“What is Big Data? What can I do with it? What does it mean for my company?” In an effort to answer these questions, NYWICI presented a Digital Salon “Demystifying Big Data,” featuring Natalie Lee, senior partner & director of Digital Analytics, for MEC, one of the world’s leading media agency networks.
A self-proclaimed “data nerd,” Natalie followed in the footsteps of her dad, who is also a statistician. But even he admits he doesn’t understand a lot of what she’s talking about. The fact is, Big Data is growing and changing at warp speed — the amount of it doubling every 18 months. How do you keep up? How can you even process the idea of a “brontobyte” of information? (Don’t know what a brontobyte is? Don’t be embarrassed, data miner Google has you covered: "The only thing there is to say about a Brontobyte is that it is a 1 followed by 27 zeroes".)
The good news is, you can get a handle on how you can make Big Data work for you, by always keeping a clear focus on the core of your own business. “Think of it like a reverse bulls-eye,” says Natalie. “Start from the core, start small, and then work your way out from there.”
Here are four key pillars to keep in mind as you approach Big Data:
- Know what you want to do with the data
Since different companies have core missions — retail or e-commerce will be very different from pharma — the collected data will need to be aligned with your core mission. It’s important to understand the time horizon for the use of your data. Data storage doesn’t come cheap. If you’ll be using it this year, you’ll need to store it in an easily accessible way. If you’re archiving it, you’ll need to consider not only storage costs but how you format it. And you’ll have to try to predict how your company’s needs may evolve into the future, and access/store your data accordingly.
- The “Bigness” of the data is (ironically) due to the “smallness” of the data
It used to just be about reach; now it’s all abut the granular detail that you can analyze — not just the number of people on a given website for example, but what they’re doing when they’re there, where they’re clicking, when they convert to make a purchase and what other touch points influenced them to get there, etc.
- The complexity of Big Data is getting to connect it to one another
CRM, social media, demographics, TV, direct mail, psychographic, brand, retail, sales, transactional data, online sales, competitive… these are all data points. It may make sense for you to connect some of these to analyze the data yielded; other connections may not be useful to you. Don’t get sidetracked trying to figure them all out. Remember, keep your business’s core mission in mind and use that to guide the selection of data points that you’ll seek to connect and analyze.
- Having the best of Big Data doesn’t mean anything unless you have the right talent to interpret it
In order to get the results you’re looking for, you need the right people — statisticians, programmers and visualization experts who can present the information to others. Some of their skills overlap, but to find one person who possesses all the skills necessary to analyze and then explain Big Data is “a unicorn”, says Natalie. Other challenges you’ll face in mining Big Data are privacy and legal policies, which may prevent you from accessing or using certain data points. There’s also the element of human error. For example, crowd sourced metadata, such as hashtags, are bound to include misspellings. And the fact that Big Data is constantly evolving means it’s a moving target.
So… where does this all leave you, except feeling a bit overwhelmed? Natalie keeps up on Big Data by reading Mashable and AdAge. Like anything else big and seemingly scary, try to focus on the positive: For marketers, Big Data can open up amazing possibilities. That said, remember your core mission, start small…and keep an eye out for that elusive unicorn.
Photos: Jan Goldstoff