An overview of the role of Big Data in the marketing practice, how it creates competitive advantage, and starting points. Originally posted in Pulse LinkedIn

It all starts with a good question

Big Data - Big Deal - MarketingWhen writing, I usually find it helpful to start by typing some questions. In this case, the answers I considered lead to more questions.

A successful business outperforms its competition. To ensure that outcome, part of our tasks as marketing professionals is to create a sustainable competitive advantage. How does Big Data foster a competitive advantage? One of the things Big Data allows you to do is understand your customer. Understanding your customers’ persona and behavior helps segmentation. Better segmentation results in improved targeting. Improved targeting generates more revenue. Therefore, Big Data makes a business successful. Syllogisms aside, Big Data = competitive advantage = increased revenues.

So, does Big Data really create competitive advantage?

A successful business usually has the right answers to: who to approach, with what product and what message, at what price, where and when should our message be conveyed, and more. But remember, right answers are usually the result of asking the right questions.
Having the right data to base our answers on is key to a reliable strategy. Otherwise, as William Edwards Deming said, “without data, you’re just another person with an opinion.”

“Without data, you’re just another person with an opinion.” William Edwards Deming

We can conclude that Big Data provides a competitive advantage to those that have an understanding of their business and know how to ask the right questions.

Then, what is Big Data and where can I find it?

Ask five executives for the meaning of Big Data and you’ll get seven different opinions. SAS definition is a good starter: “Big data is a term that describes the large volume of data – both structured and unstructured – that inundates a business on a day-to-day basis.”

Structured data has a model and you know what piece of information goes where. For example, your customer list will have their name, address, phone number, etc. Unstructured data are all those things that you cannot easily catalog such as the text in emails, videos, photos, social media data, etc. One can argue that many of those can be considered as semi-structured as you can still categorize them in different ways. For example, iStockphoto pictures can be sorted by their attributes.

If you are using Google Analytics to evaluate your website, you are using Big Data. Google collects information about your website visitors and their behavior, so you can give meaning to the information presented, and transform information into actionable insights.

Here is another example: you can take a tweeter feed, assign a sentiment value to each tweet, and display them on a map according to their geographic information. You will better understand where the customers that like your brand are, and where you may need improvements.
Just remember that correlation is not causation. Otherwise, you may end getting funny results as those presented in http://www.tylervigen.com/spurious-correlations

Big Data - wrong correlations

Where to from here?

In the July–August 2014 issue of HBR, Scott Brinker and Laura McLellan made a case for the Chief Marketing Technologist, asserting, “Marketing is rapidly becoming one of the most technology-dependent functions in business.” In the same fashion, we will see the case made for a Chief Data Officer. They will be tasked to seek, acquire and maintain the best datasets, and coordinate and implement the right data governance with the IT organization.

The marketer’s responsibility will continue to be to ask the right questions, validate and analyze the data, create and present strategies that fit the data, measure results, and keep improving. We can argue that the marketer’s role was, and still is, a facts/data-based storyteller. That is why Deming rightfully said, “In God we trust, all others bring data.”

“In God we trust, all others bring data.” William Edwards Deming

More questions – let’s start a conversation

I started with dozens of questions and got to share very few answers. As I mentioned before, the secret resides in asking the right questions, I am looking forward to reading yours. Share them, and let’s find the best answers together 🙂