Unravelling Big Data

by Jessica Ramesh

We asked experts from across the industry to tell us how audience insight is impacting on digital strategies and to explain some of the opportunities it’s generating for marketers.

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Paul Newbury, Director, Yard Digital

Big data is a huge buzzword in the market place, but the concept of huge data sets containing complex information isn’t new. Much of the challenge to businesses trying to implement big data strategies is around understanding what this even means and how it applies to their circumstances.

At Yard Digital, we prefer to focus on identifying and capturing all data points, working with our clients to understand what data is available and what applications there are for this data.

Because through the application of data, businesses can begin to understand the full customer lifecycle, tie together all of the customer touchpoints and understand marketing and sales channel value through attribution modelling.

Much of the challenge in this respect is also tying together and understanding the activity generated by the large volumes of visitors whose lifecycle consists of multiple devices. Joining data elements like these will allow businesses to understand the importance of supporting multiple devices, giving the ability to create propensity models based on key events and provides numerous opportunities to provide a fluid, integrated and personalised customer experience to all customers across their entire series of interactions.

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Doug Conely, Vice President, Product Strategy & Operations, Exponential

If you go to the Exponential blog you’ll see we have long championed big data. The blog is full of posts discussing optimisation algorithms and audience efficiency, insights studies and predictions about the Oscars before a designer-clad foot has touched the red carpet. (We predicted ‘Argo’ for Best Picture, by the way). But apart from funny facts about opera lovers in Sydney, data exposes who a brand’s audience really is – not who a brand thinks their audience is or who the audience tells the brand they are. Using the data available through thousands of anonymous actions on the internet, it’s possible to identify a brand’s true customers. Data helps brands understand their customers and how that could impact creative, offers, landing pages or targeting. It can show the story behind seasonal trends or help brands intelligently segment their market. This helps brands make better decisions about their online advertising campaigns using real science rather than gut instinct.

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Ben Harris, CEO, Decibel Technology/Decibel Insight

Big data has the opportunity to unlock valuable insights for marketers. However, without the correct tools, data simply adds to the confusion and daily bombardment of information facing busy executives.

Brands are committing huge percentages of their sales and marketing spend to developing high performance websites and online collateral, but very few have succeeded in taking the data these websites provide and turning it into actionable insights. Most marketers can easily pull off huge amounts of profiling data or CRM-based statistics showing everything from bounce rates to click-throughs. But while this information can be helpful for scratching the surface of evaluating campaign success on completion, it does not provide a step-by-step guide to what could be done to improve the website or campaign’s performance in real time.

With our own analytics platform we’ve gone back to the drawing board to come up with a system that complements big data, providing tailored advice on how a client can achieve a set of objectives, from increasing basket value to driving up conversions, by placing a value on each visitor. Marketers are inundated with data and reports – the savvy marketer will see past these to find clear, easy to understand ways to analyse this data.

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Duncan Fisher, Operations Director, Latitude Digital Marketing

As a digital marketing agency, data has always played a significant part in how we at Latitude analyse and optimise online campaigns. So what’s the difference with big data and what does it mean to the way we work? I’d say it’s recognition of not only the size of data, but also the ability to both query and use it for more targeted, personalised online ad campaigns. Whether using search or display ads, those that perform better are those most targeted to match the user’s intent.

The possibilities feel almost endless now, in being able to reach a specific audience at the right time, in the right location on the right device. This is where the role of sizeable data sets is crucial, with good analytics and technology becoming an essential part of a digital marketer’s toolkit. I disagree with those who think big data is going to replace marketers. What it should be doing is changing the required skill sets of marketers, placing a greater emphasis on analysis and optimisation on a significantly growing pool of available data. Automation plays a key part in this process and in the way a marketer can implement tactics derived from the analysis of such data, with real time decisions based on audience behaviour.

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Martin Smith, Head of Marketing, Neolane UK

Marketers are beholden to making justifiable, measurable, data-driven decisions. Data forms the basis of improved creative, satisfied customers and measurable increases in marketing performance. Here are four high-level strategies for big data to consider.

Collect meaningful customer data from a variety of sources. Even if big data analysis isn’t readily available in your organisation, this will likely change. Decide what data to store. It will form the basis for future analysis.

