Data: Go Big or Go Home

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In a world where your refrigerator will soon be able to alert you when you're running low on milk, Big Data is about to get even bigger. Hence the million dollar question posed at the 2014 Marketing&Tech Partnership Summit: What can marketers do to take best advantage of the Internet of Things?

There are already 2.8 billion people online—a number forecasted to grow by roughly another billion by 2017. By the year 2020 there will be about 200 billion devices connected to the Internet. Wearables, the connected home—these things are not here in full force just yet but their time is coming soon.

“When it comes to data, no one can sit on their laurels today,” said Barton Goldenberg, founder and president of customer-centric strategy firm ISM. “What does that whole new wave create? A whole new challenge for the marketing community.”

Historically, marketers have thought of themselves as half-scientist, half-artist. These days, it's becoming more about what Todd Cullen, global chief data officer of OgilvyOne, refers to as “the geek versus the creative;” in other words, the need to embrace both technology and creativity to have any chance at marketing success in the digital age.

“It's about collaboration,” said Cullen, a self-proclaimed data geek with a creative bent. “There is a new role for data experts in marketing as stewards; we don't often think of ourselves from that point of view, but we probably should—it's a noble and responsible calling to handle consumer data.”

Data is becoming the “common language we use to converse as people, as an industry, and as colleagues,” Cullen said. “It's no longer a strategic imperative to master analytics, it's a given—today, it's the price of admission.”

It'll take some time to adjust, but when marketing and tech work together, the results can be just what the consumer ordered; what Goldenberg calls “insight-driven management decision-making.”

One salient example comes from Gilt Groupe, an e-commerce site that offers members exclusive deals on high-fashion brands through limited online offers. But the company noticed that while its flash sales were driving healthy competition among members vying for access to specific luxe brands, they also caused frustration when consumers weren't able to get in on the action in time.

Gilt conducted market research into the issue, including qualitative and ethnographic studies, and walked away with this golden insight straight from the mouth of the consumer: “If I'd only known my brand was on sale!” That finding led directly to the launch in August of Gilt's “Your Personal Sale” functionality. Included within the mix of regular daily sales, personal sales are now generated by an algorithm and tailored to each member based on past purchase behavior, demographics, and seasonal data. Members are alerted by email to ensure they don't miss out.

“It was a true collaboration between technology, marketing, and merchandizing, and it allows us to create a truly personalized customer experience,” said Tamara Gruzbarg, senior director of analytics and research at Gilt. “There is no shortage of data and frankly, with as much as we know about customers, we don't have an excuse not to be personalized.”

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