Big Data: Should Marketing Really Care?

%social engagement %social listening

Well, yes. Sort of.

In many ways it’s obvious why they should. Marketers (or ‘marketeers’ as others would say) capitalize on trends that potentially influence how products and solutions are perceived. It’s what marketing folks do. And organizations benefit from knowledgeable teams who not only substantiate why a given trend is relevant but also understand its nature and long-term implications.

So what are marketers, entrepreneurs, techies and scholars saying? You hear a lot of these terms being referenced: exponential, analytics, petabyte, terabyte, insights, business intelligence, real-time and sensemaking—oh wait, let’s save that one for last.

In the interest of offering raw, top-of-mind views into big data I thought it sensible to knock on a few doors and ask some feedback from my Twitter follows—some of whom in fact are seasoned marketers.

%social engagement %social listeningMarketeering the predictable

No surprise that data analytics, predictive modeling and the like are the obvious areas where marketing can benefit from tapping into “what the data is saying” and crafting innovatively aggressive marketing strategies, which are non-intrusive, of course (in a no-telemarketers-here kind of way).

Imagine analytics software that could help yield mind blowing insights from those petabytes [of data],”

notes @mktgdouchebag citing a random example in retail where a multitude of daily transactions are logged and accessible. Imagine indeed how effective this would be via behavioral targeting tactics.

%social engagement %social listeningEnterprise is naturally one of the most active users of big data. And according to @noellechun it’s an emphatic ‘yes’,

…big data has enormous implications on our ability as marketers to deliver relevant messages on the web…We can use big data to help others understand the effectiveness of those messages. There are a bunch of us at big tech companies who analyze the data to tell business stories.”

%social engagement %social listeningHow about the ability to analyze your competitor’s data? @erniehuber points to the upper hand of competitive intelligence where big data plays into

…how well marketers will be able to leverage all this new intelligence from their customers as well as potentially their competition’s customers. Having access to this level of information has to be a differentiator…”

Parsing ways to monetize

While analytics itself is not new, offering novel—and efficient—ways of tapping into vast data sources is a clear opportunity for entrepreneurs and tech professionals alike.

%social engagement %social listeningThe number of data points is growing exponentially, so I fully expect that in time, marketers need to be equipped to deal with big data. I see this as an opportunity for technology start-ups to build software-based analysis tools for marketers to help them make sense of relevant [big] data,”

says @dshiao.

%social engagement %social listeningAn equally intriguing proposition comes from @jshuey whose prolific (and technical) feedback includes a suggestion for a service model for big data use I had not considered before (but which I’m sure is already being done). Consider

real time monitoring: I think a fee structure (i.e., way to monetize access and timeliness) will be imposed to provide access in real-time to the highest bidders. Some people don’t need access in real-time and should not have to pay a premium.”

I don’t have to tell you why real-time is a big deal in this scenario, right?

Now comes the ‘sort of’ part

See, to me, data (big or small) is a component, or series of components. When aggregated, these components become large bodies of information, which I viscerally identify as a type of building block or infrastructure piece.

It’s good to be aware of how these building blocks are growing. But personally I am more fascinated by the computational science that enables these data sets to be intelligent. But that’s another post, really.

Meanwhile, back in big data land…I wouldn’t call them naysayers or party poopers. Probably because I strongly identify with some of the points they raise. And the reason why I do tend to agree with most of their views circles back to the way I view data. It’s a component. A component in itself is interesting, but not that all that relevant to the day-to-day machinations directly affecting and influencing individual and social behaviours.

Amplifying pitfalls

%social engagement %social listeningThis is the type of stream-of-consciousness thinking that I find refreshingly candid and sobering. And it may seem lazy on my part not to attempt articulating @andymci’s thoughts, but if I were to do that I would likely end up with a poor paraphrasing:

I worry that “big data” will distract marketers. I worry that businesses will rely too heavily on big data to find insights and opportunities and answers to all of their problems. I worry that the big data trend will be used as a scapegoat, with lines like “according to the data” being used as an excuse for when things go wrong.

I worry that the big data trend will throw too much weight behind database marketing at the expense of other marketing strategies, and the pitfalls of database marketing will be amplified.

Don’t get me wrong – I think that having access to this much information is great. But we need to maintain a balance. There are things that marketers can’t glean from databases.

As meaningless as web 2.0

%social engagement %social listeningI do like saving the best for last. And for the crème de la crème of opinions that help justify why I sort of care about big data, I am very pleased to share @Liberationtech’s thoughts. I identify with this response because it offers a fairly holistic and balanced view IMO:

I may not be the best person to ask because, personally, I think the term is as meaningless as web 2.0. Moreover, big data has been with us since the emergence of the commercial net in 1995 (and of course, before that too), and we’ve always analyzed large datasets both in academia and industry since then.

It’s really more like sensemaking than anything else because once we analyze big data, we extract it from its context, so we can only have very little to say about its structure and semantics.

