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MiLab Q&A: How Big Data Can Make or Break Your Marketing

April 2, 2012 By Thorin McGee
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Information is the raw material of target marketing, but gathering data from the Internet, mobile, social media and all the other tracking available today has grown beyond what you can handle with traditional desktop tools—entering the realm of "Big Data." Data hasn't just gotten big, it's gotten so big it's crushing some marketer's targeting and loyalty programs. Soon, knowing how to manage and use that tsunami of data will be a key difference between marketing programs that work, and those that don't.

On Thursday, April 5, DMA’s Marketing Innovation Lab (MiLab) will present an interactive event in Silicon Valley dedicated to Big Data and its impact on the marketing community. MiLab is a collaborative initiative launched by DMA to highlight innovation in big data marketing, technology and analytics, and we had the chance to ask Alexandra Morehouse, chief evangelist and managing director of MiLab, a few questions about how marketers can recognize, manage and exploit Big Data:

1. What is "Big Data" and what does it mean for direct marketing?
Morehouse: Big data happens when you join enterprise data with digital data—and with social data. Today, there are more kinds of data than ever before. Enterprise data, of course, is something companies have had for a long time, since before the Internet. Then we added digital data, which is everything from websites, mobile, games, apps and the like. But the straw that broke the camel's back was all of the social data that we see today. Social data is customer data, but it is unstructured, so it looks very different from the rest of your customer data.

2. What's a good benchmark for marketers to tell their data has or will soon become "Big Data"?
Morehouse: Big data is measured by some in terabytes, petabytes and beyond. But the most common-sense answer is this: When it becomes difficult to keep track of all your customer data, that's when you know you've entered the world of big data. And that point can be different depending on the size of the company, or where you are in the maturity of the company.

3. What's causing the data to explode beyond just new names?
Morehouse: One reason for the data explosion is that it's cheaper and cheaper to store data—and because it's cheaper, fewer companies are filtering. In fact, a lot of people are no longer filtering at all. Many fear that they may throw out data that they may need, so they hold onto it, which again ads to the huge volume of data.

Another reason is the proliferation of so much unstructured data. When you post something on Facebook, it's a whole bunch of words—descriptions of vacations with your family, or what you ate today—but that information is not "bucketable" in the way that names and addresses would be, and unstructured data needs to be treated differently.

4. What are the biggest dangers posed by big data?
Morehouse: Customers are telling so much, through various channels—but the danger is, if you're not listening to them, you will not get across to them in the marketplace. When you're swimming around in lots and lots of data, it's very easy to be swamped by lots of reports without having any meaningful or actionable information. You can be swimming in spreadsheets without knowing what your customers really want.

Another danger is that many digital marketers have mistakenly concluded that digital data is the only data they need to drive marketing. Actually, you need the full suite—enterprise, CRM, POS, transaction data, finance, product data, etc.

Managing more data can also raise security and privacy concerns—each of which requires a commitment to enhanced processes and transparency in order to best serve customer needs. At DMA, we have long championed a system of best practices for our members and others in the ecosystem, including our Guidelines for Ethical Business Practices. These best practices ensure that safeguards are in place to protect consumers and their data.

5. How are marketers coping with it? Are there types of tools they need to employ?
Morehouse: Marketers today are overwhelmed. In fact, 77 percent of CMOs in IBM's Global CMO study say that they are "unprepared for the data explosion." Marketers need to build a working knowledge of data management, data collection, tag management, data ETL (extract, transfer, and load), data warehousing and digital intelligence. They at least need to know the basics of data management and the basics of analytics. You can analyze things forever, but you must also know how to apply it. It is imperative that marketers work with their IT partners to understand how data is collected, reported and managed.

6. What are the benefits of all this data when used effectively?
Morehouse: The truth is, as simplistic as it may sound—when all this data is being used effectively, you get the right offer to the right person at the right time.

Williams-Sonoma, for example, is really effective at cross channels—whether you come into a store, or call center, or online. They use advanced analytics; they use data in service to ensuring that customers have the best possible experience and get the most relevant information. They're very smart and very respectful of how they use customer information.

Data is truly the fuel that drives relevant messages to consumers and helps fund innovation. When managed and utilized correctly and responsibly, marketers can provide information and resources with degrees of relevance and accuracy that have not been possible until now.

For more information on the April 5 MiLab event, visit MiLab's site to register. Morehouse will moderate an executive-level discussion with Marita Scarfi, CEO, Organic, Inc.; Stephen Messer, co-founder and vice chairman, Collective[i]; Alan Gellman, SVP, digital marketing, Wells Fargo; and Joe Zawadzki, CEO, MediaMath.



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