Big Data: What it is and 3 quick ways to incorporate it into your marketing strategy

Man explaining report in meeting
Imagine if there was a way to speed up cancer research? Now there is thanks to researchers leveraging big data. The Cancer Moonshot Initiative's data commons allows physicians and scientists from all over to collaborate more easily and openly share genomic data associated with clinical trials. This innovative use of big data will not only help boost cancer research but improve its outcomes for patients, too.

On a smaller scale, big data can also advance marketing initiatives. But, when it comes to marketing, what exactly is big data? In this post, we will scratch the surface of big data and then share a few practical ways marketers can utilize the data for success.

What is big data?

It is surprisingly simple for such a large concept: "Big data is a term that describes the large volume of data that inundates a business on a day-to-day basis" (SAS Institute Inc). With the increased use of mobile devices and trends that move many day-to-day activities online, such as shopping, social interactions, and travel planning, we are now creating data at a staggering rate. Ultimately, big data is, well, big. It is often described as having these three characteristics:
  • Volume: The sheer amount of information being shared, collected, and analyzed every second is incredible. In fact, the Harvard Business Review explains that 2.5 exabytes (or one billion gigabytes) of data were created each day in 2012. 
  • Velocity: Perhaps even more important than the amount of data is how quickly it is created. Marketers can see information about how individuals are behaving on their website or social media profiles practically in real-time. 
  • Variety: The volume and velocity of the data are rounded-out by a third characteristic: variety. From check-ins at restaurants to opening an email newsletter to GPS signals, big data refers to the collection of all of these and more.
To dig deeper into these characteristics and explanations of big data, I recommend the full Harvard Business Review article referenced here.

Big data and marketing

For marketers, this influx of data can take a lot of the guesswork out of our campaign planning and success measures if we know how to use it. There are a number of tools to collect and report on big data, such as Hadoop and Cloudera. Data storage on such a large scale requires good infrastructure, analytics tools, and massive amounts of storage.

For many businesses, however, amassing all of that data isn't always necessary to see the benefits of big data in their marketing efforts. Pinpointing specific data that can help your company make smart marketing decisions is a good place to start, and it doesn't require costly software or extensive training.

Big data helps with A/B testing.

A/B testing is used to test two versions of an email, digital advertisement, or other outward facing marketing piece to see which performs better with your audience. By comparing the performance of these two versions, you can collect data about which is performing better with your audience. This could be measured by number of clicks, number of opens, time spent on the page, or any other number of variables depending on your goals.
Real or near-real time information delivery is one of the defining characteristics of big data analytics. (Wikipedia)

Big data helps with targeted messaging.

Personalized, automated messaging is almost entirely a result of big data. There are two types of information you can use to personalize messages in your marketing: implicit data and explicit data.

Implicit data is gathered based on customer actions, such as referral source or pages visited on your website. Explicit data is information customers supply to you intentionally, such as contact information or checking all boxes that apply on a form (Market Motive). This data can be used to send emails to your contacts using personalized greetings or to automate a specific coupon based on their buying habits.

Using data and technology to help you incorporate these techniques into your marketing strategy saves time and money, and has big returns on investment, which is why Business2Community reports segmentation and automation are top priorities for marketers.

Big data can help you optimize your website content.

With a free tool like Google Analytics, you can take advantage of big data in big ways on your website content. Basic analytics show visitor location, new vs. returning visitors, bounce rates, and even entry and exit pages on your website.

Knowing more about your website visitors and their behavior on your site can help you strategize based on which pages have the most visitors, where new visitors go on your site vs. returning visitors, etc. To get started with analytics, check out our post about how to use analytic data to improve your marketing strategy.

Learn more

As I've mentioned, big data by its nature is really big. Even the number of ways to utilize all of this information is seemingly endless. Ready to get started with data-driven marketing strategy but not sure where to start? Check out some of these related articles:

Are you finding big data and analytics to be overwhelming? We understand it is a lot of information to digest. We can help!
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Sarah

About the author | Sarah Matlock

Sarah is the marketing manager at TBH Creative, specializing in social media management and data analysis. She likes to blog about social media strategy, the latest trends in the industry, and how to engage the online community more effectively.

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