Big data: What's helpful, what's hype

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Do you want to know how to use big data to achieve your marketing goals? Do you worry that the big data revolution presents both big opportunities and significant obstacles? Have you begun implementing big data into your marketing? Are you almost there, or do you have a long way to go?

Join the club. The vast majority of marketers have either implemented big data and are doing great (thanks for asking!), begun using big data and are almost there (we just need the recipe for that secret sauce, please!), or they've started thinking about big data and concluded they have a long way to go (seriously, we didn't think there'd be math on this exam).

Big data: What's helpful, what's hype

So how do I know what the vast majority of marketers are thinking? Data. You see, eMarketer recently asked marketers about big data, and nearly all of them said it was either an opportunity or some combination of opportunity and an obstacle. In fact, only about 5 percent of marketers said big data was a total obstacle. By contrast, the majority of those surveyed (61 percent) said they see big data as both an opportunity and an obstacle, but acknowledged that they have a long way to go when it comes to harnessing big data and using it consistently in their decision-making process. A much smaller group (19 percent) agreed that big data is both a challenge and an opportunity, but they were pretty sure that they were "almost there" in terms of implementation. And of course, a confident few (15 percent) said they've got it under control; not surprisingly, they see big data as a total opportunity.

With 95 percent of marketers interested in big data, it's little wonder that this one-time cottage industry has gotten so, well, big. Spending on big data is expected to reach $18 billion this year and grow to $47 billion by 2017.

But it's not just about big money. Big data is a big topic in marketing circles, especially because many marketers see it as a high-impact, low-cost difference-maker. Not surprisingly, there are stories about the handful of brands that are winning with big data. There are stories about brands that are failing with big data. And predictably, there are lots of stories about how big data is changing marketing and how marketers can adapt. And of course, as with any big topic, there are the critics and the haters.

Unfortunately, the more we use the term big data, the further we seem to get from understanding what it actually is and the closer we get to turning it into one of those meaningless marketing buzzwords. In fact, there are some marketers, and even some data folks, who worry that big data already has an image problem.

But regardless of what you call it, the data revolution is in the process of transforming our world. Marketers can't afford to ignore big data, but right now the bigger risk is that they're losing the forest through the trees, according to Joe Rospars, CEO of Blue State Digital and the principal digital strategist for Barack Obama's presidential campaigns in both 2008 and 2012.

"A lot of marketers think that they can just collect data and that it will tell them what to do," says Rospars. "That's not really how big data works. And what you want isn't so much big data as smart data."



Sione Palu
Sione Palu July 7, 2013 at 11:06 AM

Big data is not new. Its just that marketers are late to the party. Physicists have been doing big data modeling and analysis since the early days of computing. The Manhattan project (World war 2 atomic bomb super secret project) was the earliest adoption of compute intensive analytical methods by mathematicians & physicists who were involved in the project. Mathematician/Physicist Prof. Jon Von Neumann was a lead principal in the Manhattan project responsible for the modeling nuclear fission process at the time. A method that he and others developed at the time which he code-named Monte-Carlo (after a place in Europe - just to conceal their work), was as popular back then as it is today. I've seen a research paper that uses this method in marketing data-analytics, however the method is still mainly dominant in engineering/science disciplines.

Amazon, knows really well of how to apply big data analytics for for automated marketing (recommender systems).

Adam Kleinberg
Adam Kleinberg July 2, 2013 at 6:00 PM

I think Joe hits the nail on the head. It's not about data so much as insight.

That Kleinberg fella, on the other hand.

Seriously though, data definitely has a role in helping derive insight — and insight is what smart creative is based upon. But creativity is what makes great creative great.