Big Data Needs Big Planning

Are you a marketer who’s been pressured to get with the Big Data program but have no idea where to start? Then no doubt you’ve heard the “just dig in and get your hands dirty” advice: Pick a project, enlist someone from IT to join the expedition, and set out in search of data-driven results. But analytics experts urge marketers to approach the learn-as-you-go method with caution.

“I’ve been down this road with marketers for years. They think they’ll get their hands dirty and figure it all out [as they go], but 10 years later they’re still trying to figure it out,” says Tony Stagg, whose Think Digital consultancy works with companies to establish strategic analytics plans. But because it can take large enterprises more than a year to put a plan into action, Stagg says companywide analytics strategies are rarer than they should be.

Wilson Raj, global customer intelligence director at SAS, agrees that strategic planning makes the Big Data wheels spin in synch, but is of the opinion that marketers can provide the sparks that get the engine going. “Start with a marketing tactic that links to a broader objective: customer orientation, business models. Solving one of those can home you into a framework for solving other larger problems,” he advises.

Stagg recommends a three-phase process when crafting Big Data strategies:

Benchmarking and assessment.

This phase includes existing data capabilities and future needs. Crucial to completing this step is rigorous data discovery. Marketers can’t know if they have all the data that’s valuable to executing a campaign if all the data available to them hasn’t been processed. “Before you hook your cart to the horse, throw a saddle on the horse and see what it can do,” says Forrester Research Analyst Dave Frankland.

Drawing the road map.

This is where agreement is needed on an organizational structure, tools, technology, and people required to execute the Big Data plan. It’s the part of the strategic plan in which various company factions, through trial and error, learn how they need to work together.

The difference is that it should result in a blueprint that can be consulted for every company project dependent on analytics.


Stagg compares this step to building a house. What kind of structure do you want? How many levels it will have, and how soon each will be constructed. “You set milestones and then deliverables have to be produced at the end of each one,” he says. “You may determine that at the end of month eight, you need a new data mining and analytics tool to determine which segments to target.”

Devising strategic plans for data implementation is complex. Normal business operations are interrupted. Gaps in skills and technologies must be filled in to progress to each subsequent step. Functional areas, like marketing and IT, don’t speak the same language or may get territorial. Sacred cows block the roadway. Stagg recalls an instance at one company in which a powerful brand group rejected a new data-driven strategy even though they admitted it would increase sales. It would have entailed altering their brand strategy and they refused to do it.

While some experts say it’s the analytics chief who should be the bearer of the strategic data plan, many agree that it’s the marketer who should be the initiator. “Marketers are the ones who are going to take action with the plan,” says Joe Stanhope, chief strategy officer of campaign analytics for SDL. “This data has the potential to become a revenue driver, and it’s marketers who are going to drive it.”

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