What big data means for marketing decision making | Media Network | guardian.co.uk
David Lloyd | Tuesday 23 April 2013
"Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts." This quote, often attributed to Albert Einstein, originated before the concept of big data. Yet now, more than ever, we should reflect on what it means in the context of how our marketing decisions are made.
The first part of the quote reveals an inconvenient truth of analytics; as much as we strive for a world where everything is measurable and all decisions can be based on real-time, infallible data, this is not always possible. Take "social media ROI" for instance; a term that pervades marketing industry commentary. Often, the data to attribute sales revenue confidently simply isn't there and no amount of white papers and positive thinking can fill the gap.
In such cases, it's important to understand the options quickly along with the associated cost, commitment and accuracy. Be prepared not to do it at all. Yes, really. That may seem controversial and may be something that doesn't fit with cultures that only approve projects based on hard commercial benefits, but it is better to focus efforts on what you can do than stretch data beyond credibility.
Instead, focus on more readily available measures that indicate performance against objectives. Have I got good reach across my target audience compared with other channels? Does my target audience even use this social platform? How do they engage with my content compared with the content from competitors? You may find that some of these measures, once properly benchmarked and tracked, along with a good dose of marketing nous, will lead to a well-informed social media strategy.
The second part of the quote provides a counter-perspective yet is equally important. We are told that big data is all around us; that we must collect it or be hopelessly behind the curve and lose huge amounts of revenue. Almost every day a new vendor, seminar or white paper springs up promising the solution to our big data problems. If anything, big data (the campaign) is an unintentional mirror of big data (the real stuff) itself; it creates more noise, more pitfalls and requires more precision to navigate. The amount of data available does not necessarily correlate with its value – not everything that can be counted counts.
Yet the solution to such concerns is similar to the solution when you don't have enough data. Align the data you need to your strategic objectives, assess the options and make the decision accordingly. This could be big data, small data or somewhere in-between data. These principles hold true now, as they did when customer relationship management (CRM) was marketing's next big thing, and before the quote itself was conceived.
We live in an environment where certain parties obfuscate some of these truths, whether they do that to sell technology or simply amplify the hype to appear to be leading the conversation.
I'm aware that I'm focusing on the fallibility of data; we can't take for granted that data can drive every decision, we must use also our judgment. Well, I'm prepared to be honest about this as, despite the limitations of data, far more decisions are made by instinct alone when data could have improved those decisions. This gap is a huge opportunity and to close it, we just need the foresight to collect the right data and ensure it is used correctly by people with the right skills.
If you're a business focusing on the big data question and how it might revolutionise your marketing, I advise you to take stock of your objectives. Is there a clear connection between your strategy and the data? Are you only planning to collect the data you really need (regardless of size)? Do you have a clear roadmap and the expertise to steer the course? If you can't provide a confident yes to these questions, make sure you rectify that before spending considerable time and money on solutions. Otherwise you could find yourself another wreck stranded on the rocks.