Love it or hate it big data is here to stay. Personally I love the concept, although I sympathise with those who feel its more trouble than its worth. Unfortunately for them, they are going to have to get over it and knuckle down to organising their own big data strategy. We are already seeing the advantage gained by businesses that are embracing the subject and in a very short space of time it will be difficult for any business that doesn’t manage the big data thing to compete.

The problem with big data is that it’s … well … BIG! The average business could easily drown while trying to drink from this fire hose of knowledge and insights, but that doesn’t mean that you can afford to opt-out. The trick is to prioritise and manage your data. I doubt any business is capable of even analysing all the data it collects, let alone acting upon it. Its all back to your business/marketing strategy, a fact that reinforces my own personal belief that just as technology is converging so have business and marketing strategy. These days these two subjects are synonymous.

There is probably no business sector for which big data offers greater scope than retailing. For years retailers and mall owners have been experimenting with innumerable Heath-Robinson point-of-sale solutions in an attempt to influence consumers at the very point when they make their purchase decision.

In many parts of the world mall owners have already introduced clunky PoS communications initiatives using things like GPS technology to facilitate sending SMS messages to shoppers when they are in the vicinity of the mall or even individual stores, but these are just the green shoots of a growing capability. The accelerating development of mobile technologies means that connections will be the least of our concerns in months or years to come, the real challenge will be to manage the deluge of data that these connections will deliver.

We are already tracking customer flow around malls and even individual stores and logically its feasible to match that data with user profiles to predict the routes that individuals will take to optimise store layouts, refine PoS presentations and head customers off with personalised on-shelf messages – flashing digital screens that say “Hey Phil, you’ll love this!”

The data integration company Informatica are heading in that direction with their latest generation of personalised mobile solutions, but they aren’t the only show in town, there are numerous businesses, large and small, in the race.

I am frequently approached by over-enthusiastic organisations, fearful of being left behind and desperate to establish themselves on the data-driven marketing ladder. There’s nothing wrong with the fear part, but in many cases it leads to them biting off more than they can chew. Even on a purely Social Media level businesses can be brought to their knees by the demands of managing their new social media strategies. The way to approach big data, as with everything else, is to start with a clear objective and plan a progressive strategy that you are sure you can resource.

Sure, you need to push a little outside of your comfort zone. I see this in much the same way as a professional sports coach. You can always tell a good squash coach from a bad one for example because the poor ones tend to take the view that its their job to kill you on court, which should be no challenge for them with the skills they possess. A good one will use his skill to push you just a little way beyond you capability or fitness level each time and assure you of steady incremental improvement. The same applies to the world of digital marketing.

You should collect all the data you can of course. That’s the easy part and when you get good at this you’ll want to go back and analyse your historical data, but once you have clarified your objective, decide what data you need to realise this and corral it for immediate analysis. You’ll need to define a process for analysis too, otherwise you’ll be inconsistent and you should set KPI’s to help you identify where and what actions the results of your analysis dictate.

Of course you need to be prepared to act upon your discoveries, otherwise there’s no point and a relatively minor insight could generate a significant incremental workload, so as the Boy Scout said… “Be prepared!”,

Phil Darby
March 9, 2014

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