A slew of surveys show that, while marketers are eager to capitalize on the opportunities presented by Big Data, they are being held by a lack of know-how and experience.
As eMarketer reports, a study conducted by the CMO Council and SAS shows that, while Big Data is top of mind for marketers across all industries, “putting it to work is a huge undertaking that few have mastered.” Most marketers, the study found, still see Big Data as both an obstacle and opportunity and have a long way to go before truly harnessing it.
Many marketers feel overwhelmed and uncertain about how to proceed with Big Data, which is causing them to take a cautious approach. As Tim Suther, chief marketing and strategy officer at Acxiom, explains, “There is so much data and so many options regarding what to collect and how to analyze it that marketers don’t know where to start.”
Jim Yuagrees, explaining that, “Most marketers don’t know what data to gather, which analysis tools to use, and how to use that processed data to have real impact on sales.” If you don’t know how to gather and analyze data properly, says Yu, the findings from analysis will be limited. Those mistakes, he warns, “will burn a lot of money on Big Data initiatives that deliver nothing new.”
Start with a Plan
To get a handle on Big Data and avoid costly missteps, marketers should start by formulating a sound plan. This is the advice of McKinley & Company analysts Stefan Biesdorf, David Court, and Paul Willmott, who tell marketers, “The answer, simply put, is to develop a plan.”
It may sound obvious, they explain, but “the missing step for most companies is spending the time required to create a simple plan for how data, analytics, frontline tools, and people come together to create business value.”
Likewise, says Jim Yu, in the face of the daunting challenges Big Data presents to many marketers, “the prudent strategy is to prepare and wait — prepare a strategic Big Data plan.”
Similar advice is offered by the authors of a study by the Columbia Business School’s Center on Global Brand Leadership and the New York American Marketing Association (NYAMA), which found that Big Data in marketing is still a work in progress and that “in many organizations, the effective use of data for marketing decisions lags behind the desire to do so.”
The desire to utilize Big Data, the study found, was not matched by a consistent effort to collect the data necessary to make real-time decisions. Another impediment was an inability to share data across divisions and a lack of a process to gain actionable insights from data.
To master Big Data, the study advises marketers to “set objectives first,” adding that it is critical to establish a focused strategy with clear business objectives set in advance.
Echoing these sentiments are top executives from Yesmail and Infogroup. “When it comes to Big Data, hope is not a strategy,” said Yesmail president Michael Fisher, adding that “in 2013, brands should be taking a disciplined approach to building out their data operations.”
Likewise, said Don Patrick, president of Infogroup Targeting Solutions, “companies should be going back to the basics and building a solid foundation for their Big Data initiatives.” This means investing in the processes, people and systems necessary for implementing a data strategy aimed at knowing customers at a deeper level. “It’s critical,” said Patrick, “to take a disciplined approach to putting all the right pieces into place.”
Also weighing in on the topic is Tim Suther, who says that, to overcome the barriers and build Big Data expertise, marketers must focus on “strategy first, then data.” The first priority, says Suther, is to really understand how data-based insight can help support overall corporate strategies. Determine what you want to accomplish, then apply Big Data to achieving that specific goal. Conversely, he says, “if you start by looking at the data and asking how you can use the 12 different databases your company has, it can be paralyzing.”
In line with this thinking is Experian QAS, which asserts “simply having data isn’t going to make campaigns more effective.” Marketers, the study says, “need to have a strategic plan for leveraging consumer intelligence and be able to articulate which data they need to achieve their goals.”
As we have seen, experts also point to data hygiene as a critical factor for achieving success in Big Data initiatives. The first steps to utilizing consumer intelligence successfully, says Experian QAS, are to “clean internal data” and “clean incoming information.”
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