Five things you need to know about big data

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The internet is awash with articles highlighting the benefits of big data, but it’d be wrong to assume everyone has the same level of understanding. After all, it can be a pretty complex concept.

If you’re a marketing manager trying to make head and tail of big data but don’t quite know where to start, this article is for you. In it, we discuss the things we feel are most important to know about this ongoing information revolution.

1. There’s no strict definition

Firstly, the term ‘big data’ has no strict definition, and the countless attempts to provide it with one can make the whole thing a lot more confusing that it needs to be.

In essence, there are two sensible ways of looking at it, and it pays to understand both. Firstly, you’ll hear talk of the ‘three Vs’. This concept, introduced by Gartner in 2001, is based on big data having three defining properties:

  • Volume focuses on the scale of data, and the fact that so much of it now exists. Did you know, for example, that IBM expects there to be 43 trillion gigabytes of digital information in existence by 2020?
  • Velocity is about how quickly this is all happening. It used to be a case that data recorded yesterday was considered recent, but it’s now normal to rely on real-time information. The speed at which it arrives presents both opportunities and challenges to businesses.
  • Variety, as you might have guessed, is about the countless different forms this information takes. Marketers can now harvest insight from emails, social media activity, customer transactions and – with the right sensors in place – even physical movement.

On the other hand, big data describes the things we can do with information on a large scale that we couldn’t do on a smaller one. Businesses have always used data, but never before have they been able to see the whole picture. Now, with access to everything, we have the power to extract insights and create new forms of value in a way that can revolutionise industries and essentially change the world.

2. It opens all kinds of doors

Data has so many uses; it tells holidaymakers what to expect from the weather on their trips and helps doctors uncover patient patterns that lead to world-changing medical breakthroughs.

For businesses and marketers, it’s all about better understanding their audience. Insight harvested from Twitter and Facebook data, for example, will help you keep track of and meet ever-changing customer needs. Website data from Google Analytics can then be used to ensure your pages contain the types of content most likely to usher people through the sales funnel.

More than this, industry trends data will tell you more about your commercial environment, and the businesses you’re up against. Collect the right stuff and you’ll soon start being able to predict the future and prepare appropriately. Just be aware that it will always be about probability, never certainty.

3. It’s more powerful when it’s combined

It’s unlikely that a piece of data will have any real value or meaning when it exists in isolation; it’s when you start to combine it with other information that you can start to generate some actionable insight.

You could, for example, notice a spike in website traffic on Google Analytics, but unless you can attribute it to something, it’ll be impossible to capitalise fully. It’s only when you can see that the surge coincided with the publication of your first ever ‘listicle’ that you can adjust your content strategy accordingly.

Another example is the way our content team looks for disparities between search impressions and clicks to find fruitful content opportunities. The search impressions tell us what the audience is looking for; the clicks tell us whether we’re satisfying those needs at present.

Fortunately, all of this data is now freely available. The problem is that it exists in thousands of different places. In its attempts to build a clear and complete picture of website performance, the average marketing agency now relies on 17 different data tools. Collecting everything from so many sources takes time, and it’s far from efficient.

With this monster task of collation in mind, it’s easy to see why so many businesses assume big data just isn’t for them. The whole process can be daunting to say the least.

4. No business is too small to use big data

Large organisations regularly use big data to gain insight on customer activity and improve their marketing efforts, but it’s no secret that smaller companies have, in the past, been less likely to do the same. Many owners simply found it intimidating, with the thought of having to invest large amounts of time and money often obscuring the huge rewards on offer. Thankfully, things are changing.

Steve King, an SME trends expert from Emergent Research, says smaller companies no longer need to be afraid: [pullout]“Big data was the exclusive domain of statisticians and large corporations but not anymore. Big data is a way for small business to fight back.”[/pullout]

He goes on to praise some of the tools available to marketers, using Google Analytics as an example before adding: “You don’t have to be a data scientist to use these tools and get good insights.”

The cloud plays a big part in this newfound accessibility, as it provides budget-restricted SMEs with infinite computing power – something that wasn’t available ten years ago. It levels the playing field so that smaller firms can compete with their larger counterparts.

5. You can get started today

The first step to leveraging big data is to work out what you have at your disposal already and discover what else you could be harvesting. The next is to start collecting. As we’ve mentioned already, the beauty of big data is its ability to show you the whole picture, but in order to see this, you need everything you can get your hands on.

Fortunately, this doesn’t have the cost of the earth – or anything at all, in fact. Tools like Google Analytics and Google Webmaster Tools are free and will provide invaluable data on the performance of your company’s website. Beyond this, you’ll find (literally) thousands of different platforms. Just bear in mind that the more time you spend collecting data, the less time you have to act on it.

There’s also a lot to learn from both social media and e-commerce activity. As soon as you start getting to know your audience a little better, it’ll be possible to target your marketing efforts a lot more effectively. The result should be more engagement and eventually increased revenue.

The Vertical Leap approach

When we said “thousands of platforms”, we really weren’t exaggerating. According to Scott Brinker’s often-shared Marketing Technology Landscape Supergraphic, there are close to 2,000 on the market at present. Some will be more useful than others, but you’ll need to go through a fair few to get the full data picture. This is why we’ve spent the past ten years developing Apollo Insights.

Apollo Insights is Vertical Leap’s own deep data tool. It collects everything there is to know about your website so you don’t have to. It goes through every data source you’re already familiar with and presents its findings in one place – saving valuable time and money for your business.

The technology isn’t enough by itself, though, it needs that human element. By removing the menial task of collating, Apollo allows our experts to make the most of their time and skills; it frees them to make data-inspired decisions that improve your marketing results and your business’ performance. With this kind of help, capitalising on the big data revolution doesn’t have to be difficult.

Want to learn more about big data?

If you want to start using big data to drive your digital marketing but aren’t quite sure where to start, contact one of our specialists today on 0845 123 2753. In the meantime, you might find these articles helpful:

The digital marketer’s big data dilemma

Making better decisions with transparency of digital data

Why we put data at the heart of digital marketing

Graeme Parton profile picture
Graeme Parton

Graeme was a Content Marketing Specialist at Vertical Leap. Graeme joined us in 2014 as a Brand Journalist and was promoted in 2015 to our marketing team.

More articles by Graeme
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