I sympathise with marketing managers who believe that big data is more of a curse than a cure. After all, we’ve trotted along quite nicely for decades making decisions on the basis of hearsay, rumour and suspicion and now one of your competitors gains insights that help them steal your customers and all of a sudden its game change and we all have to start looking for real insights!

The source of these insights of course is data, and there are loads of data available to any business from all manner of sources that can help you understand your customers’ decision-making process. In fact, a lot of this data has been accumulating for years in some hard drive somewhere. It just arrived, was greeted with a shrug by some IT guy and put aside for a rainy day. Well – News Flash – it’s raining now!

Even the most ardent ostrich couldn’t deny that this is the age of big data. Yes folks, its time to dust off those hard drives and see what you’ve been missing for years! There’s no get out of jail card here. This is serious. If you don’t start working out for sure why you are selling or how, you are simply going to be consigned to the “where are they now” file. If your competitors know what makes customers tick and you don’t, you’ll lose.

So, here’s the problem. Big data is … well … BIG! If you haven’t been analysing the stuff that you have been collecting for years it will take you a good while to get up to speed anyway and then what? Data collection as well as its analysis has to be organised and even then you are only going to use a fraction of what you collect. In fact, according to Chris Matty in a piece in iMedia connection this week there is one CRM company out there that already admits that 40% of the data it collects is inaccurate and unusable. Imagine the time you could waste just working out what bits you need?

This is the source of the love-hate relationship that is emerging between marketers and big data. As the great Tom Lehrer once suggested, it’s a bit like a Christian Scientist with appendicitis – you know what it will take to survive, but its against all your instincts to get involved! Data analysis takes time. Lots of it, and expertise. Lots of that too, which means lots of money. Now we are getting to the point. How do you make all this data collection and analysis viable? After all if the process is all about selling more to make more, you don’t want to spend twice that planning your moves and you easily could.

So the race is on. Again according to Chris Matty, Reuters quote anticipated growth in data application to be around 45% per annum until 2015 and if you are in business, any kind of business, anywhere in the world, this is going to make a difference to you. Denial doesn’t work. If that’s your approach, forget it, you are good as dead. You simply have to find a way to collect and use data to your advantage.

Enter “predictive analysis”. Actually, its nothing new. The principle has been around forever and only last month I referred to it in passing in my piece on Tesco’s Clubcard (One of the secrets of DunnHumby’s early success was their approach to predictive analysis, primitive though it may seem now). Of course it’s a science like any form of analysis and it still takes time and resource, but nowhere near as much as tackling this the long-way around. However, if even this is too big an ask for your humble resources then Chris also tells us that help is at hand in the shape of consultancies that can plan and manage your data and analysis for you. In fact Chris introduces the idea of scoring your consumers in much the same way as you can credit score them now using external sources in the form of specialist consultancies. Who better to offer this kind of service then that a business like Experian, who have been managing data and providing credit scores for years and, through their Clarity Blue acquisition a few years back, have already worked on the application of data analysis in the marketing arena. They are not alone of course. Ex Experian Clarity Blue partner Tony Mooney now heads up SkyIQ and, of course, there are people like SapientNitro and Chris Matty’s own Versium to name just the obvious big players. There must be hundreds of smaller firms out there itching to give you a hand.

We all know that the shape of marketing will change dramatically in the next few years and data is going to be a major driver of that change. Whether predictive analysis is the answer to the volume issue remains to be seen. My prediction is that it will be right there at the centre of things within the next couple of years.

How predictive scores are changing big data by Versium CEO, Chris Matty is on iMedia. Read more.

Phil Darby
March 26, 2014

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