I had reached the point where I didn’t want to read or hear another word about “Big Data” when a book caught my eye in an airport bookstore. Big Data – A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work, and Think – now that was a big promise! I had become disillusioned by so much talk and very little action that I returned it to the shelf after a quick look. Back at the airport for the return flight, however, I succumbed to the bold title; I really had nothing else to read. And I’m glad I did.
I think it’s an important book for all analytics people in the consumer marketing world. Unlike most of the articles and speeches on the topic, this book is full of concrete examples of how Big Data can be useful in research and analytics. The authors, Viktor Mayer-Schӧnberger and Kenneth Cukier, put forth the thesis that purists in the research world need to get over themselves and understand that, while not statistically perfect, much of the analysis from Big Data is “good enough” to make critical business decisions. They argue that, when N=All, very significant insights can be gained from mining these “non-normative” databases.
I agree….up to a point. On the positive side, they convincingly outline example after example where the volume, velocity and variety of data (mainly from digital and social sources) can be used reliably to help make good business decisions. But I think the best analytics comes from combining “old” and “new” methods along with structured and unstructured data. Comprehensive demographic and customer databases can be used to understand and adjust the coverage bias of some sources. Looking at trends from online and off-line data together to create a 360-degree view of consumers is important for marketers.
We marketers and advertisers are too siloed – consumers interact with brands all day long – because of the huge variety of media available to us. We need to look at all data available from the perspective of the business problem we are trying to solve, forgetting whether we are on the digital or traditional side of the marketing and advertising business.
Big Data does afford marketers great new opportunities, but the truth is they will only be important if they result in insights that are actionable, measurable and help businesses better connect with their customers and prospects.
The bottom line is that collecting Big Data is not good enough – the data has to be used to make a difference. I lived through what I like to call the CRM Backlash, when lots of money was invested to get customer data collected but very little was designed to produce understandable and meaningful solutions. In today’s business climate, results from analytics have to be simple and accessible while incorporating all of the data and expertise available.
What I liked most about this Big Data book was that it talked more about the outcomes than the collection process or the data. That’s what we all need to focus on - even if the message comes from an airport bookstore.