Big Data's Big Deal: And Why It's The Ultimate 'Renewable Resource'

Make no mistake. Big Data is getting some awful big coverage these days. Google the phrase and over 1 billion hits result. From lecture hall to The New York Times, Big Data is on everyone’s lips.

But why? And what does Big Data mean? To answer the second question first, “Big Data” entered popular culture in 2008, and speaks to the information generation and the rate at which the human database grows, aided chiefly by digital technology. So rapidly has data growth accelerated that IDC’s 2011 Digital Universe Study predicts a 50-fold increase in the amount of worldwide data by 2020. Big Data is a Big Deal because of the degree it overlaps other emerging technologies. That’s why in October 2012 research firm Gartner ranked “Big Data” in its Top 10 Strategic Technology Trends for 2013 -- because it correlates with many other list trends including mobile devices, apps, cloud computing, and consumer analytics.

For Big Data, consumer analytics is where the action is at and why it’s rapidly being recognized as the ultimate renewable resource. Properly managed, stored, analyzed and acted upon, Big Data helps marketers better engage their customers by painting an accurate, granular shopper picture. The more that picture improves, the better they can attract, engage and retain a customer. In other words, real-time actionable data, gathered via SMS messages, mobile email, digital Wi-Fi along with Bluetooth-enabled signage opt-ins, and the latest generation of proximity detection -- all capable of gathering average price points, typical purchases (even in-store and near-store dwell times along with gender and likely customer demographic)  -- are beginning to deliver marketing gold.

Of course, capitalizing on Big Data requires some major restraint. And despite the information influx, consumers are rightly concerned over data security, privacy, and the distribution of their personal information to third parties.

To that end, here are my Big Data observations and how marketers can best use this information in a responsible and profit-maximizing manner.

  • Seek anonymous collection as step one: According to a recent study, 48% of customers felt that the best time to win their loyalty was during a purchase. But the catch is that they woud rather that data collected was anonymous. Once data is put to good use gaining customer trust, however, additional data can be gained from loyalty programs.
  • Big Data still yields big question marks: The reality is that for all the hype surrounding Big Data, only 26% of retail executives report being fully aware of the concept and 17% of retail executives are not aware of it at all. Some of that disconnect is undoubtedly due to an uncertainty of what to do next after the data is collected.
  • Privacy is priority one: The Telecommunications Consumer Protection Act of 1991 makes clear that company text messaging must be an opt-in experience. Going forward, marketers must be mindful of existing privacy laws, remain vigilant over learning about updates and telecommunication legal changes, and properly vet third-party companies, ensuring that they have had no prior problems.
  • Gain trust one customer at a time: A recent Forrester report found that nearly 40% of survey respondents did not trust any company with their personal data. Banks and investment companies scored trust worthiest, but even here only 43% agreed with that sentiment. Aim for extreme data transparency so potential customers know how their mobile information is being collected, used and what third party (if any) is doing the analysis.

Like renewable energy’s global worth, Big Data -- and the analysis of it -- is every bit as valuable in driving the twenty-first century’s information engine. For marketers that means capitalizing on a host of digital technologies from mobile to signage, the ways those devices communicate via Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, and the critical consumer metrics they gather. 

There’s no question that Big Data will only grow bigger in the years ahead. Up for debate is how “big storage” and “big analysis” will manage to keep up. Otherwise today’s data deluge will become meaningless as marketers become swamped and are unable to see the forest for the trees. That’s like recognizing wind as a renewable resource, but failing to build wind farms to capitalize on its potential. And that doesn’t require any amount of Big Data to recognize it’s not where marketers want to be.


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