From the dawn of civilisation through to the year 2003, Google calculates that humans have produced 5 exabytes of data. That’s a lot of stone tablets. But with the explosion of mobile devices, 3G and 4G networks and social networks, we now produce 5 exabytes of data every two days. That means that every photo you upload to Flickr or Facebook, every video you share with friends on YouTube or Vimeo and every one of the billions of tweets broadcast on Twitter is contributing to the avalanche of data.
But add to this the fact that each of these items comes with contextual data. At the same time that you update your profile or publish a photo, you may also be sharing your geolocation, your likes and preferences, your upstream and downstream behaviours, and your attitude to topics (based on sentiment). You may also be sharing your trust network of on and offline friends.
And this is just the tip of the big data iceberg.
The rise of big data is a blessing and a curse for CMOs
While analytics have been available to businesses for decades, but it has largely been the domain of business analysts and researchers. The rise of big data now places analytics firmly in the marketers court. Earlier in the year, a CMO Council and SAS report indicated that only 26% of marketers leverage customer data and analytics to improve decisions, targeting and personalisation.
The blessing of big data is that it is readily available to most organisations in the form of structured business data and the publicly available unstructured data coming from social networks. The curse is that in-house skills and experience with big data is scarce – with a number of marketers now looking to bolster their teams with big data scientists and data analysts.
Marketers don’t need data they need action
It’s not data scientists that marketers need, however. Already we are seeing software vendors emerging who are able to tap structured and unstructured data sources to produce business-ready dashboards. Mapped to best practice business processes, these dashboards and analytic tools promise to release marketers from the fear-inducing data tsunami that looms on the horizon.
Platform players such as Anametrix, for example, transform the science of data into actionable business knowledge for key business processes. This means you can spend less time and resources understanding the data and its various relationships, and focus instead on making decisions that impact the top and bottom lines of your business.
A great example of what can be achieved is the BrandWatch US Electoral Compass. Drawing on Twitter data and press discussion generated since July 2012, the compass matches structured information (location, policies and dates) with unstructured information (tweets, sentiment etc) to reveal the topics that are important to American voters. Now, this is not data from focus groups – it’s stated intention as revealed via status updates, commentary and attitude.
And as business analytics packages get better at mapping business flows, these reporting systems will become ever more granular. They promise to revolutionise the way that businesses engage with their customers – and that will bring another set of challenges for CMOs. The question is – are you ready for this new form of customer engagement?