Thinking Differently About Data

Does Big Data require a new way of thinking or should marketers simply consider it data?

Big Data is just data. In our experience, however, it does require a new way of thinking because of the possibilities it offers to marketers.

When we think of Big Data for marketing applications, it’s helpful to use four distinct, rich sources of structured and unstructured information:

  • Search data allows us to determine what products and services consumers and businesses are in market to buy.
  • Social data allows us to understand what consumers and businesses like and what they don’t like. It also informs us about their social footprint and connections.
  • Web-mined data is extracted from destinations like websites and blogs, as well as the web infrastructure itself, and this information is gathered by targeted crawling agents. There are also valuable web-mined data assets that are mined through human efforts.
  • Crowdsourced data is made available by allowing customers to provide data through digital methods in high volumes, where the combined data gathered from many individuals creates a data source that no single individual can create. The most common example is consumer reviews.

With this in mind, I’ll reiterate that Big Data is just data. What makes it look and feel different is its sheer volume. If we were to combine all the existing traditional structured, commercial databases that contain information about consumer and business behavior, we’d have about 5 billion gigabytes. That includes all commercial databases available to marketers: Acxiom, Dun & Bradstreet, Equifax, Experian, Infogroup, Nielsen, etc. This group represents the data sources used today for most data-driven, direct marketing decisioning systems.

Today, data companies collect and store more than 5 billion gigabytes of new structured and unstructured data every day. The dramatic rate of expansion of the volume of available data has made the Big Data sourcing market a complex environment. In addition, the companies that collect and store this information are not, in general, the traditional providers, so sourcing the right data to the appropriate user decisioning system is a real challenge.

Keeping pace with change

It’s inevitable that every decisioning system that exists today will need to redesign its data sourcing process to take full advantage of the Big Data transformation over time. (Why would any company rely on decisioning systems using less than 1% of the data that could be used to improve the company’s overall results?) Every organization using traditional data will need to develop a data-sourcing skill to ensure that the optimal information is sourced, structured, and deployed into its existing and future strategic marketing decisioning systems.

In the same manner that companies are developing analytical skills to improve decisioning, they will need to develop data-sourcing skills to ensure that the best data is available for their decisioning models. As the sourcing skill set evolves, marketers will begin to realize the full potential unlocked by these new data sources. As the process matures, the marketplace will respond and become a far more efficient environment for marketers to find the right data sources at the right price.

Clearly, we’re at the early stages in the maturity level of the new data-sourcing industry. But this process is inevitable, as these new data sources are transformational in their ability to improve the decisioning result. The market has some catching up to do—it hasn’t matured at the same rate at which the data explosion has occurred.

Fortunately, the rapid development in the technologies of storing, structuring, and processing massive amounts of data is keeping pace with the scale of data growth. The ability to connect thousands of processors in parallel has and will continue to advance our ability to process massive amounts of data with ever-improving performance and at low cost. To then structure the data and have it ready to be ingested into decisioning systems has made the transformation from traditional data sourcing to new, Big Data sourcing a reality.

The marriage of Big Data with the new technologies to process and structure that data has placed us at a unique moment in time to enhance the decisioning outcome for virtually every marketer. The next three to five years will be the window when this approach will be adopted throughout the industry. The business case for Big Data is so compelling that it’s no longer a matter of if, but when, companies will shift their thinking and enhance their data sourcing using these Big Data concepts.


Charles Stryker, Ph.D., Venture Development Center

Like many Big Data professionals, Charles Stryker, Ph.D., founder and president of Venture Development Center (VDC), arrived in this business through a back door. Initially wanting to put his computer science Ph.D. to use as a computer research scientist, Stryker worked for five years at Bell Labs, where he wrote a handful of technical papers on data-related topics. The consultations snowballed: Corporations increasingly asked Stryker about using data to influence their decision-making processes. This led to the founding of VDC in 1992, an advisory firm whose client list has included both early stage firms, as well as established giants like Acxiom, IBM, and Nielsen. Stryker received his pilot’s license 25 years ago—a hobby that accommodates both his business needs and his love of exploring the country and its various culinary cultures.

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