Link data to metrics developed for measuring marketing return on investment. Your organisation likely measures marketing performance around customer acquisition, increased revenue per customer, satisfaction, brand presence, market share, positioning and others.

Share data across the organisation, linking data sets together. Marketers should be looking for new ways to link purchase histories, the supply chain, finance, sales and customer service data sets for a more comprehensive view of customer behaviour.

Utilise shared data to more effectively target and personalise customer marketing efforts. You’ll want to be able to maximise customer lifetime value, based on prior behaviour across marketing, sales and service. You’ll need to invest in technologies that use big data to drive one-to-one customer communications, like conversational marketing platforms.

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Mark Syal, Head of Media, EMEA , Essence

Big data, until recently, was only used by massive corporations, governments or scientific institutions because of the high cost of processing and storing of data. These days, big data is more democratic because all of these barriers have been removed. Now even smaller brands can reap the benefits.

Why is it so important? It is only with the analysis of big data that you can genuinely understand your audience. Big data means knowing your audience on a one–to-one level – who they are, where they live, what products they have bought from you in the past, which ads they have seen and which ads they did or did not react to. It enables you to find people who might be similar to existing customers, who might be more receptive to your messages.

Fully exploiting big data means that you can analyse this data and draw conclusions on the fly. It also means that advertising campaigns can be targeted using this data in real time.

The results of the campaign, on an individual level, can also be analysed on the fly. You can carry out testing and accurately measure the results – for example, to see how different groups of people reacted to different messages. These results can be compared to a control group who didn’t see your ads to understand the true incremental uplift on sales or brand metrics. Put simply, big data puts you in control of your ad campaigns.

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Sam Zindel, Data Strategist, iCrossing

There aren’t many businesses that would claim they are short of data. Quite the opposite – most companies are drowning in it, particularly in the B2C sector. Social networks and website interactions have fuelled a rapid growth in rich, unstructured data. The cloud and big data technologies have enabled us to process large volumes of complex data to uncover new insights into consumer behaviour, and effective management of your audience’s data is vital. But it’s equally important to recognise the immediate data requirements of your business which may not necessitate big data solutions quite yet. Whilst the opportunities which new technology has provided are plenty, the fundamentals of a successful data strategy haven’t changed. You should utilise the appropriate technology for your business, managed by the right people, at the right cost to deliver the insight that you need to succeed.

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Phil Worms, Marketing Director, iomart Group plc

For me data, or information, is the greatest source of power in the twenty-first century. It’s omnipresent. Today everything we do – every text we write, every site we browse, every video we watch, every purchase we make – is captured and stored.

Each of us is a little hub of data – a Data Sapiens if you like – and as such we are legitimate targets for advertisers and marketers. We analyse and compute the zettabytes of data produced every day to entice consumers with products and services which we believe will improve or enhance their lives.

Behind this is the cloud – not some dystopian ‘Blade Runner’ universe but a physical network of data centres saving, storing, analysing and distributing every byte. These steam engines of the modern age are being pushed to ever greater capacity by the sheer volume of information that each and every one of us creates on a daily basis.

Storage capacity is now the biggest challenge we face. Just as you wouldn’t file every piece of paper you’ve ever produced or received, you don’t need to backup – or make a copy of – every pixel generated. You need to be selective. So we are creating a new breed of storage system – the intelligent platform – one that only replicates the latest or most important pieces of information that need to be kept. A new Darwinism is developing and it’s called data selection.

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Debbie Oates, Principal Consultant, Data & Analytics, Experian Marketing Services

Data can be collected on customers from a variety of sources – email, search, and selected preferences to name a few. Organisations need to assess what data they can collect, how it can impact their business, if it can drive decisions and how it needs to be consolidated.

Crucially, organisations cannot hold data in silos as this severely restricts its use. Creating a data hub is imperative – getting the relevant data on consumers into one place where it can be analysed and actioned. The key here is linkage – making sure that you use big data to see a customer across channels, be they digital or traditional.

Once an effective system is in place, greater data capture will increase the importance of modelling to predict customer behaviour, and the ability to use the data collected to trigger activity based on what it tells you about the customer.

It also allows for dynamic segmentations where the customer can change state, based on their behaviour – for example email engagement or customer life-stage. This will lead to organisations having a far greater mix of models, segments and triggers which they can overlay on customers like different lenses to provide different views dependent on the circumstance.