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Marketing and Big Data: maximizing ROI
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Marketing and Big Data: maximizing ROI 

Jim Roberts, director and founder of the direct marketing consultancy BlacklerRoberts, offered recommendations on how to obtain the greatest value out of Big Data solutions for marketing.

“Marketers have been using data to differing levels for many years to understand, identify, target and engage with customers,” Roberts said. “This means they understand the value data can potentially provide in any marketing initiative.” He noted that the question marketers should be asking themselves is, “Am I getting the most out of the key properties of Big Data?”

Roberts defined the key properties of Big Data as volume, velocity and variety. “Volume” refers to the additional breadth and depth of information. “Velocity” means the current and contextual understanding. “Variety” is the additional sources of unstructured data.

The direct marketing consultant believes advertising professionals can derive greater value from Big Data solutions through a closer examination of each key property. While marketers gather information about consumers’ web activity and lifestyle details, they might be missing out on qualitative and machine data. Roberts explained that qualitative data denotes information gathered from such sources as social media, surveys and interactions with customer service; machine data, as the name implies, is information transmitted by devices.

Qualitative and machine data will deliver improved customer engagement and a greater understanding of the customer, Roberts asserted. “Through the use of social Commentary it is possible to gain a better understanding of your customer’s view/perception, providing a pulse of current and historic customer’s opinion/sentiment allowing you drive improved engagement with your customer,” he commented. “With more depth and breadth of data the ability to create statistically significant models of low occurring but highly predictive factors becomes possible.”

Roberts noted that marketers are starting to utilize the key property of velocity to gain greater value from Big Data solutions. Analytics technology examines static and dynamic data, which generates what Roberts called “continuous data.” As its name implies, continuous data is always growing and changing. Roberts sees continuous data as key benefit of Big Data that will enable marketers to become more efficient in two ways: automation and improved targeting. “The continuous growth and change of data provides the opportunity to collect, store and analyse the data to provide responses and next best actions based on current activity/behaviour and not just historic activity/behaviour,” Roberts remarked. Delivering this information in a timely fashion will require automation. “The delivery of real-time data provides the opportunity to target or conversely not target, based on current knowledge not just historic knowledge,” Roberts added.

The variety of data now available to marketers for analysis includes text, image, audio and video. Advertising professionals have begun to exploit this variety in order to gain a greater understanding of their customers. According to Roberts, access and use of these forms of data enables greater connection to customers and improved testing. “Understanding of how messages are received and shared across social communities will help marketers with customer conversations, enabling their customers to become ambassadors of positive messages and responding to negative/angry responses,” he commented. “Access and use of unstructured data will enable additional testing of communications beyond the traditional A/B testing of response/conversion rates to start looking at social buzz caused and spread of communication.”

Big Data solutions play a significant role in deriving value from information. Roberts recommended that an analytics platform have at least three prerequisites: multiple data source support, prebuilt and flexible analytic functionality and visualization capabilities. “Most companies will have multiple legacy systems using various technologies from relation databases, analytical databases, etc., stored on multiple data platforms,” he said. “This spread of information in diverse locations means a fundamental feature of any Big Data analytics solution is the ability to access and interrogate data across platforms.”

Prebuilt and flexible analytic functionality will allow marketers to evaluate data in a number of different ways, which lets them understand their customers better. “The existence of a wide library of statistical tools will enable rapid deployment of solutions, where the ability to create custom functionality in an open environment will allow for the continued growth and development of the tool,” Roberts stated. The ability to visualize data is another important feature. “A key aspect of any analytics is the ability to present the information in a way that clearly shows patterns and relationships, which can be understood by a wide ranging audience,” Roberts remarked.

However, the best Big Data solution will be of no use if it is not being used properly. Roberts outlined three obstacles to deriving the maximum value from Big Data: a lack of clear objectives linked to business goals, an inability to understand the data and a deficiency in the required skill set to analyze the information.

Before implementing a Big Data solution, Roberts advised carefully considering what you wish to achieve. “To take advantage of the ability to store, access and drive insight from this data requires clear objectives linked to the goals of your business showing how data driven solutions can be used to meet the goals,” he commented. Knowing what your aims are increases your chances of positive results. “This will ensure you focus on key projects with known desired outcomes that Big Data will enable and critically be able to measure the success,” Roberts added.

An inability to understand the data will also negatively impact the benefits of a Big Data solution. “Within your business there will be multiple repositories of data, used for multiple tasks,” Roberts explained. While it might seem like a waste of resources to examine each of these repositories, the effort will pay off in the end. “To gain an in depth knowledge of each every data set will be a time consuming exercise, but without a high level overview of all data sets used by your business and environment you will not have a clear understanding of which data to use and will constrain potential journey routes to meeting your objective,” Roberts warned.

A skill set deficiency is the most difficult obstacle to overcome, Roberts noted. “This is critical and will be the biggest challenge in most businesses, where they can solve the first two points raised (clear objectives and data understanding) and then fall down due to lack of ability to gain information from the data and turn this information into actionable insight to meet the objectives,” he said. Roberts defined the requisite skill set to gain the most benefit from Big Data solutions: business knowledge and ability to turn goals into clear measurable objectives, data awareness and ability to see the value of data within business goals and the statistical analysis capabilities to identify insight contained within the data.

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