A Marketer’s Quick Guide: Where to Begin with Big Data

For many organizations, the idea of embarking on their first Big Data project is akin to cleaning out the garage after living in the house for thirty odd years.  There is a sense of existential dread coupled with the knowledge that you will eventually have to do it… and you probably already should have.  Unfortunately, many marketers still believe that this is the realm of IT and data scientists, but as they are the primary beneficiaries along with their customers, it is incumbent on marketers to take the lead in shepherding their organizations down the path to becoming data driven.

Why Should You Even Care?

There are incredible untapped opportunities with Big Data.  Most organizations share a similar set of challenges from customer acquisition to attrition that impedes their ability to grow revenues and keep their customers happy.  For example, it is common for more than half of an email subscriber base to have never opened a single email from a brand.  Of those than have opened an email, fewer than half have ever clicked.  In fact, an analysis of over 100 brands revealed that only about 19% of a typical subscriber base has ever clicked on one or more emails.  Those are a lot of missed revenue and engagement opportunities.  Big Data holds the answers to these challenges and the organizations that harness their Big Data fastest and most effectively will be the organizations that dominate their competition in the digital age.

So Where Should You Start?

1. Get to Know Your Big Data:  Data is only valuable if you do something with it so get to know it.  Request a copy of your data dictionary (often an Excel or PDF document) and a sample of data as these do not always align and often some of the fields are empty (a couple hundred rows of data without PII will suffice and can be viewed in Excel).  Preference Center and Point-of-Sale data attributes are often the most impactful and easiest to understand so these are good places to start.

2. Prioritize Your Areas of Opportunity:  Big Data can help positively impact a wide variety of business challenges, but trying to do too much can be overwhelming.  To make this more manageable, focus on a single under-performing program, channel, or strategic issue such as activation, attrition, or offer optimization.  Starting with one area of opportunity will focus the efforts of all involved.

3. Know What You Want:  Focus on elements that directly tie to the area of opportunity you have identified.  Ignore everything that isn’t within this scope.  You, or an analyst, will need to do some work to:

Define the Business Problem:  Use data to better understand the underlying problem and define the strategy to address it.  This also helps to set your baseline to measure success and defines your audience parameters.

Understand Your Audience:  Use data to better understand the audience associated with the identified area of opportunity and how they differ from the overall audience.  This should lead to creative content and tone, offers, timing, etc. that better address the business problem, and the unique needs and wants of the associated audience.

– Create Your Wish List:  Most marketers have a mental wish list of things they would use if they had access to them for targeting, personalization, content, channel optimization, etc.  If you do not find what you are looking for in the existing data assets, do not despair.  Most available data attributes can be created from raw data so do not limit yourself to what already exists, consider what could be created and automated with basic addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division.  Limit your list (for now) to those that support the strategy and tactics that you believe will improve performance within the scope of the area of opportunity in question.  Read more here about how to avoid creepy data uses.

Identify Your Success Metrics:  Your success metrics may reuse some of the existing data attributes, but at a minimum looking at those metrics with multiple time horizons will provide new perspectives.  Two good places to start are the % of the audience that took the desired action, and the estimated impact to LTV associated with that action.  Whatever success metrics you decide upon, they should tie directly to the strategy, tactics, and overall goal of the area of opportunity.

Test, Analyze, Automate, and Test Some More:  The key to successful utilization of Big Data is knowing where and when to apply it.  Keep in mind, there are no “silver bullet” data attributes.  For example, some targeting or content attributes may not have a noticeable impact on the overall audience but may be effective with your “hard to engage” audience or those about to become inactive which will most certainly add to your organization’s bottom line.  As you determine which attributes improve performance the most, build them into your automated programs and reporting, then move on to the next prioritized area of opportunity.

Key Things to Remember

If you’re not using your Big Data, it’s not worth anything so get to know it

Start small and stay focused… Ignore everything else

Test, learn, automate, repeat, and expand

Turning your Big Data into actionable data is a challenging but rewarding process.  As with many things, the first step is often the most difficult.  Following the process we have outlined here, marketers can start to lead their organization down the path to becoming a data driven one. 

If you need help turning your Big Data assets into actionable data, contact us or read more on our Data Strategy Services.

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