Why Big Data is a Big Deal for Digital Marketers

Rebecca Momberg
January 17, 2014

Big data. It’s a phrase everybody throws around, but with meaning that nobody can fully agree on. Definitions usually include some combination of massive amounts of information, structured data, unstructured data, too much data to process, complex data, or data that is beyond our computing power. While this is interesting, it’s not necessarily helpful. And what does it mean for digital marketers?

The idea of big data really kicked off when analyst Doug Laney published an article on data management challenges way back in 2001. He framed the discussion using three Vs:

  • Volume – The sheer amount of data at our disposal is higher than ever before.
  • Velocity – The pace at which we use data has skyrocketed. We expect data in real time, to support interactions and immediately determine next steps.
  • Variety – The data we have is often incompatible, non-aligned, and inconsistent. How do we bring it all together in a meaningful way?

Since then, others have added any number of additional Vs including veracity (data quality), viability (how useful the data is), and value (what the data helps us learn or do).

So while we can’t 100% agree on the definition of big data, the real takeaway is that you should know what big data means for you and your industry.

Which brings us to digital marketing! Big data is absolutely critical in our field because it makes data-driven marketing possible. It reveals intent and gives us a picture of our audiences. It allows us to be simultaneously more global and more local. It allows us to work across channels, and in real time. It keeps us competitive, and it can reap big profits.

All these perks are great, but dealing with big data is no simple task. The data must be organized in a way such that we can glean actionable insight. Scale is a big challenge, across millions of customers and keywords. And when we have really powerful data, it can also be a struggle to trust and act upon it when it’s not in line with our basic intuition and judgment.

Some companies – not just search marketers – are getting it right in a big way. Consider how the United States Marine Corps enlists big data in its recruitment efforts, described by AdAge. Or take a look at how some other big companies, from Netflix to Walmart, have enhanced their offerings with data-informed decisions here in this great Mashable article.

Marin Software is essentially a big data product, helping digital marketers make sense of and act on massive sets of really cool data. We encourage a data-driven approach of understanding audiences, predicting, and optimizing.

Now for the fun part. According to a recent McKinsey report, big data leaders have, on average, 5% higher productivity and 6% higher profits than other companies. In other words, marketers who capture the power of big data are making a sizeable impact on their bottom lines. So if you’re ever overwhelmed by all that is “big data,” remember that everyone else is on a journey to figure it out too, and that the possibilities and payoff are certainly worth the effort.

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