Apparently the “big” in “big data” is only going to get bigger. And it turns out that organizations have not prioritized big data as much as they perhaps should because too many of them aren’t effectively leveraging customer data across channels. Both of those are positions held by the Altimeter Group’s Brian Solis, and he backs them up convincingly with both primary and secondary research, distilled here into seven ways for marketers to respond to big data.
So what? Well, those are big issues for marketing because ignoring big data is not an option and the customer rarely engages with your brand on a single channel – sometimes it’s multiple channels simultaneously. That’s important to remember because customers leave what Brian called "digital breadcrumbs" everywhere they go, which all contribute to the volume, variety and velocity of big data. Some of the data are noise and some are gold nuggets, and challenge is how to sort it out, so what’s a marketer to do? Here are seven ways marketers can respond to big data:
1. Ask who owns big data
Brian cites Gartner research and Duke University's annual CMO Survey to show that marketing is now a fundamental driver of IT purchasing in the enterprise. That development prompts a logical question - who “owns” big data? There’s no easy answer. A seemingly straightforward answer might be “whoever owns the data,” but customer data is all over the organization (I.T., marketing, customer service, billing all have key customer data) and it’s often kept in siloes. In many organizations, IT and marketing are battling for ownership of big data – and Brian’s view is that neither one is really ready to own it. It’s important to keep the ownership of “big data” in the right perspective – does the customer see you as one organization? Do they want to see you and engage with you as one organization? It probably doesn’t matter who owns big data as long as it’s shared across the enterprise.
2. See big data as an opportunity.
Beyond the question of who should own big data is the issue of recognizing it for the opportunities it presents. It’s clear that much of big data is driven by customers and Brian believes the opportunities lie in how you apply the data – doing that is how you improve and become relevant over time. Consider social media data – great potential value lies in analyzing conversations to surface sentiment, identifying product opportunities, averting PR disasters, and understanding AND anticipating evolving needs and expectations. Social media’s initial promise was from the ability to engage with customers in real time, and because of the digital nature of the media, it’s a new source of those digital breadcrumbs.
3. Understand big data is also a challenge
The advent of big data is happening at a time when customer expectations for service and engagement are higher, and social media has amplified the customer voice in the dialogue. Some of the reasons big data is a challenge have to do with organizations themselves. Brian contends that businesses today don’t understand how much data they have today or what data they actually need for what purpose. In addition, many of them don’t fully understand quality or what “good” really looks like. They are inclined to keep “adding on,” using new tools as band-aids for quick fixes, while there is a shortage of expertise in this emerging field and new roles are emerging. As a result, many organizations are unsure as to how to put analyses into action.
4. Remember that customer experience is the driver
What’s driving these shifts is the emergence of the customer as king, and therefore managing the customer experience is paramount for any company. What customers experience (positive or negative) is shared in the universe of public data about the organization, which customers have access to and can often leverage better than the organization itself. In this environment, the adage that “content is king” still holds true, but only as long as that content is relevant to the customer. In that regard, context is also “king” because without it you don’t have relevancy – and irrelevance is the epitome of what to avoid.
Brian believes we’re in the era of sharing – perhaps oversharing at times – and that your brand is what people say when you’re not in the room. And he doesn’t believe in the distinction of B2B versus B2C – because to him it’s all P2P. That makes sense because the old sales maxim that people buy from people they know, trust and like applies to both B2B and B2C environments. And in all cases, how people connect, communicate, share and discover is changing – it’s the beginning of a much larger movement that will force businesses to adapt to the new environment.
5. Ask the right questions
Brian introduced the concept of digital Darwinism – the evolution of consumer behavior when society and technology evolve faster than our ability to adapt. Considering digital Darwinism, he believes the goal for marketers should be to create a far more adaptable organization – not just to be a better marketing department. And since all marketers are really in the business of solving problems, it’s worthwhile to stop and simply ask “what are we solving for?” And also “where will we find the answers?” Unfortunately, less than a quarter of businesses are leveraging external data sources according to InformationWeek’s 2013 Big Data Survey, so there is vast room for improvement. In an ideal world, marketing develops strategies that meet customer needs before they even know they have them. And that can happen with access to customer data and the thoughtful use of customer analytics to unlock the meaning in the data.
6. Be a change agent
Brian believes change is both inevitable and essential, and that all marketers should think of themselves as change agents in helping realize the promise of data-driven marketing. Connected consumers have changed the decision-making cycle, which has amplified the role of data as the hub with which to understand your different customers. In that sense, it’s natural for marketing to fulfill the role of change agent because we see the bigger picture – and we should help IT understand what’s possible with a bigger, better investment in analytics. Having the bigger picture view also means being a catalyst for aligning strategy formulation and execution across the enterprise around the customer and the data that enables the confident, informed decision-making. Brian’s view is this – marketers should be part of the change and lead it. Why? Because if you don’t, then someone else will. And seizing the role of change agent with gusto is how you’ll make your customer relationships more meaningful.
7. Play a role in shaping the future of marketing
Brian holds that the future of marketing is not “Moneyball.” The future is part of a new code – where we approach marketing like a human being and we think of how people are deciding, what their preferences are and how they behave. It’s the “human algorithm” that incorporates important context, such as what stage in the buying cycle the customer is in when they visit your website. That way, you’re more effective if you can match the mindset of the visitor. On an aggregate level, it’s also about adaptability and the agility of companies to operate effectively in our fluid, complex social world where connected customers want better service, but they also seek human connections and a sense of value and being valued.
To his previous points about the importance of context in driving relevance, I believe the pinnacle of relevance is recognition and treatment of the customer as a human being (and not as a transaction, or source of “lifetime value”). When that can be done in a personalized way at the scale of today’s large enterprise, I see that as relevance for the customer and also as value creation for the organization. It’s the best way to use all seven ways marketers can respond to big data.
These “seven ways marketers can respond to big data” were gleaned from the keynote address that Brian Solis gave at the 2012 NCDM Conference, presented by the Direct Marketing Association. SAS is proud to be gold sponsor of that conference. For more insights on how marketers can approach big data, please download this complimentary Harvard Business Review summary report, Customer Intelligence Tames the Big Data Challenge.
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