Big data for not-so-big organizations

Read any business, marketing or management publication these days and you’re almost certain to find an article about Big Data. The natural conclusion is that big data is for big organizations. That could be because just the term “big data” will leave those responsible for smaller organizations either terror-stricken or in a boredom induced coma. But concluding that not-so-big organizations have nothing to learn from the lessons of big data is a big mistake.

First, let’s deal with this big name, “big data.” While its true that there are companies that are combing terabytes of data to develop the algorithm that will predict the buying patterns of consumers in Wichita, those organizations represent the vast minority. Don’t be intimidated by references to big data. Rather, consider how increased use of data can help you make better decisions.

Quoted in a CNN Money post, Sheryl Pattek, a principal at Forrester Research said, “It’s not really a question of big data as much as it’s a question of the right data. It’s about turning data into insights that you can act on to drive business.”

In other words, when it comes to data, size doesn’t matter. However the value of data is irrefutable. As a recent report from Teradata concludes, “The evidence is proving that companies that act quickly based on data-driven decisions are succeeding over their peers.”

This is particularly the case with marketing efforts. As the same report says, “data-driven marketing bridges the gap between what you do and what customers want.”

So, where to begin? What data should you be sure to be assembling and how can you use it?

Contact information. This may sound ridiculously obvious but an e-marketer report on big data (ironically titled, Using Big Data Still a Challenge for Marketers) concluded that contact data was the most important for marketing success. Do you have an email address, or better yet, the most current email address for every customer or constituent? Do you have a program in place that makes it easy and encourages people to update their contact info? Once you’ve dealt with those questions, shift the analysis to prospective customers or donors and ensure that you have complete information for them. For example, do you have a first and last name to go with every prospect email address? Without that info, you eliminate the possibility of email personalization and the chances of converting that prospect into a buyer become slim.

The e-marketer report also presented the most valuable data that execs said was unavailable to them. Those data categories are essential to organizations. These are some of them and what you can do about them.

Web behavior. You better have Google Analytics running on your site. If not, stop reading this post and immediately contact the person responsible for your site. There is a ton of information that Google Analytics makes available to you that in turn will give you insight into the behavior of visitors to your site. Some examples: Where are they coming from? Is it from searches in a browser and if so what are the keywords that are delivering them? Alternatively, is there an external link that is responsible for referrals? What pages are people looking at on your site? Are they the ones that are important to purchases or donations? Should you re-jig content to increase conversions? The list of questions and resultant actions is endless. Google even provides a bevy of success stories that you can learn from.

Demographics. Hopefully you have lots of information about the people you engage with – whether as prospects or buyers. This includes age, income, location, maybe even marital status, number of children and other data that might be uniquely important to your organization. For example an independent school may want to know what schools siblings attend or attended. You should be able to construct the profile or profiles of your archetypical buyers. Then the question becomes where do you find more just like them.

Purchase (or donation) history. If you can track not only what people have committed to but the path they took getting there, you have powerful information. Combine this with demographic data and you could build powerful personas that you you can use to target marketing and messaging. For example if you discover that people with a particular combination of demographic markers are more likely to buy (donate/apply) when presented with certain information, you can target that segment and get them that information sooner or exclusively.

You can see that the same big data that C-level execs are looking at can benefit any organization – even those that aren’t so big. The CNN post referenced above said that big data “seems to mean everything and nothing at the same time.” That may be true but there is no denying that, as I said in a previous post, the discipline of data is the foundation for marketing innovation. No matter how large your organization don’t dismiss the big ideas behind big data.

What do you think? 
How are using the premise of big data to further the success of your organization? What did I miss? What advice do you have?

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