Use Data—Big and Small—to Improve Customer Relationships

In the search for insight, how relevant is the “size” of the data?

In its 2013 Big Data study, analyst firm Gartner found a steady climb in the number of companies investing in Big Data technology projects and companies with plans to do so. Gaining value from the data is the top concern of leaders surveyed; so, the real question is this: What kind of data do marketers need to enable them to get closer to their customers to drive revenue and profitability for their companies?

Let’s start by defining our terms.

Big Data: It’s aptly named

It’s estimated that more than 2.5 quintillion bytes of data are created every day. This data can certainly be relevant to the marketing team, though it isn’t necessarily readily available or easily actionable. Think of Big Data analytics as enabling you to combine and make sense out of massive data sets, both structured and unstructured. Big Data analytics can help us interpret signals to understand what’s trending out of the chaos of information. We can identify large-scale patterns of behaviors. And it can be critical in predictive analytics when “what if” scenarios and statistical models consume vast amounts of data to forecast likely outcomes.

Think about what Big Data would mean to a marketing team responsible for launching a new model of car. Patterns and correlations derived from analyzing large volumes of on- and offline data may reveal buyer demographics, geographic factors, response rates to various marketing campaigns, and how different segments are likely to interact with the brand on websites, in showrooms, and across other physical and digital locations.

Small Data: What is it?

Small Data accumulates as each of us individually leave trails of “breadcrumbs” behind us when we tweet, conduct Web searches, visit social sites, buy products, or use our smartphones to browse product reviews while shopping. These digital traces create an intriguing array of information about the people who connect with brands daily. Small data tends to be more personal, specific, understandable, targeted—and, very important to marketers, actionable.

Going back to that marketing team with the launch of a new model of a car, Small Data helps to target local campaigns, identify influencers, and personalize offers based on what you see and measure across channels and devices. Small Data can range from comments left on social sites, to tweets, to the clicks someone makes to configure a car and price it on a company website.

Democratizing data

To me, the most exciting opportunity this debate brings about is about democratizing data: giving marketers and business people access to useable data in formats that work, freeing it from the current realm of data scientists and analysts.

After all, data is useful only to the extent it supports the day-to-day decisions we make. That’s where marketing analytics comes in, isolating the information needed to improve campaign targeting or to understand complex channel interrelationships. What’s needed is a clear understanding of which data will support the marketing mission and what type of analytics to run on it. In the process Big Data gets “smaller” and more focused to deliver the insights of interest to the marketing team. In contrast, what is being defined as “Small Data” gives us the opportunity to harvest rich sources of information to build profiles supporting compelling campaigns and offers. Small Data enables marketing to respond to the digital clues about what someone wants across the customer journey.

Big Data versus Small Data

Ultimately, it’s not about casting a vote for Big Data or Small Data. Marketing teams need—and can benefit from—both with the right tools, analytics, and combinations of data. In an era in which we can measure almost anything, we therefore have to ask what’s meaningful. We can track every step of the customer journey, but marketing needs to ask the right questions to make the right offers across the right channels to the right people at the right time. So, the data you gather and analyze must be actionable. That requires metrics that matter and analytics applied to them to support decisions.

A debate over Big and Small Data can detract from the real issue: deriving meaningful insights and timely actions from the data you have, regardless of its size. In marketing, the discussion we need to have is not about Big versus Small Data, but about your data and how it can improve your customer relationships.

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