I read that more American internet users had broadband than dial up, the fact that 72 hours of video footage is uploaded every minute to YouTube, or the moment when Facebook reached five hundred million users -- these stats speak for themselves. The game has changed. I'm surely not the first person to uncover every new trend, but I know an earthquake when I feel one.
I read something recently in a USA Today article that set off my industry seismograph, "'Big data' transforms our lives and lifestyles," by Chuck Rassch. In a story around how data has permeated so completely into our daily lives, I read this:
"Welcome to your everyday world of 'Big Data,' the infinite sea of facts, products, books, maps, conversations, references, opinions, trends, videos, advertisements, surveys -- all of the sense and nonsense that is literally at your fingertips, 24/7, everyday from now on. Eric Schmidt, Google's executive chairman, estimates that humans now create in two days the same amount of data that it took from the dawn of civilization until 2003 to create."
Read that last sentence again: "Humans now create in two days the same amount of data that it took from the dawn of civilization until 2003 to create."
OK, whether or not you're on the love or hate side of 2012's buzziest buzzword, "big data," it's time to get on the bandwagon, folks. But should we immediately accept the notion that having more data will mean having better data?
Does more equal better?
I asked this question to my company's co-founder and CTO, Anto Chittilappilly (Chittilappilly speaks data fluently and -- secretly -- I think he might have been born in the Matrix). I wanted to know if one should automatically assume that having more data is actually a good thing, he went to the white board and wrote the following:
"Even though we collect a lot of data and that amount of data is increasing exponentially, the data itself has very little use," Chittilappilly explained. "Data is used to develop what people actually want which is information. Information technology is all about developing information out of data and is used to understand what is going on and to predict what will happen. The ability to predict with different scenarios allows you to alter the future outcomes on your favor. To know exactly the right thing to do at the right time -- that information is utterly invaluable to any business. "
"OK, that's the value in data," I said. "I get that. But what's the value of big data?"
"Having more data is like having more apple trees. The opportunity to find 10 great apples in an orchard of one hundred trees is greater than if you only have a single tree to pick from. The more data we collect, the more chance we will be able to find the nuggets of information and supporting evidence that will lead to more accurate predictions," Chittilappilly said.
As much as the term big data seems to make marketers cringe, we've been working as an industry to more data-driven thinking for the past decade. In fact, 96 percent of U.S. brand marketers and agencies recently responded as being very concerned with being able to understand and drive ROI from big data.
But where do we start?