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What Are Marketers Going to Do With All That Big Data?

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Spare me your Big Data spiel. Don’t tell me about marketing’s reliance on big data, how important it is to fuel insights, or about logarithms and statistical basis for decision making. I get it.

I've been in digital marketing for years, so I have my moments of love for data. I understand how data grounds everything, informs everything. I know there are a trillion data points about the growth of Big Data out there. (Is that a meta-Big Data-Big-Data comment?) I know marketers will have more to work with to drive insights and to optimize strategies and tactics as they roll out programs. So, roger that. That’s not what I want to hear anymore.

What I want to hear instead is: What did you do with that data? How will you humanize that data?

Focus groups of one matter in marketing these days, so how will that data allow a marketer or brand to talk to me uniquely as a consumer? That’s the most important aspect of big data---the one that not nearly enough marketers are talking about---especially as our interactions with technology and the Internet become more human by the minute.

Technology Is Getting More Human

The rise of social as a digital behavior is, of course, “people-powered” and technology itself is getting more human with each product release.

Ask your Google or iPhone a question. Touch, tap, and swipe. Gesture and move, and the technology will keep up. Get face to face with FaceTime or Skype or a Hangout. We expect all of our technology-based interactions to have the same seamless vibe as human interactions. The friction that comes from the previously clunky exchanges with brands and platforms is disappearing.

People want a real, simple, relevant, personal and nuanced experience, and they are starting to get it. For example, I want everyone who touches my health data---my doctor, my pharmacy, my supermarket even--- to seamlessly help me manage my health by communicating allergy alerts or helping me understand food and drug interactions. The data is human-powered, thereby making the experience more human than ever.

So Why Do We Still Get Lost in Data?

Marketers are in danger of forgetting they are trying to reach people. They are focusing on the science of analyzing target demographics like they are specimen in a Petri dish.

I spoke on a panel recently, and an audience member asked how we panel members thought marketers would best take advantage of Google Glass data. Would it be through pop-up ads? Or quick video pre-rolls? And to that, I say, “Uh, what?” You mean you want to take one of the most up-close-and-personal experiences where a digital dashboard is attached to your head and use the information gathered to better target intrusive ads? Instead, stop, and think about how to have a human touch. Think about how to enhance the personal experience that the Google Glass user is uniquely having.

So, stop telling me Big Data points about the Big Data. I don’t want to know how much there will be or how much it will grow. If you want to thrill me as a marketer, tell me about the simple insights culled from that data. Share with me the authentic notions about a target or a behavior that emerged. And surprise me by showing how the data fueled a simple, elegant marketing experience that was, at its core, very human.

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Brian Babineau is SVP of Media & Marketing at Digital Influence Group, a full-service digital marketing agency with social at the core. Contact him on Twitter at @BrianBab21 or at

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  • by Don Morgan Wed May 29, 2013 via blog

    Good thoughts, Brian. I moderated a panel discussion on Big Data last week and everyone wanted to talk about how improving technology would allow us to gather, sort and monitor more data than ever before, but no one was really talking about the challenges of making it useful in a one-to-one marketing situation. The closest we came to insights gleaned from a"human-powered" perspective was a discussion on how one panelist is using data to better define target audience personas, but I'm not sure their methods(or insights) were any different than marketers have been using for decades. Big data continues to get bigger, but what are we doing with all of that information? I, too, hope that marketers don't get lost in the data.

  • by Brian Babineau Wed May 29, 2013 via blog

    Thanks for the comment, Don. It's amazing the level of focus on the growth of big data, with the assumption that it will make marketing better all by itself, when in actuality, more isn't better without a good "how" in terms of using it. We haven't gotten beyond personas and simple targeting yet, and we'll need to, as an industry, to stay relevant and create the kind of meaningful relationships that creates customers.

  • by Gina Rau Wed May 29, 2013 via blog

    Great article and I especially appreciate the statement on people wanting a real, relevant, personal experience. The social platforms we use daily have stretched our expectations to such that we want that experience across the web. And marketers finally have the data and tech tools to provide it.

    It's not about hunting and gathering for "big" data though, it's about utilizing the right data at the right time with the right message to resonate and stand out.

  • by Brian Babineau Thu May 30, 2013 via blog

    Thanks for the comment, Gina. I couldn't agree more with your last sentence especially.

  • by Daniel Kehrer Tue Jun 4, 2013 via blog

    Brian: What can marketers do with all that "big data"? As Wes Nichols, CEO of MarketShare said in his recent Harvard Business Review cover story (abstract here: ), use it in these 3 ways to uncover new insights into marketing's effect on revenue:

    1) Attribution: Here you quantify the contribution of each advertising element,
    also using relevant data from non-marketing functions.
    2) Optimization: Also called “war gaming.” Here you use predictive
    analytics tools to run scenarios for business planning.
    3) Allocation: Now we get to the big payoff by using the findings in real
    time to redistribute your resources across different marketing activities.

    As you eloquently allude to, data by itself is dumb. Using it for something smart is what really counts.

  • by Kevin Flaherty Tue Jun 4, 2013 via blog

    Spot on Mark. Many marketers are drawn by more quantity and complexity when they aren't yet taking advantage of their current data flow. In early campaigns to marketers we'd emphasize exactly how new data could be used for action, but in the discovery stage interest in acting on data just wasn't there. I've been seeing greater success drawing people in with messaging focused only on the quantity and depth of data.

  • by Kevin Flaherty Tue Jun 4, 2013 via blog

    Excuse my mistake, 'Spot on *Brian'

  • by Brian Babineau Wed Jun 5, 2013 via blog

    Fantastic article, and thanks for the comment, Daniel. Exactly right. I wish there was more buzz about the outcomes of that analysis - fantastic stories, sea changes in strategy or "a ha" moments than just about the data itself.

  • by Brian Babineau Wed Jun 5, 2013 via blog

    No problem, and thanks for the comment, Kevin. I wonder if the focus on quantity and depth is primarily driven by the fact that it's an easier story to digest, and a safer place to focus. Finding actionable insights in reams of data isn't easy, and that creates some fear in taking action - how do I know I have the right insight? How do we get there?

  • by Iryna Wed Jun 12, 2013 via blog

    Thank you for the article.
    I was asked recently to do a general presentation on good and bad experience and practical advice to work with data. I myself would like to learn form others. Surprisingly, I found so much information about how great data is, that ABC company was able to increase, improve smth, etc. However, absolutely no information on failures, on practical advises versus generalities.

    I guess the most important "data" about "big data" is hard to catch.

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