Take Small Steps With “Big Data”

I was incredibly fortunate to participate as a VIP blogger at the recent Smarter Commerce Global Summit 2012. The event was a virtual Who's Who of social media, business, technology, distribution and enterprise experts at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin resort in Orlando Florida.

It was such a rush to be part of fascinating conversations among more than 3,000 technology and business leaders. One topic was the fiery buzz term “big data” – which seems to have multiple definitions. However, one recurring concept seems to be at the core: Big data is the culmination of all data. It includes user, insight, product and service data, CRM, and any and all other bits and bytes that effectively make a business tick. 

Therefore, from a marketer's perspective, I’m very intrigued by this data. As someone who understands all the aspects of a brand’s inner workings, customers and related insights, how can I used this information to be a better weapon for my clients? How can I create more sales and deeper engagement within the brand’s audience?

Where the rubber really meets the road for me, however, is when we analyze the risk associated with big data. Clients should avoid risk at every turn. Whether it is a small company producing one product for a niche market, or an enterprise company with millions in channel sales, you end up creating what my homie Bryan Kramer refers to as "an aircraft carrier in the canal."

A big ship traveling through a canal can make only minor course adjustments. Don’t expect to do a 180. And the same theory applies to using data.

While big data is insightful, you must be equipped to optimize your client’s marketing, products and services, and social engagements based on what it reveals. Even when something seems to make sense on paper, it pays to filter the decision with experience and broad perspective.

I can tell you the reasons why you should drop the spending in one particular channel and move that cost to another to maximize ROI and create a more efficient budget. But at the same time, there are campaigns to nurture, publishers, media schedules, online advertising and a million other things that are woven together. Therefore, making sweeping changes is always cost-prohibitive.

The catch-22 is that it is incredibly important to evolve your process, products and offerings, as well as your engagement practices. Without that crucial evolution, it's only a matter of time until your competitor passes by and leaves you as a speck in the rearview mirror.

Bottom line: Analyze the data and make practical, informed decisions as you evolve.

While the next chunk of advice isn't specifically directed at the data, you certainly may garner a list of directives:

Social Tweaks:

Probably the most cost-effective tools to sway the hearts and minds of your customer are social media, e-mail and any other direct connectivity. If you start to lose market share within the context of a new campaign, it might be better to ask your audience where the successes and failures are. If you don't have the stones for that, you might try developing surveys or doing subtle A/B shifts in your campaign directives. And Bryan Kramer also mentioned, just changing the course of your aircraft carrier one degree left or right could very well adjust any downturns your data presents. My key takeaway to that is: Don't overreact.

Customer Walk-Through:

Of course your website makes sense to you. After all, you helped design the thing, and you know it inside-out. But look at it from the viewpoint of a new customer, and you might be surprised what you see. Trevor Newell from shop.ca said one of the many issues they found within the buy flow was that additional fields, such as “business name (if applicable)," were confusing customers. Because of where that field was located, customers thought it was asking for the business name of the credit card company. By simply removing this one field from the buy flow, they increased sales exponentially over the next month. Once again, these are subtle tweaks 1 degree left or right.

Looking externally from the data:

With the eye of a skeptic, I encourage you to question any negative or positive shifts based on real-world events, trends, sentiment and perception versus reality. Admittedly, this level of granularity is often as scientific as big data. However, trusting your gut has led to more success than not. Remember that our world is getting smaller and faster. As with chaos math, the subtle variations that may not register in your data could very well blossom into something very good – or very bad.

One last word directed at the customers, clients and brands of the world. It is essential for you to insist that your marketing team, agency or design firm begins to aggregate as much CRM data as possible. A word to the wise: All the data management options in the world cannot save you if your product and support fall below the growing expectation of high-touch customer service.

My friend Ted Rubin reminds me of possibly most important aspect of analytics: "BUT NEVER FORGET…  Analytics shouldn’t replace judgment!" So while the data might be telling you one thing it's external to your goals and strategies. It's like the Terminator, it has no heart or feelings. You must ultimatley decide what to take away and optimize from the data.

Thoughts? Hate mail? Give me something! Tag, you're it.