Big-Data Storytelling: The Agency's Role In 'Moneyball' Era Of Marketing

All the talk of the day is Big Data: I have Big Data.  You have Big Data.  You’d think our industry had an inferiority complex, and that size really does matter!  To some extent, it does, but I’d like to offer a way to think about big data that clearly details the way human insights can be leveraged in this age of data activation.  Simply put, it’s about storytelling.

In full disclosure, I work in Big Data, and I find it infinitely interesting. I love data and I love finding ways for companies to organize and activate their data, but the platforms and systems that abound are nothing without human insights that can weave together the data points to tell a story consumers can truly understand and apply to their own lives.  Data can only go so far by itself -- it needs to be digested and packaged for consumers, because people like stories.

The “Moneyball” era of marketing is dependent on data and the stories that it can tell -- but not at the expense of agencies and the creative departments that drive their revenue. These creative departments will, however, have to become more aligned with communications planning if they are to take advantage of the new parameters that face marketers.    To brainstorm ideas in this market, a creative lead can be guided through an audience profile, which can be leveraged to understand audience behaviors, what sites they like to visit, the kinds of products they like to purchase, etc. 



In the traditional creative process, a research team would present fieldwork depicting a two-dimensional profile of a target audience, and the creative team would brainstorm ways to resonate with that audience.  In today’s environment, you can create a far more three-dimensional view of the target, then brainstorm messages that you can throw out for testing via banners, search and social to engage in real-time feedback and determine refinements.  You then use this information while appending third-party data to help you explore more of an audience’s psyche and what makes up their consideration decisions. 

This can’t all rest on the creatives’ shoulders. A strong communications planning team can certainly become a valuable asset for exploring these avenues for feedback, sending relevant lessons back to the creative team.  The communications planners will drive real-time information gathering and data aggregation while the creative team can manage the storytelling that weaves together what they’ve learned and build upon previous knowledge to craft even more relevant and effective execution. 

This process sounds more time-intensive and less efficient upfront -- until you realize it saves significant “hard costs” on the back end, when it comes time to execute creative messages through paid media.  The more you know about your audience, the more likely you are to find ways to target them using both traditional as well as digital media channels, decreasing the “waste” against people who are not your target audience. 

There will be more work upfront, but a subsequent increase in the efficiency of the placement, resulting in a higher level of performance.  The final analysis should clearly state that the ROI increase would significantly outperform the increased time for upfront strategic coordination.  In this way, agencies can find their place using Big Data as a tool to provide a more effective campaign recommendation that evolves as a result of market feedback.

So in this period of buzz surrounding Big Data, don’t lose sight of the ways that storytelling will be even more important to connect the data dots, so to speak.  If you do, you will overlook the most immediately effective way to leverage all this sensory information.

3 comments about "Big-Data Storytelling: The Agency's Role In 'Moneyball' Era Of Marketing".
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  1. Jim Lillig from Synergy Intermedia, February 13, 2013 at 6:05 p.m.

    Corey, I usually think you are spot on with your articles. But for the Moneyball Era to actual be realized, using big data to create a unique one to one relationship with the customer is the end game. Telling stories is good, but for online retailers swimming in data, being able to make unique individualized product suggestions that have relevance down to a single user level is what I see most CMO's clamoring for. Agencies, since they are creating more noise than clarity in many cases for the merchant/retailer, do not always get the true meaning of what big data can deliver. In an age where everything is tracked, it would seem you would want to not only tell someone a story to connect, but actually understand what is driving the customer and then place relevant choices in front of them online and in their email. I have written more about this solution on my blog ( and how retailers are finally starting to wake up to using social media data blended with clickstream, transactional and email behavior data sets to be able to tightly predict on a one to one basis what products their customers are most interested in. It all comes down to using BIG DATA to be hyper-personalized to an audience of one. Unless you are creating a unique story for each customer, I don't see how you can say you are using big data to its fullest.

  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, February 13, 2013 at 11:15 p.m.

    Creepy creepy creepy

  3. Pete Austin from Fresh Relevance, February 14, 2013 at 8:43 a.m.

    Nobody has enough data to create a "unique story for each customer". Nobody. And they probably never will, not least because it would be far too creepy. What we have to do is aggregate the available data from small groups, to maintain the illusion of individual personalisation while enabling statistically-valid conclusions.

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