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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Big Data? Let’s Take A Step Back.

Big data is the rage.  Big data companies are getting funded.  Big data scientists are getting hired.  A slew of blog posts are screaming for marketers to understand and use big data.  So what is Big data?  In a nutshell, it is doing what Google has been doing for over a decade.  Taking in, indexing and categorizing massive amount of data generated from the web.  It involves new hardware and software paradigms and new skill sets to further challenge us. 
From a business perspective it involves data in many forms, from structured to unstructured, and the act of combining it and making it useful is truly a new skill set.
However, we need to take a step back.  A recent article posted at CMO.com talks about the challenges of cross-channel integration.  In it, only 39% of marketers claimed to be able to successfully track and segment their customers across key channels like email, web and social media.  Many companies I know have yet to fully integrate simple things like email promotion history into their analytics and strategy.  Before we can attempt to leverage the promise of big data, we have to get some basics right first.
Integrate transactional data with email and web browsing data.  The most fundamental step is to be able to track your customers who open emails and click through them to your digital content.  Regardless of whether they actually “convert” at that visit, this understanding of content consumption is critical to create differentiated content strategies across your customer base.
Acquire and Integrate Social Media Data.  This step is still little understood by many brands, who use social media monitoring tools (creating yet another silo of data) to track conversations, but have not yet cracked the code to the powerful social graph data available when you ask your customer their permission to get it.  Like, interest and friend data really close the loop in developing an understanding of your consumers and how they interact with you across all channels.
Develop Key Personas of Interaction.  Once a solid data strategy is in place, use clustering techniques along with primary research to develop personas within your customer base.  This is not an exercise in demographic profiling, but actually developing true personas based on how your consumers interact with your brand.
Successfully completing the three steps above will provide brands with the tools to develop and use differentiated content strategies within and across channels and segments of your customers.  At that point, you can take a look around and see what additional data is out there, and begin to hang that big data off of your other efforts for true brand engagement.

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