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Big Data Dilemma: Marketers Don’t Quite Get It

Like any snazzy, cutting-edge tool that promises marketers better insight into the minds of their customers, Big Data has exploded onto our radar, claiming superiority because, hey, it’s hard to argue with cold, hard science. But, like any group wielding a shiny new weapon, marketers have hit the ground running without bothering to fully delve into the purpose, power and scope of using large-scale data to drive growth and meaningfully engage with customers.

In fact, some of the ways we’re using big data are just plain foolish.

Stupid, Scary and Weak: When Big Data Goes Wrong

What makes big data different? Basically, its reach (which is huge). It’s information that’s so all-encompassing and dynamic that the tools we have in place to handle smaller data sets can’t manage it. Think of it like a doctor with three patients a day versus a doctor with three-hundred — it’s not the tool’s ability to analyze so much as its the ability to analyze more, and effectively.

Joelle Kaufman of Bloomreach breaks big data down into three subtypes: big dumb data, big scary data, and big useful data. I love the way he describes each, but let’s start with my favorite:

“Big dumb data either provides no actionable takeaways or takes the wrong actions on its own in some misguided automated system.”

Marketers who buy in to big dumb data are under the impression that there’s simply not enough information. They’re data gluttons who think the tools are just fine, but they’re not privy to enough input to use them productively. Considering the findings of a recent CMO survey, which states that the number of marketing initiatives being backed with analytics tools is on a sharp decline, I’d say it’s the vast amount of statistics that’s the problem, not the missing link. Says Kaufman, “If marketers are already drowning in data or have given up trying to use it, more data points on a chart won’t help.” As a person who spends a decent amount of time yelling at analytics dashboards, I couldn’t agree more.

Next on the list is Big Scary Data. It gets capitalized because this is where it gets personal. The first time I ever felt the effects of BSD I blamed Facebook — they must’ve been up to something sneaky if they were offering me discounted diapers right after I uploaded photos of my newborn niece. It got weird when those same ads followed me around the internet, and although I understand this type of data-driven advertising as a marketer, consumers often find it creepy. Worse, when this kind of information isn’t vetted, they might find it irrelevant, annoying, or even offensive. People click on links by accident; they purchase gifts for people that they’d never use themselves. Failing to consider such a high level of fallibility is irresponsible — if companies aren’t using this technology to speak to the right audience, what’s the point?

Use Your Data Wisely

Big useful data is the third and, obviously, most desirable type of info marketers can gather. Unfortunately, a new report from Lyris found that digital marketers don’t know what consumers really want or how they prefer to engage with brands, which means they’re not translating what data they do have appropriately. Says CMSWire’s Barry Levine, “[The report] found several major disconnects between marketers’ strategies and consumers’ wants. For instance, consumers rank email as the single most important channel for getting an initial introduction to a product, cited by 37 percent of respondents. Only about one in five said that social media and blogs were preferred for assessing products for purchase.”

So what’s the key? Effectively scrutinizing data means not taking shortcuts. It means understanding customer intent, and applying findings strategically instead of conveniently. It also means not cherry-picking information to make a case for your approach, a practice that’s not only dishonest, but counter-productive. Knowingly developing a marketing plan based on incomplete or skewed information is kind of like our aforementioned doctor writing the same prescription for their three-hundred patients just because they all came to the same hospital. While the good doctor might be able to correctly assume that each patient is ill, providing a sweeping remedy to all of them is reckless and lazy.

Marketers, beware: cutting corners can compromise your brand’s reputation and alienate your customer base; too much information to sift through promotes carelessness and negligence. Put some effort into analyzing customers’ actual ambitions and patterns over time, rather than short-sightedly assuming their intent based on superficial info — it could be the difference between grooming brand advocates and breeding brand adversaries.

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