Harnessing Big Data for Marketing Communications

In light of the Wall Street Journal’s special report yesterday on Big Data, it’s time that we all learn, not only how to use the data that is increasingly available to us, but also how to not become overwhelmed or sidetracked by it.

I was lucky to attend Content Marketing World last year, where one of my favorite speakers was Tom Webster, vice president of strategy for Edison Research and blogger at BrandSavant. Tom recently gave a webinar with MarketingProfs , “Making Big Data Smaller.”

Tom defines Big Data as “data that won’t fit on an Excel spreadsheet.” That, of course, makes it difficult to analyze, or follow instructions to “harness Big Data” and “pull out meaningful insights.” Further, Tom makes the point that most often, we actually don’t have enough data for it to be meaningful to us– we may be “drowning in data, but we don’t have context for it.” Plus, there may be data that we don’t have access to (e.g. competitor data).

So, how can Big Data be useful for marketing communications?

Tom, who specializes in drawing insight from social media data, offers some clear advice: Big data never answers why. It can tell you what.

In other words, don’t start by analyzing data and looking for clumps or trends (which happen naturally in randomized data). Instead, start with a hypothesis. Then, use data to confirm or discredit that hypothesis. That way, you will be looking at the data with context–qualitative before quantitative.

For instance, say you are trying to learn why a specific campaign worked well in a specific market. Instead of immediately jumping to analyze the quantitative data that’s been collected about the campaign through website analytics and Salesforce, pause and gather your qualitative research.

Are there social media conversations or new client feedback that you can draw hypotheses from? List them, and then test them with the data. As Tom notes, this is the best way to make data smaller and more useful.

Photo courtesy of oc fernando on Flickr

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