Commentary

Big Data, Shm-ig Data

  • by February 23, 2012
 We are in the year of “big data.” In fact, we may be in the age of big data, too. Users are generating more data than ever by their actions online -- clicking, talking, “like-ing,” etc. And marketers are gathering more data than ever with new analytics tools, social media monitoring platforms, mobile analytics, etc. But in many cases, brands and their agencies are drowning in the data rather than making coherent use of it.

Making Sense of New Data

There is a reason the new data from digital channels has not been fully understood or used so far. It’s all apples-to-oranges when compared with metrics from traditional ad channels, such as TV, print, and radio. The new metrics of click-throughs, pageviews, time-on-site, etc. cannot easily been compared to gross ratings points, circulation, etc.
Traditional metrics are referred to as reach and frequency metrics, and digital metrics are often referred to as engagement metrics. Indeed, traditional metrics have to do with the size of the audience to which the ads were shown; digital metrics have to do with the actions that users take: e.g. click on an ad, perform a search, share something on social networks, etc.

So while the data from traditional versus digital is hard to compare, what if we don’t try to. It makes sense that awareness data deals with the size of the audience -- because the more people who are aware, the greater the sales. This is a top-of-the-funnel metric. Digital data, on the other hand, is more middle-to-lower funnel data. It deals with users taking the action to click on display ads, search for something, or even buy it online. Traditional versus digital data should not be compared -- they apply to different parts of the purchase funnel.

Bridging Traditional and Digital Channels

Once advertisers realize this difference and no longer try to compare two, then we can start to bridge the gap that divides traditional forms of advertising from digital, where digital is still the “poor stepchild” to the big TV ad budgets.
If we use the right data for the right things, then we can think of advertising more holistically -- use awareness-related tactics (traditional) when lack of awareness is the marketing challenge and use engagement and response tactics (digital) when awareness is not the issue. By thinking of digital advertising as advertising and thinking more holistically across channels, marketers can truly achieve Unified Marketing, where the right channel and tactic is chosen to address the right marketing problem.

We also need to ensure we don’t apply traditional advertising perspectives to digital and vice versa and therefore ask the wrong questions. For example, asking for reach and frequency in digital is wrong and irrelevant, because digital is about the actions of the users who are making their way down the purchase funnel toward the purchase, not about how far and wide the advertiser casts the net.
Asking for the granularity of tracking and metrics in traditional channels is also wrong, not only because it is simply not feasible, but also because traditional channels are about the vastness of the reach. 

Bringing Big Data to the Mainstream

As companies continue to adopt and use big data for marketing, there are pitfalls that should be known and proactively addressed in order for this analytics business to achieve permanence and the mainstream. For example, when companies attempt to correlate data from different silos -- e.g. offline point of sale data, social media data, Web analytics, etc. -- what is the unique identifier they will use? Will consumers’ personal information, including their name, address, gender, etc. be used? Will simply anonymizing the data be enough?
Will the user be able to not only opt-out but also control the flow and use of their personal information? What data would be considered personal, if not my name and address -- the list of sites that I visit, the people I am friends with on Facebook, the searches that I perform on Amazon, my life stream on Twitter?
The handling and use of these new types of data needs to be carefully addressed. In a world where consumers’ are more empowered with information and more vocal about demanding their rights, marketers should proactively address these concerns and even err on the side of the user. That will give them access to the right data for the right marketing purpose.

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1 comment about "Big Data, Shm-ig Data".
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  1. Brian Dalessandro from media6degrees, February 23, 2012 at 10:23 a.m.

    Excellent ideas. I also think that its not just the measurement KPI's that need to be reinvented, but also the strategies for planning and executing campaigns that need to change. I think too many companies are just applying older offline methods to online buys and not reexamining the approach given the size and complexity of online data. There aren't offline parallels to what can be observed in today's online activities. The marketing strategies and KPI's should thus adapt to the new data landscape.

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