Big Data… According to IBM, we create 2.5 quintillion bytes of data every day. That means 90% of the data in the world today has been created in the last two years alone. Wow.
If you’re a CMO or CEO, you have certainly been asked for your view on Big Data, how you use it, what you think about it. I am often asked these questions as well. Thankfully, having started my career working for GE who used Big Data before Big Data was cool, I did my time in Big Data boot-camp early and have been a self-professed data junky ever since. I can say from experience that Big Data can be friend or foe or both, which means as a CMO you have to create a détente with Big Data to make it work for you. Some thoughts:
Big Data isn’t about Big, it’s about RELEVANCE
More data does not mean you will make better decisions or that your business will perform better over time. You can look at 100 metrics and still not make progress, but spend a lot of time and money in the interim. You need to understand your business in a level of detail where the nuances matter and that is where big data can help you with insights not visible before. Data that is relevant leads to insights which drive action – that is why big data matters.
What Big Data DOESN’T tell you is as important as what it does.
Learning to turn data in to insights is a blend of science and art. You must be careful not to blindly follow data and instead look at the data relative to the answers you are seeking (science) all while being open to new possibilities (art). When assessing Big Data, ask yourself the following:
What did I expect to see that I don’t see in the data?
If I don’t see something expected, is it because the data query is off, or because this is the beginning of an interesting insight thread?
What are the next logical questions that the data leads us to? Are there new insight threads in the answers?
What nuances are in the data and what could they mean?
Mental Elasticity is your greatest asset as an executive in a Big Data World.
To be mentally elastic as an executive you have to have a clear vision of where you want to take the business so you can scale up, down and around that vision with a variety of data. Big Data gives you an opportunity to move between your root level data and your broader vision so you see new opportunities faster and let go of less than optimal decisions earlier.
Harnessing the Insights of Big Data Requires New Skills in the Marketing Function.
Having a full time marketing team member who is all about analytics and business intelligence is crucial. If you work for a big brand or a brand whose business model is all digital, then this may well be a whole team of people. Your analytics lead needs a background in data analysis, financial analysis, market segmentation, market research and an ability to connect those very quantitative insights to your business goals and also into language others will understand and embrace. The good news is you probably already have some of these people in your company, you just need to convince them to join the marketing organization. Once you’ve hired them, you will have to create a culture of mutual benefit and understanding between your analytics team and the rest of your organization. This requires a delicate balance, a détente of sorts from a cultural perspective. But if you are a classically trained CMO, you know all about shifting perceptions so this is the easy part.
Big Data is friend, foe or both. Harnessing the insights and impact of Big Data requires a détente to bring together the opportunities it presents. Relevance, noticing what is missing, being elastic and hiring new talent are the keys to success.