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Big Data, applied to marketing, is transforming how marketers in myriad industries attempt to reach consumers. Armed with the ability to distill insight from large data sets, marketers can improve their programs by better understanding the precise needs and behaviors of their target audiences.

But achieving meaningful returns from Big Data investments can be an elusive goal. Although marketers know they need to glean actionable insights from unstructured data, the process can be time-consuming, expensive, and difficult to quantify in terms of financial benefits for the organization.

As marketers face increasing pressure to demonstrate the impact of every dollar of marketing spend, decision-makers need to be able to establish the return on investment (ROI) for Big Data. Otherwise, justifying Big Data's role as a key driver of business goals may be difficult.

As a marketer, you have to be able to connect Big Data investments with quantifiable business outcomes and tie the impact of Big Data efforts to specific marketing strategies.

Although Big Data has many possible applications in your company's marketing strategy, here are five of the best ways to increase the ROI you achieve on your Big Data expenditures.

1. Have a goal

Measurable ROI for Big Data begins with defined goals and desired outcomes. From the beginning of the process, you must understand why you need the data and how it will be used after it has been collected: How will the data influence marketing campaigns? What are the specific customer insights you hope to learn from the data?

Without clear answers to those and other questions, you will inevitably spend time and energy on data that produces no results and no ROI for your company.

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Scott Bailey is executive vice-president of strategy and analytics of Target Data Corp., which specializes in direct mail for the moving industry. Scott is a widely published expert in marketing strategy, targeting, and segmentation.