What’s The Story With Big Data?

If, like me, you’ve worked in the data industry most of your career, I’m sure you’re a tad fatigued by the term Big Data. It seems like you can’t go to a conference or read an article without the specter of Big Data looming in front of you. In fact, when I searched the term “Big Data,” at the time of this writing, I got 2.08 billion search results. Big Data is big. But it’s irrelevant. Data always has been.

Data in itself is useless. And creating and compiling more of it doesn’t make it any more useful. Think of the inefficiency and cost to the business of creating an environment where one captures as much data as possible without having a purpose or plan of how it will be used. It is quite evident that data only starts to provide value when we know how we’re going to use it. And the stories we want to tell.

To tell data stories we need to develop a data strategy. A strategy that has a purpose, that’s based on business needs and a need to solve a problem. But what’s most important? Demographics? Transactions? Site interactions? Social sentiment? All of this data can be harnessed, but if you’re nascent to the data world please don’t try and grab it all in one go.

While the desire to capture data is admirable, and having a relevant data strategy is a step in the right direction, too often the biggest issue facing a business—and reason for failure—is its own lack of corporate data literacy.

What do I mean by corporate data literacy? A data-literate corporation has the people and technical infrastructure in place to turn data into insight and to use this insight to drive its business decisions. From a marketing perspective this means analyzing customer data to reveal behavior, preferences, or intent that informs creative ideation, strategy, and targeting.

But it’s not easy. Certainly, in the data-driven marketing world, we have our go-to crutch words to sell a point. “Actionable insights” is one; “turning data into action” is another. These well-used phrases are preferred by consultants and vendors when selling their wares, but belie the complexity of the task described. Insight generation from raw data is an incredibly difficult and skilled exercise. And then there’s the challenge of turning insight nuggets into business decisions or marketing initiatives. Easy? No.

Data literacy means being able to look beyond the data and the analysis and recognize and communicate the commercial benefits of the output. After all, how many CEOs are interested in the r square of a regression model? Not many. How many CEOs would be interested in a campaign that reduced churn by 10%? Most.

This becomes a resource issue: the need to find a specialist who can translate data into commercial benefits and make them easily understood to stakeholders and the C-suite. In reality, we’re looking for data storytellers—the talented individuals who can reengineer data and insights into new and exciting business opportunities. It’s a search for a data unicorn, if you will; but they do exist, and I’m fortunate to work and have worked with some of the best.

Without the storytellers, data will remain underutilized and “useless”—relegated to business reporting.  With data storytellers, companies will evolve their corporate data literacy and become data-driven.

Subsequently, as corporate data literacy increases data storytellers will be able to morph into data monetizers. They’ll look beyond current business models and rethink its data and how it can be used as new revenue streams and products. Consider how retailers and banks already use and sell data and information to third parties.

I believe that it’s at this point—when data is a saleable asset and not just a means of measurement—that full corporate data literacy is achieved. So, here’s what I see happening in the near future as companies strive to achieve full data literacy:

  • The term Big Data will disappear
  • Data storytellers will become the new hot property
  • Data monetizers will emerge and help to establish innovative revenue streams

So don’t focus on Big Data. Focus on striving to achieve personal and corporate data literacy. That is the hottest new way to grow your business.





Ed Falconer is executive director of marketing analytics for OgilvyOne New York


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