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How to Use Data for Marketing (Even if You Can't Do Big Data Yet)

Building on your dataRichi Jennings of NetApp has (@richi on Twitter) a great look about the role of Big Data for retail over on Forbes today, stating the future of retail is all in Big Data.

I agree. Well mostly, anyway.

Big Data will play an enormous role in how companies across an array of industries help their customers — and help their businesses.

However, while speaking at a conference last week, I talked with a number of business executives and thought leaders struggling to make Big Data work for their companies. And part way through these conversations, it hit me why so many struggle with putting Big Data to work: They’re trying to boil the ocean. The challenges present by Big Data have, in a few cases, stopped them cold.

Why? Well, Big Data creates a number of difficult questions for marketers and their businesses, such as:

  • How can we collect the information we’re looking for?
  • How do we store this much information?
  • How do we provide access to the information to the right people and avoid exposing customers’ private information to the wrong people?
  • Where do we get sufficient computing power to crunch the data (without violating customer privacy or proprietary information)?
  • How do we interpret what the information tells us? Are we really able to understand what the data says?
  • How can we communicate what we’re learning in an effective enough way across the organization?

All of these questions represent valid concerns and relatively thorny problems. Many companies lack the people, processes, knowledge, and infrastructure to address these in a significant way without equally significant (read: unwelcome or unavailable) investment. The common assumption suggests the only way forward is to dive in head-first, with multi-year, multi-million dollar commitments.

That commitment may well be necessary.

However, the scale of those efforts shouldn’t stop you from using the data you already have to improve what you already know about your customers. A number of businesses I’m working with have seen dramatic improvement in their business results by conducting smaller, more targeted experiments using existing tools in parallel with their Big Data investment.

These insights have been used to lower customer acquisition costs, increase conversion rates across channels, and improve product development for businesses across a variety of industries. Techniques like A/B testing, web analytics modeling, and holdout tests use existing data to suggest answers to key questions. None replace necessary investment in the deep strategic insights these clients expect Big Data to deliver.

But they produce results in the near-term while brands work towards their long-term solution.

If you’re interested in learning more about the future of e-commerce and marketing via the social, local, mobile web, register to receive a special report I’ve produced in conjunction with hotel marketing firm Vizergy, “Digital Hotel Marketing in a Multiscreen World.” While it’s targeted specifically at hotel and resort marketers, the lessons apply to just about any business. You can get your free copy of the report here.

You might also enjoy some of our past coverage of the social, local, mobile web and what it means for your business, including:

Tim Peter is the founder and president of Tim Peter & Associates. You can learn more about our company's strategy and digital marketing consulting services here or about Tim here.

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