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Big Data-Everyone talks about it...but what is it?

Have you heard of Big Data? Probably some-yes, some-no, and some-I should say yes but really I’m a no. In an article in eMarketer Daily on November 5, “Big Data Helps Reveal Consumer Behavior,” it pretty much says that 85% of US advertising agencies and brand executives are using Big Data to increase insights into consumer behavior. As a marketing professional, Big Data is the latest “buzz word” and it seems that you can’t read an article without it coming up. But many don’t know what Big Data is and more importantly why they should care. So, for those of you who aren’t entirely sure of what Big Data “really” is but smile and nod when the subject comes up…here it goes.

Big Data has not been acknowledged in the Merriam-Websters Dictionary yet, but Webopedia.com defines it this way: Big data is a buzzword, or catch-phrase, used to describe a massive volume of both structured and unstructured data that is so large that it's difficult to process using traditional database and software techniques. While the term may seem to reference the volume of data, that isn't always the case. The term big data -- especially when used by vendors -- may refer to the technology (which includes tools and processes) that an organization requires to handle the large amounts of data and storage facilities.

Does that clear it up? I would guess, no.

Essentially, it’s taking all of the trackable information that can be gathered on individuals - your customer or potential customer. Their activity on social media sites, website visits, web searches, online purchases, call center information, mobile information including geolocator, etc. and collects it all - which is a TON of data. By itself it means very little but if you start looking at all of the information together, you can develop some predictive analysis - who’s doing what, where and when. Oh, and when I say “you”, I mean the programmers and statisticians that have the innate ability to make sense of it all…it’s extremely complex. The whole point, people are creatures of habit. If we outline the habits, we can better target - putting the right message in front of the right people at the right time.

What does it mean for business? Really it’s everything. The more you know about your customer or potential customer the better off you’ll be. You can increase your return on investment because you aren’t wasting dollars by trying to sell something to someone who is less likely to buy from you. Your first reaction may be, “I don’t have the resources (budget, staff, expertise, etc.) to figure this out.” So what can you do? Start small. Focus on your data. Try to understand your customers. When and where do they buy? Where do they go on your website? What do they engage with on your social media pages? And most importantly, are there any similarities? Something that can be used to group people together – for instance, most of the people that bought product “x”, seem to open our email about “y”.

If you try to dive into Big Data head first, you may drown in the terabytes. Make it scalable to you and your organization.

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