Let’s start with the definition. When the term “big data” is used, what does it really mean? Jon Miller, co-founder and CEO of Marketo, calls big data a catch-all term for very large and complex data sets that exceed the processing capabilities of the typical available computer software. In general, big data refers to the compilation of everything that takes place over the internet: transcripts from Twitter comments or call center conversations, online videos, podcast uploads and visits, webinar broadcasts, all blog postings, all website visits, all credit card transactions, all ATM activity, all online purchases, online advertisements, downloads of music and uploads of photos.
As regards marketing, big data refers to all information that details retail sales, online sales, market share, website visits, blog reads from your website, newsletter reads from your website, responses to online customer surveys, online response to special offers and online advertising, plus all marketplace and industry data about global, national and regional business conditions.
Whatever it is you need to know about customers, the industry and the business conditions in which you operate is buried within big data. But in the avalanche of information, deciding which data to access and interpreting what is brought forth is the marketer’s challenge. Determining the right questions to ask is the primary imperative, as the late great management guru Peter Drucker pointed out.
If you want to use big data in your marketing plan, then propose questions that will elicit the answers you need to fine-tune your marketing mix. Maybe you’d like to become more effective in converting website visitors into customers? A list of the names of prospects who visited your website, spent more than one minute reading your blog or newsletter, forwarded the post to someone and and then tweeted some content about what he/she found to others would indicate a serious shopper for your products or services. Big data can help predict which marketing activities are most likely to convert a prospect who has reached that level of engagement.
Google Analytics can reveal part of the game plan, but only big data can get seriously granular. For example, algorithm-based predictions can forecast the expected impact of marketing campaign activity on those who surf your website, indicating who should receive special offers via email or who should be invited to join a focus group. Algorithm-based predictions can also forecast the likely impact of marketing activity on the next quarter’s, or next four quarters’ revenue.
Based on what is learned through big data, the marketer can make much more specific and informed decisions about target or niche markets that have the most sales potential, strategies to build brand awareness and loyalty, advertising choices and budgets for targeted media outlets, social media choices that create the most buzz and the ROI of that buzz and the marketing message that drives sales. Who will be your best customers, why will they be your best customers, what is the average amount of money the customer will spend in your business, how loyal is the customer to your brand, what types of advertising does the customer respond to best, what kind of social media does the customer respond to best and will those customers create good word of mouth (still the best form of advertising) for your business?
So how can small businesses and Freelance solopreneurs access big data? It can be done by hiring a marketing firm that we most likely cannot afford. At this time, big data usage will be the playground of big businesses. If it’s any consolation, marketing firms are still trying to get arms around big data themselves. For now, traditional marketing analytics will have to suffice for the 99%.
Traditional marketing analytics are useful and certain data we already own: bricks & mortar sales data, online sales data, seasonal sales variations, customer zip codes, popular service packages, pricing and the number of Foursquare, Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter followers, for example. Market testing is expected to remain a vital part of developing a marketing strategy, even when big data is used. Business owners and marketers will continue to measure the impact of promotional strategies employed. Finally, whether big data or marketing analytics are used when devising a marketing plan, proposing the right questions, as Peter Drucker advised, is where one starts.
Thanks for reading,