Big Data - Does the term get in the way?

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Big Data spans everything from optimising transport systems to identifying early signs of disease and flu epidemics, but what about Big Data in the marketing world?

IT companies and consultancies would have us believe Big Data is crucial to marketers, they are doomed without it, pushing expensive software as a panacea in a similar way to when expensive CRM software was pushed in the 90s.

There is even confusion around the definition of Big Data, but for clarity let’s say the ‘blueprint’ of Big Data is the US government monitoring every one, in every medium, in real time to identify security threats. Costing hundreds of millions of dollars where the KPI is not increased revenue, but safety. For
many organisations, anything even approaching this would be unprofitable, which leads us to the question: who needs Big Data and who in the marketing world profits from it? More confusion…

We knew from our client experience there was confusion over Big Data and wanted to find out what other organisations were doing. So we carried out a piece of qualitative research to some of the UK’s largest brands, collectively holding billions of pieces of information, including Barclays, John Lewis and
Channel 4.

And the main thing we concluded? That the term “Big Data” gets in the way! The research revealed that there is a lot of ambiguity and frustration surrounding the term, few admitted to having Big Data sussed. Lots didn’t like the term, felt it wasn’t for them or didn’t need it. Many Marketing
Directors felt internal pressure to implement it with no one real cost justification of how it would drive bottom line. This wasn’t a surprise. The reality is that not all data is valuable and IT companies touting their Big Data solutions for Big Data prices is just one of the ways the term is getting in the way.

Unlike government organisations marketers simply want to make profit by optimising budgets to meet business objectives. The eruption of data sources, particularly through online interactions via cookies and social media, was recognised by almost everyone interviewed, but when questioned about investing in Big Data a lot were unclear if it was relevant to them at this stage in their business. The term “Big Data” causes hesitation, when in fact it should not be viewed as a giant leap into the unknown, but as a spectrum, in which many organisations are already on.

In some cases the term “Big Data” had a paralysing effect on the data departments, viewed as under delivering because they didn’t do Big Data when in fact they were delivering state of the art analysis!

Media companies have accelerated along the Big Data spectrum by default because of their subscription model. They have been quick to realise the opportunity this large amount of data presented them, the information was relevant and readily available. A lot have taken on distributed storage and processing technology such as Hadoop, quickly progressing along the spectrum to become the Big Brothers of Big Data, (perhaps George Orwell not only inspired a hit TV show also a party of media marketing teams). However, for organisations outside of the media sector, where the relevancy and availability of additional data sources are more ambiguous, a considered, iterative approach to investing in capturing more data and more data analytics is advisable, no mention of the word “Big” required.

So what about the term “Big Data”? If it hadn’t been coined, would the US government be capturing untold amounts of data? Well yes definitely. But would marketing driven companies be using data more effectively by means of progressive analysis? More than likely, instead of spending time figuring out what Big Data means to them.

If we need a term, a better one would be “More Data”, a continuum of naturally evolving data analytics driven by the statisticians who have been mining data for years.