That's a Lot of Ones and Zeros

Marketers, your mission if you choose to accept it: Understand each one of your customers as an individual and create a specialized system to maximize value creation at every touchpoint while simultaneously designing a symbiotic internal culture and protecting your brand's promise.

CMOs definitely have their work cut out for them—but it's nothing to be afraid of.

“Trends in technology and data are intersecting and it's changing the nature of the craft of marketing; the marketing profession itself is changing,” said John Kennedy, IBM's VP of corporate marketing, addressing an audience of 250 marketing chiefs at the Ad Club's CMO Breakfast Series in NYC last week. “Customers are now the focus for every member of the C-suite.”

And it's Big Data that's going to make that happen. Let me dazzle your mind with a few stats:

  • By 2015, 80% of the world's data will be unstructured, according to IBM Research.

  • There's about 2.5 exabytes of data created everyday. For the uninitiated, an exabyte is made up of one quintillion bytes. For the doubly uninitiated, apparently “quintillion” is actually a real word.

  • About 90% of the world's data was created in roughly the past two years alone.

  • There are roughly a BILLION transistors out there for every human and each one costs about 1/10th millionths of a cent. (“There are more transistors in the world today than grains of rice,” Kennedy said.)

Every device in the world that has a transistor in is transmitting ones and zeros at a rapid clip. It's what's fueling all the unstructured data out there—tweets, Facebook posts, GPS locations. Data is literally pouring, streaming, gushing into companies. The hope is that all this information will prove itself useful and give the forward-thinking brands that proactively try to tap it a comfy competitive advantage.

“Pick your metaphor, avalanche, tsunami—but it's what's going to be coming at your companies, and that's only just the beginning,” Kennedy says.

Back in the early 1990s when Kennedy was an assistant brand manager at P&G on the Downy account, the nature of the work had a very clear structure: Get customers in the store using offers, make sure the product is merchandized well when they get there—and that was mostly it. Count the number of sales at the end of the day.

Now, driving share of wallet, while definitely not the secondary goal, can't happen without individualized, scalable forms of engagement. Let's take Downy as an example. In addition to driving the sale for household items, Downy has to address parenting, entertainment, the customer's need to be affiliated with groups and join social causes.

“Then it's how do you marry what you know about a person with the increasing palette of how you can know your customer,” Kennedy said. “Data is being woven into the entire fabric of how companies operate.”

It's much more than just database marketing. And if there's ever hope of seamlessly integrating the almost innumerable touchpoints out there with a specific customer's personal needs, tastes, wants, desires, and wishes, then its Big Data—and analytics—that'll give marketers their mojo to engage people, as Kennedy put it, “in a way that doesn't feel like marketing, but like a service.”

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