THE BLOG
03/26/2014 04:26 pm ET Updated May 26, 2014

Big Data vs. Relevant Data: Intelligence That Matters

Big Data is everywhere. We've seen its value -- quite literally -- in recent acquisitions, such as Oracle buying cloud-based big data platform, BlueKai, and Apple buying social media analytics company, Topsy. IDC estimates that a staggering eight zettabytes of data will exist by 2015 (for context, 1 ZB = 1 billion terabytes). Among these billions of terabytes, there's a treasure trove of marketing data that spans search, social, local and mobile analytics. As the amount and accessibility of data reaches new heights, marketers need to be able to understand how to discern what information is relevant and how to leverage it for better business results.

Landscape of Big Data
Image by VisualApogee, courtesy of Visual.ly

According to research by Rex Briggs compiled by CloudReviews, however, 40 percent of marketing budget is wasted because of the inadequate use of Big Data. This statistic is not hard to believe; in an article published in Forbes, Teradata CMO Lisa Arthur defines Big Data as "a collection of data from traditional and digital sources inside and outside your company that represents a source for ongoing discovery and analysis." As this definition suggests, Big Data is inherently all encompassing, and therefore inherently difficult to manage and use effectively. It includes both structured and unstructured data, from different channels and devices, across geographies.

Given the massive scale and scope of Big Data, marketers need to focus on what you might call "high-impact" data: intelligence that has the potential to drive more strategic decisions. Marketers that are able to do this and harness the right kind of data are the ones that will differentiate themselves from their competitors and see real business results.

Create Meaning Based On Your Goals

McKinsey estimates that better marketing analytics could improve ROI by 10-20 percent, or $100-$200 billion dollars per year out of a $1 trillion overall budget. But "better marketing analytics" -- and the realm of Big Data in general -- represents potential rather than definitive value. In order to make the most of this potential, you need to determine what information is most relevant for your business goals, and focus accordingly.

Data is meaningful when it is used to drive strategy and solve important business problems. 50 percent of the companies surveyed by McKinsey reported that they "struggled to measure the impact of digital marketing on sales and profits." Apparently, there is a chasm between the amount of data available and marketers' ability to connect this data with business results. This shouldn't be the case, as technology is making it easier than ever to bridge this gap.

For instance, if you're a retailer looking to increase conversions on one of your web pages, look at the keywords that are driving traffic, and connect these metrics with the results you are targeting, i.e., conversions and revenue. Based on this intelligence, build a plan for adjusting your keywords that will have a positive impact on the bottom line.

Break Big Data Into Small Pieces

The vast and multi-dimensional nature of Big Data can be overwhelming. Big Data becomes much more digestible and useful if you dial into the specifics, rather than consider the entire universe of information that exists.

Rather than looking at all of the digital marketing data out there, think about data in bite-sized pieces in order to make it actionable. For instance, if you see an opportunity to improve your performance on mobile devices, look at your share of voice on smartphones and compare it to that of your strongest competitor. Identify what strategies are working for them and how you can enhance your competitive performance.

Prioritize Accuracy and Leverage Partnerships

Regardless of how relevant your data, it is only as valuable as it is reliable. When certain types of data are not within your core competency but relevant to your business, don't try to do without; instead, look into alternatives to help close the information gap. When possible, leverage partnerships to access trusted sources with accurate data. For example, if you're looking into data from Twitter, consider partnering with a company that has a relationship with Twitter and therefore can provide information directly from the Twitter fire hose.

Because we now have unprecedented insight into the way people engage with content across channels and devices, marketers can better adapt to user interests and industry changes -- but first they need to understand how best to use the intelligence that's out there. As Big Data continues to get bigger, marketers who fail to capitalize on this intelligence will only fall farther behind. Make the most of your budget by tackling the data-driven marketing opportunity: Focus on the information that is most relevant, actionable and accurate.