I have stumbled upon a number of blogs recently, the sub-text of which has been questioning the Big Data phenomenon. What is it? Is it real? Does it replace traditional marketing? Is it just a clever sales pitch to appeal to the gullible? I think it’s fair to say that these blogs have been produced by those with a vested interest in the more traditional data / marketing techniques but they are no less valid for that.
I am unashamedly jumping on the bandwagon to have my “two-penneth”.
You see I’m a “traditionalist”. I started working with data in a marketing context in the early 1980’s. Back then supplying 10,000 sticky name and address labels selected from the electoral roll by postcode was the height of sophistication. Then came neighbourhood classification systems such as ACORN and later MOSAIC. Then we started looking for more data and how it could be used. What “products” could be developed? Lifestyle Surveys. Forename classification. Credit Scoring. Profiling. Propensity Scoring. All have been fuelled by access to more and more data and the development of the technology and techniques to extract intelligence from that raw data.
So what’s Big Data all about? Well, here are the views of a traditionalist.
Firstly, it’s big. Really big. Much bigger that we traditional marketers are used too. Even the biggest of global corporations only have customer bases that are measured in millions. Big but not BIG! Big data is so big that traditional storage / processing techniques have become impractical. Run times of days for data analysis tasks? Not good.
But big is not new. Big is just bigger!
In order that analysis on big data can be performed within acceptable timescales a “new” technology has been developed. This technology is also referred to as “big data”. A tad confusing. What this “new” technology consists of is the ability to take some big data, split it into smaller bits and process each bit separately, ultimately bringing the results together to give you the answer to your question. Is this new? Not really. I remember (back in the day) having to sort large data sets by splitting them into smaller data sets, sorting each one separately and then merging the results. Seven or eight years ago we were looking at improving the performance of a heavy (I/O and CPU) application by spreading it across multiple servers to form a grid. Regreteably we had neither the knowledge, skill, time or budget to make this work at the time but the principle was quite straight forward.
So if big is not new, and the technology is not new, what is all the fuss about?
It seems to me that you need to look at where this Big Data is coming from. I think its true to say that the primary focus of Big Data is Social Media – Twitter, Facebook and the like. These savvy players realised that they had the capability of collecting lots of data and that this data could be leveraged within the marketing industry. But this is not marketing as we traditionalists know it. We are use to establishing a target market and telling them to buy our product. Whilst this does go on in the on-line world – targetted adverts, pop-ups etc. I don’t think that this is where the value of big data lies. How many of you have actually responded to an unsolicited on-line ad? I certainly haven’t. I think they’re a nuisance that get in the way of what I’m actually trying to do.
I think the value of Big Data is in establishing what the population thinks, feels, likes and dislikes about any range of issues. How are my products viewed by the public? What do people think about my company? What do people want and can I develop a product to sell them? The type of data available to answer these questions is different to the data we traditionalists are used to. Names, addresses, postcodes, spend, responses….Nah. We are talking tweets, trends, friends, likes, hash tags, links, visits…heaven knows what else. If anybody out there would like to provide a summary of the data types available through social media sites I’m sure we would all be very grateful.
Now it appears to me that the most significant change that we have to embrace is that the flow of information has changed in recent years. Instead of marketers pushing messages at a target audience (“Here is my product – buy it now”), marketers (and others) are sucking data out of the Social Media space, analysing it and responding to what they think it tells them. I’m sure Bob Diamond would have been made aware of what Twitter users were thinking about him. I doubt that this resulted directly in his resignation but it may have influenced it. Let’s hope so.
So does Big Data, Social Media Marketing replace the more traditional (dare I say established) marketing routes? Probably not. After all, despite our on line personas we are all real people, living at real addresses and buying real solid things. But it’s here to stay. For now at least. How it develops and changes will be interesting to see. It is still a relatively new phenomenon. What it will look like in twenty years time is anyones guess.
Maybe the term Big Data is a misnomer. Maybe Different Data would have been more appropriate. Hey ho….