Think Small to Turn Big Data Insights Into Everyday Value

The small data movement is heating up—especially as more and more organizations shift their focus from big bang initiatives and systems for the data scientist to more practical analytics tools that business analysts and planners (and their customers) can use in their everyday roles. For marketers at the front lines of Web, database, and social marketing, there’s a lot to like about “thinking small.” Particularly if it means getting big data insights from tools, data, and approaches that they already own.

As we discussed in my last article, a small data approach can be truly transformative and help marketers gain control over their data assets, use practical data-driven marketing, and tap the power of self-service apps and delivery models. Even more so—as DCG recently explored in a multi-client study—at the corporate and leadership level. It’s here that there are significant opportunities to question the conventional wisdom about big data and support a new generation of “digital natives” as both customers and employees, by considering:

1.    What is the role of IT? Will it be an innovator or gatekeeper and barrier to change? As data and content become the new currencies, a fresh look at big data can help to rebalance the relationships between technology, marketing, sales, and line of business.

2.    How can we use our existing data? Can we give users new tools to access it better in their everyday roles? A renewed focus on personalized delivery and user experience, along with the creation of smart, rich applications and tools, can boost understanding at all levels of the organization.

3.    Where does big data fit? How does it relate to our other digital marketing, social, or e-commerce initiatives? Analytics is a key enabler across all of these areas. Creating a mind-set that isolates these capabilities, versus building them into every design, will create more barriers than insights.

Getting started: Use cases for data-driven marketing

As part of our study (supported by Adobe, Actuate, HubSpot and Visible), we interviewed more than a dozen social media, analytics, and big data planners, practitioners, strategists, and consultants to get their perspectives on how to bring the value of big data to the masses, and what tools and approaches they are using. In addition to validating the frustration many have with the pace/scale of big data projects and the need for new ways to make analytics more accessible, the idea of immediacy came up as a core driver for both information access and delivery.

Immediacy or timeliness of data impacts (and helps to define) two dimensions of data-driven marketing. First, is the organization in planning mode, or does it need to take immediate action? Second, are its decisions mostly influenced by historical and trending data, or is real-time data necessary (like in financial trading) to reach a timely conclusion or to complete certain tasks?

These two dimensions—trending versus real-time data, and planning versus spontaneous action—along with the first principles of small data (be simple, smart, responsive, and social), provide the building blocks for defining and validating four areas where big data can create everyday value—without calling in the data scientists for the most part.

Here are two of them, which are particularly relevant to digital marketers:

Use case #1: Market Insight (trending data, planning use)—to support such tasks as competitive intelligence, product planning, influencer outreach, and large-scale campaigns like trade-show marketing. Tools include rich applications, social listening, and visual reports (to make it “simple” for non-technical users to explore data); multi-source data fusion and natural language processing or text analysis (to make it “smart”); and forums, hangouts, and sharing capabilities to facilitate group decision-making and discovery of collective insights (making it “social”). In a number of ways, this use case is a mash-up of social media analytics and reporting tailored for specific end users, since many organizations today turn to social channels as their primary data source for market intelligence and customer feedback or sentiment.

Use case #2: Campaign and Content Targeting (trending data, immediate action)—to support such tasks as media buying, public relations and crisis communications, online merchandising, and smaller-scale more frequent campaigns like social or email marketing. Tools include interactive reports, charts, and alerts (“simple”); social listening/monitoring and business rules to spot trends and drive decisions (“smart”); and social sharing to promote insights/offers and gather immediate feedback (“social”). In the consumer world, Kayak‘s price-driven “When to Book” tool is an excellent example of a small data approach that uses special-purpose trending data presented via helpful, simple charts to help customers decide between booking their travel now or waiting for prices to fall.

Additional use cases that provide key opportunities for marketers include those for “Performance Monitoring” and taking a “Best Action” based on real-time data sources and delayed or immediate action. In all cases, there’s significant potential when you combine insights gathered across multiple data sources with clever packaging and a unique (immediate) value proposition for specific user segments. This is the essence of turning big data insights into everyday value—and a tremendous opportunity for marketers who lead this charge.

Allen Bonde is partner and principal analyst at Digital Clarity Group

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