Big Data? What About Using The Data You Already Have Better?

There has been an interesting debate this year around Big Data and marketers. On the one side, we have the evangelists -- mostly vendors -- who queue up to tell anyone in the industry and others what they could achieve if they invested in Big Data. On the other side you have marketers who are left scratching their heads.

I have to be honest -- I'm kind of with the marketers, although perhaps for different reasons, Big Data's promise is that by intercepting and interrogating rapidly changing data you can make sense of it and gain insights you might otherwise have not garnered. Sounds great, but I have to be honest -- the only example I've ever seen that makes a lot of sense is in collecting data from patients to see if there are patterns that would otherwise have been obscured, such as reactions to medication or one condition when suffered alongside another is better suited to drug x rather than drug y. Such insight will ease a lot of suffering and save the taxpayer millions -- but making sure the better of two, or more, alternative treatments is attempted first.

All the examples around marketing always seem blatantly obvious to me. There's the classic tale about crunching the numbers to see if women buying a little black dress might need shoes to go with that, so you should offer them footwear. A person who's at the end of their phone contract who has been searching for rival offers might well be calling to consider leaving, so be nice when you pick up the phone and offer a good deal. The list goes on -- but apart from some things being blindingly obvious, most predictions of smarter marketing come from simply interrogating data and applying common sense.

Don't get me wrong -- Big Data can be useful, particularly in driving programmatic advertising. But I think most marketers safely assume that's covered off by their agency and tech vendor -- it's not something they have to lift the lid on themselves.

For marketers, Big Data must surely come over as a minefield. Not only are they unsure of what to do with the potential for looking at so much unstructured -- and hence seemingly meaningless -- data, but there are the issues of privacy and regulation to contend with.

So for what it's worth, my advice would be to do better things with what you already have. There can't be a single person reading this who doesn't get frustrated by marketers and the companies they work for not using the data they have freely given them. The one that really gets my goat is poor landing pages. Why on earth do you offer me an ad at the top of the Google search results that takes me to a generic home page? Why would you not take me to the page with the blue shirts I've already told you I want to buy. Another question -- why advertise a gift you no longer have in stock?

So, just in search, there are massive advances to be made. Simply link landing pages to what someone's been searching for and link PPC bidding engines to stock levels. Even better, link them also to your logistics systems so you can advertise an item that is out of stock with a note that an order today will be delivered in a week rather than next day. This is all data a company has. It doesn't have to go looking for mysterious signs from a petabyte of data flowing through Big Data vendor's vaults. It's right there in front of them.

While we're at it, why not use your own Web sites and see how they can be improved? Avis -- I'm sure your cars are lovely but I'll never get to find out because right now, I can't get your overly complicated, flashy-for-the-sake-of-it calendar booking system to work in Safari, although it will work in Chrome. Ironically, car rental company Sixt is only working for me on Safari and not Chrome. If you work for these guys and this is the first time you've heard of such issues, you have to ask yourself why. If you're aware of them, and nothing has been done, well, there's an even bigger "why" to ask yourselves.

Okay, so that could just be an issue I'm having. However, more widely on the Web, what about those crazy calendars which ask for a start and end date but then, after you've put the start of your, let's say, holiday in, don't automatically refresh the calendar for the end date. Instead you have to trawl through several months to tell the site that by definition, you can't go back in time when you're flying abroad, so the very least you can do is start the second half of the input process from the start date you've already typed in. And don't get me started on sites that make you put in the same information about yourself every time you search or hotel sites that allow you to search for rooms they don't have. Anyone else out there with three children will know exactly what I mean. Why allow me to search for a room for two adults and three children, unless you offer them?

So, rant mode over. I think the message is clear. Until marketers can get the very simple things right and make buying products from them mildly more appealing than passing a kidney stone, they should even be allowed near Big Data.

Marketers, customers and prospects are already telling you a great deal about themselves and their intent. Make the most of what you've got before even considering a big black box full of tricks. 

1 comment about "Big Data? What About Using The Data You Already Have Better?".
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  1. Jonathan Setty from Appnexus, December 19, 2014 at 8:49 a.m.

    Nice article Sean. Focussing on the first part rather than your rant (all of which is true!), I'd add that only a small % of companies will be truly leveraging their own 1st party data to its fullest potential.

    Let’s ask why?

    Speaking from an Advertising perspective, the emergence of Ad Technologies garnering browsing data on-the-fly (e.g. cookie based) is probably to blame. Businesses can successfully re-engage with abandoning shoppers based on any such easily collected data. Job done!

    Subsequently, that need to interrogate profiles from existing customer data to run advertising campaigns has effectively been bypassed over these past 4-5 years.

    Today though, as you say; marketers are left scratching their heads when facing the challenges of achieving more revenue growth through better use of their (now even bigger) big data!

    I’d agree with you; trying to make sense of big (typically unstructured) data presents marketers with a complex minefield. What to do with it? What does it mean? Where do I start? How much will it cost?

    Interestingly, you highlight the value Big Data has in programmatic advertising, but you then say that marketers are likely to assume it’s being taken care of by their agency/tech vendor. However, many agencies/tech vendors are only comfortable with using 3rd party DMPs vs. willingly and proactively asking for their client’s own rich and valuable data.

    And so everyone’s happy… The marketer may indeed think: “Phew! -- we don’t have to lift the lid on our Big Data… -- I didn’t want to open that can of worms” and the agency/tech vendor isn't stretching beyond their capabilities.

    However, furnishing programmatic advertising with valuable 1st party data need not be opening a can of worms. Looking into a few basic customer segments need not be that scary minefield and, as the title of your article suggests, the data is already there. The analysis and segmentation has probably been done for an existing e-CRM strategy. Email groups have been used by your Retentions Team distributing regular mailshots to, for example: lapsed customers, VIPs with high baskets, frequent flyers, business travellers, timely insurance reminders, in-store shoppers, men’s/women’s wear purchases, seasonal holiday bookers, etc. etc.


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