April 30, 2014

How to drink from the firehose of data in a post-Snowden world

WRITTEN BY: Sandy Fleischer

If you’ve been to one marketing conference or any boardroom in the past few years, pretty much everyone is talking about Big Data. Not being able to drop some sort of big data stat in a presentation is the equivalent of living under a rock. A case of prehistoric marketing think.

Let’s start with the fact that big data is everywhere. 90% of the Fortune 500 have big data initiatives underway and according to Gartner, by 2017 CMOs are expected to outspend the actual nerds on IT. Many opportunities do exist for big data to help achieve increased business results, its power seems virtually undeniable. Google’s flu trends for example offer a small taste of what big data can do. But before you invest the bulk of your marketing budget in Hadoop tools and start crunching numbers like a supercomputer, realize that Google also employs over 48,000 really smart people – a veritable army of nerds to track, crunch, and code the data. How big is your tech team?

Most organizations can’t really do that much with the data they collect, big or small. More data, more problems goes the Notorious B.I.G song doesn’t it?

Today’s reality is that most organizations can’t really do that much with the data they collect, big or small. More data, more problems goes the Notorious B.I.G song doesn’t it? The reality is that despite all the promise and hype it’s hard to do it right and it’s expensive too. While Google and other giants may be poised to take advantage, efforts will suffer from diminishing returns as it gets harder and harder to optimize conversion from growing sets of bigger and more complex data. And the problem with the data, is, more data. Unused silos of data like security blankets, sit by their lonesome, and forever under or never analyzed.  What do you do with it all? If the NSA can’t keep up with what to do with all their data, how is a marketer supposed to capitalize on it?

Big data holds the tantalizing promise of uncovering previously hidden consumer insights, unlocking a virtual Rosetta Stone of untold marketing treasures. Not all data is big. Not all data even needs to be big. In a post-Snowden NSA scandal world, perhaps it’s small data that people will actually be okay with. The data found in our personal fitness apps alone (Nike Fuelband, Fitbit, Moves, Jawbone Up) is the kind of smart, actionable data that users seem to find valuable. Welcome to the world of the quantified self. It’s a gold mine where users, and of course marketers, want to exploit the small bits of data, aggregate them, and use them in increasingly exciting new ways. “From a marketer’s perspective, this new class of data is a goldmine. Just think what we can do with minute-by-minute tracking of body movements, physical reactions to external stimulus (like ads!), weight and body changes and geolocation,” says Todd Cullen, global chief data officer at Ogilvy & Mather in AdAge. “We’ll have instant access to the data, in its raw and analyzed forms, linked to an awareness of how people are using the insights they develop to change their behavior and improve their lives.”

“We'll have instant access to the data, in its raw and analyzed forms, linked to an awareness of how people are using the insights they develop to change their behavior and improve their lives." - Todd Cullen, Ogilvy & Mather.

Then there is the cumulative data that comes with house insights. Smart thermostat maker Nest has saved over 1.2 billion kWh since 2011 with their revolution in personal temperature tools. Their smart use of everyday data isn’t rocket science either. They simply discovered that nearly half of all household energy comes from the thermostat and by optimizing it to each person, they could make little improvements – an average of 19.5% savings per device. Kayak was able to turn small bits of accumulative data into a $1.8 billion purchase by Priceline simply by making travel booking easier for the user. They took the billions of searches already happening in their applications to power infinitely smarter forecasts and trends for users. They were able to turn small bits of leftover data into something completely new.

Call it the “Moneyballing” of small bits of data. Brand managers need to find new ways to get on base and buy wins.

Small data was also Nate Silver’s, not Barrack Obama’s best friend during the 2012 election. Silver mixed complex data with newsroom storytelling by turning numbers into actionable insights without users ever needing to understand a spreadsheet. It was like adding a layer of human gut to the science of data. Take Gawker.com’s Neetzan Zimmerman as another anomaly in our data-rich world. A Rainman of journalism data currently generating 30 million views of his blog posts monthly using a combination of science and gold old-fashioned storytelling. Call it the “Moneyballing” of small bits of data. Just as Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane has done for baseball starting over a decade ago, brand managers need to find new ways – any ways – to get on base and buy wins, not always swing for the fences by purchasing expensive superstar players. The reality of today’s world is that we are all as Beane said, “card counters at the Black Jack table, but we’re gonna turn the odds on the casino.” Smaller bits of data can end up being more valuable than their bigger counterparts, enabling more insightful decisions and bigger impact on conversion goals. When it comes to data, size does matter, and as the legend goes so does how you use it.

Smaller bits of data can end up being more valuable than their bigger counterparts, enabling more insightful decisions and bigger impact on conversion goals. When it comes to data, size does matter, and as the legend goes so does how you use it.