Big data. You may have heard a lot of people talking about it recently. Just as AI, VR, AR, automation and chatbots are subjects that reflect the evolving technology digital marketers need to get to grips with (eventually), big data has also raised its not insubstantial head. But is big data a big problem or a big opportunity? Is it a topic we need to understand and address? If we are not yet availing of it, are we already lagging behind? Let’s first take a look at what exactly it is, and how it is affecting business and marketing today.
As consumers increasingly move away from intrusive advertising and marketing, we have had to turn inbound, to create compelling and valuable information that attracts people to our content and encourages them to find out more. In return, we ask for a little bit of information – name, email address, perhaps job title or challenges – so that we can assess the demographic, what they need, and how they like to be engaged. We are also able to take in information about consumer behaviour and online activity ourselves from a number of sources ranging from computers to phones to household objects. All of that information comes together to form big data. So far, so simple.
The problem comes in when we take a step back and consider just how many different sources, platforms and devices are now being used to access the internet and perform online activity. The days when the trusty desktop was the only way to get to the internet may as well have been a century ago, as mobile devices have evolved and social media has sprung up to take over.
Too much information
Now, we face a deluge of information as consumers not only leave their footprint in the form of cookies, but fill out forms to access downloads or engage directly with our social feeds, leaving us drowning in a data lake that fast becomes a swamp. As this blog from e-xanthos points out, according to IBM, 90% of all of the world’s data was created in the last two years. To put it another way, according to Forbes, by 2020 about 1.7 megabytes of new information will be created every second for every human being on the planet. To use a cliched teen phrase, it’s TMI.
When we take on so much information, it is only natural that we will then try to pick and choose what we can use, but often this can lead to misleading or downright false insights, because not all the information we collect is accurate, and bad data leads to bad content, which is bad for business.
We want to market to the masses, but in a personalised, tailored way, and if the data we collect, assess and act on is not correct, or analysed properly, we are in danger of making the wrong choices with regards to our digital marketing strategy.
Therein lies the problem, but it is not all doom and gloom, because the flipside is that big data can be a goldmine if it is managed properly. With such a vast amount of information heading our way from online activity, the role of the digital marketer has necessarily changed. As this blog from the 60secondmarketer points out, we now focus on collecting data and deriving trends so we can target individuals and find the right content and right channels to target them. Only then do we start to actually market to them.
It can be a daunting shift in what the job requires, and can mean investment in improved data analytics and internal skillsets, but it can reap major rewards, because the opportunities presented by big data are just too big to ignore.
It all comes down to gaining the insights needed to identify the target market, and reveal what type of content they will be more likely to engage with, and how they want to engage with it for the best user experience. The right data analytics tools can gather all of that juicy data and deliver it in formats that clearly show changes in consumer habits so you can react to them in real time rather than trying to play catch up, or persevering with now outdated platforms, content types or messaging.
Because accurate data about the very consumers or markets you are trying to reach and engage with is so valuable, the more you have, the better your insights will be, and even if it does mean having to manage it all effectively, many digital marketing agencies and businesses are starting to take it very seriously.
According to this blog from datafloq, some 86% of respondents to a survey by 2nd Watch said their organisation was either using, or planning to use, big data in their digital marketing efforts, while three quarters said it has proven to be very effective. It’s no wonder that the number of Data as a Service (DaaS) companies is on the rise.
Big data, whether it’s sourced from web mining, search information, crowd sourcing through forums, etc, transactional data, smartphone apps, social media or the Internet of Things - not only gives you the insights that help you attract visitors to your website or content, it can also reveal and bring to you leads and signify exactly where they are in the buyer journey, so you can get a better understanding of how to channel them down the conversion path.
Big shifts in consumer behaviour can be seen with the emergence of permanently-on technologies like the Internet of Things and trends such as geolocation, and it is only through an effective management of big data that we can act in real time to respond accordingly. We are now no longer limited to engaging with consumers when they browse the internet at work or in the evening, or when they check their emails every now and then – they are online all the time, checking their mails, their feed, their social posts, and thus are out there almost 24/7, available to engage with. With geolocation, we can even find out where a person is and what they are likely to be doing, so we can tailor our messaging or content to suit that very immediate need.
Relevance and reason
However, as Chris Hodgen importantly points out in a blog for digitalmarketingmagazine.co.uk, ‘big data is great, but it needs to be combined with insight gleaned from people’. That means backing up the mass of data you glean online with good old fashioned research, which will ‘help humanise your research efforts and anchor your findings in a context that improves relevance’.
That word ‘relevance’ is important. While you can gather all the data out there, it is essential to focus on using the insights you gain to produce relevant content. In other words, there has to be a reason for your big data gathering efforts, and that reason is to provide tailored content to your market.
Availing of big data just for the sake of it, without then creating the marketing strategies your insights can influence, will only lead to further expenses and few positive results, which is why some, including Michael Laps in this guest blog for mumbrella, says it actually has no role in digital marketing. He argues that big data is just too big, and that human behaviour means trends shift and leave that data obsolete too quickly, but this doesn’t really take into account what I discuss above about having the human insights and input in place to back up what is available through online sources.
While digital marketing is becoming more technical and more technology-led, at the heart of it all still stands the human beings who must use what new technology brings and take hold of the opportunities it presents, to decide on and create the campaigns and strategies that will help their business to succeed.
Yes, it means a lot of work in sometimes scarily new environments, but it is worth doing, and at least worth knowing about and understanding. Don’t worry if you haven’t yet taken on big data analytics, because while many have, few are doing it properly just yet, but they will improve, and when they do, you don’t want to be left behind.
You don’t have to dive straight into the big data lake right now, but you should at least be dipping your toes in to test the waters.
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