As a result, for marketing purposes, it’s only as good as polling, except that polling measures people’s attitudes and has longitudinal limitations, whereas big data can enable you to see past and current behavior and track it in real-time to see dynamic changes.

But as you know, predicting future behavior on the basis of past behavior requires a set of assumptions about a static world that doesn’t exist in practice.

So to make a long story short, if you’re a marketeer, and you want to see shifts in the opinions and sentiments of your consumers in real-time, big data is a good tool.

So. Is big data a big deal to you?

To read complete feedback from the above follows, go here.

About Autom Tagsa

Autom is a collaborative communications and marketing professional with experience in several industries. He pays close attention to emerging web-based innovations and their influence on marketing, client service, corporate culture and business development. You can read more from Autom on his blog, or connect on Twitter at @autom8.


  1. 40deuce says:

    This is a pretty interesting piece with some great points from a bunch of different angles on big data.
    I personally am just starting to get very interested in what we can do with big data, but that’s just my nerd side showing. I also agree, however, with @andymci, in that as marketers we can’t put too much emphasis on this data. There’s still so many other factors that come into play like gut feelings and listening to customers and other such things.
    I’ll still be interested to watch where this big data trend goes though.
    Sheldon, community manager for Sysomos

  2. hessiejones says:

    @autom8 great article ! Seems to be a hit!

    • autom8 says:

      @hessiejones happy to contribute and advance the dialogue around the subject. and of course, kudos to my tweeps for their input ;) #bigdata

  3. RepuTrack says:

    Great post! 
    As already mentioned, there are many interesting talking points.  
    I’m adverse towards intrusive methods that have a tendency to eek into or tap the cultural and collective conscience, in ways which coerce people into accepting the “social” framework as a trade-off to being ahead of the game.  An extreme, but effective example was that story making its rounds about job interviewers asking the applicant for their Facebook login because their profiles were set to private.   
    We have hardly gotten comfortable with vanity searches as screening model, especially when online personal shares and/or photos with family, friends, at functions, might reveal a lifestyle snapshot that may not please a potential employer.  How have we fast-tracked to this notion that invading ones online space, even when set-up as their own walled-garden, requires uprooting the hedges to get the job?
    The other has to be the ways it is monetized.  Recognizing we are all at different points on the big data use continuum is relative to our understanding that the interactions between user and data is itself what allows the practicality of its form and function to thrive, evolve and sustains itself.  Hearing suggestions about exploiting real-time capabilities or any advanced application use sends the kind of message that the more you tap into the layers of big data, the higher the toll charges. 
    The tendency is to borrow these tenets as “the way it must be” to the point where the play on big data becomes so unmanageable and cumbersome that it distracts us from discovering the ways it can truly benefit us. 
    So in a roundabout way, big data isn’t itself nearly as big a deal as the freedom to make choices on how its utilized.  Moreover, we might give greater thought and consideration to the kinds of choices which ensure it matures into a virtual life-form not inspired by the Hobbesian tradition. 

    • autom says:

      @RepuTrack the Hobbitses tradition? ;) the proposed notion of real-time monitoring may have useful (and specific) applications (e.g., monitoring of health-related data confined internally within a medical facility’s network). incidentally  Liberationtech  cc’d me on a piece on why “small data” matters refreshing read - btw did you get a chance to read the verbatim input? thanks for sharing J

      • RepuTrack says:

         @autom As in the nasty, brutish Leviathan-type. SM has been used as an early detection/warning system for years.  There is no reason why a service couldn’t provide that as one of the core features/offerings of a service contract.  To charge a premium seems opportunistic, especially when we are talking about saving lives.
        This isn’t a crystal ball approach, but rather one using indicators and insight to guide programs with safety and precaution in mind.  It is meaningless unless the analyst at the other end of the data point deems it as actionable insight.  It seems mine is just one of many views on the topic.  You’ve done a great job immersing such varied perspectives in one post.  Thanks for advancing the discussion.

        • autom says:

           @RepuTrack  yes indeed.  the English philosopher and his notions a civil society bound by a social contract and whose entire will is governed by sovereign rule blah blah – you already know i’m not a huge fan of absolutism. but i thought “Hobbitses” was kinda funny (thrown in the ‘precious’ in there and you’re all about greed and power all over again – see it works ;) still looking forward to your next inspired post (on whatever subject that may be.. cheers a

  4. autom8 says:

    @RepuTrack and replied back (no doubt you’d have been pinged by now)

  5. Andrea Hypno says:

    I think the hard part is having data to make sense, or understand them correctly and possibly easily. Hopefully anonimous data not like today where privacy thanks to the two big players has become more or less an empty word. Always remembering that numbers let themselves to be written. I don’t know if it’s correct English. :)
    A statistic can be read usually at least in two different ways depending on what the researcher wants to show. That is you can play with numbers to show what you like, more or less.
    Interesting article.

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