Cutting the Big Data house of cards down to size

the key to big-data

The Big Data equals big capital expenditure lobby has had marketing journalists reaching for ever more hyperbolic factoids about data. A couple of my favourite examples are: “90% of the data in the world was produced in the last two years” (OMG!) and, “More than 2 billion videos were watched online in the last 24 hours” (run, save yourselves). What are we poor marketing folk to do? Apparently the answer comes in the form of a Big Data Cheque Book that will fund the 40% year on year growth in spending on Big Data kit and caboodle. Apparently it will grow from 4 billion spend in 2013 to $16 billion by 2015. That’s that sorted then. Not really.

Big Data isn’t a money problem; it’s a people problem.

If you strip Big Data down to first principles, you might consider three key issues:

1. The volume of data

2. The velocity of data

3. The vending of data.

Volume and Velocity – not the real story.

Capturing the volume of data coming in from all the possible market, customer and competitor touchpoints in real time is a problem that the guys who monitor collisions at the Large Hadron Collider in Cern demonstrate is not beyond us. Responding in real time is the problem. So we know it can be done and that the world won’t end as a result. It is a just a process of sorting out what data is a priority and scaling up from there until we can work towards total capture sometime in the not too distant future.

Vending information on demand rules out manhandling.

The real problem is the sheer variety of market, customer, transactional, campaign, social engagement, round the clock analytics data and the varying data formats that need to be systematized and presented to useful ways to end users in real time. It’s not that we can’t sort the data into stylish dashboards and infographics; it’s that it takes far too long to generate the insight and respond to it when humans are involved. We are simply too slow, there aren’t enough of us and there isn’t enough budget to afford us in sufficient numbers. Ask yourself how many people you really need to keep up with the demands social marketing has made on your time and money? You know you don’t have nearly enough. How much worse is it going to get under the mobile data gold rush?

One answer is automation.

In the past year, two data and CRM giants Oracle and Salesforce have spent billions of dollars on acquiring content cloud management systems that facilitate optimised customer-relationship and sales services. Oracle paid $871 million for Eloqua and $2.5 billion for Compendium. Salesforce acquired ExactTarget for $2.5 billion. What do they know that we don’t? Simply that the market will soon be moving too fast for the billions of synaptic connections insides our smart but process-limited brains to cope with.

Brains are too smart to waste on not thinking.

Our brains have evolved to filter out non-essential stimulus while our subconscious gets to work thinking the unthinkable. The trouble is in the world of real time customer engagement across the fragmented media scape the non-essential is the new essential. When it come to building trust and relationships over time, we won’t know what’s important to a customer until it becomes obvious and that may well be too late.

Marketing of the future will need to be aware of the trivia of seemingly unimportant data flow in any given marketing context at all times. The reason why the CIA and MI6 etc capture and consolidate mega-volumes of random digital comms data is that they have to. It is only when the circumstances require the granting of a court order for them to interrogate the data that its significance becomes less random and occasionally clear. Marketing can afford to get there faster and without the court order because its livelihoods and not lives at stake.

Let the machines work while we think.

Configuring systems to do much of the mundane heavy lifting in serving the content needs of customers and building trusted relationships through spontaneous mobile, social, email, in-store, field service, call centre, direct sales and channel interactions response is the stuff of automation. Us slowcoaches can then get back to thinking. Thinking of new and better ways to serve the needs of customers and stepping into the playbook when only a human will do. I know lots of people working in agencies will be horrified at the idea of taking us out of the loop. “Haven’t you seen what Will Smith had to put up with in I Robot?” The truth is, there are many things I would rather be doing in the middle of the night than qualifying leads when I can create content that can do it for me faster than Google can say, “Our number one goal is to give people the answers they’re looking for.” They do it with predictive algorithms that serve up products, places and information sans dawdling human intervention. It’s both the price and the benefit of the intellectual revolution that Big Data is forging.