contributed by:Big data enhances marketing
Nathan Greenberg, Managing Director

For some, the process by which big data enhances marketing is obvious. For others, it takes some education. Regardless of your title, experience, or industry, you must understand one fundamental principle: marketing is not about selling. Neither is advertising about selling. At their cores, both activities are about forming, maintaining, and optimizing a connection with your customer. The way to best meet this goal is the same in business as it is in social interaction: understanding.

The Key to Understanding

Connections are stronger and last longer with deep understanding. They are emotional. The more you know about a person and their motivation, the better you can relate to them, empathize, sympathize, and share in their experiences. To buy something -even the decision to buy-  is an emotional experience. These emotion-driven actions are not only applicable to friendships or familial relationship. They form the strongest foundations for relationships between a company and its customers. If you get this right, you can achieve long-term customer engagement. Get this wrong, and you may never earn another shot.

Effective understanding for marketing purposes relies on the following six key elements:

  • WHO are they? Answer with detailed demographic information. The more details, the better the answer.
  • WHAT are they seeking? Answer with the solution they seek. For example, “a clean house” is a goal, while “a vacuum cleaner” is the solution to reach that goal. A vacuum cleaner under $400 with HEPA filters is a more detailed description of the solution they seek.
  • WHEN are they seeking? Answer with details about their timeline and yours. How long is their buying cycle? How long is your sales cycle? Where do they first intersect?
  • WHERE are they seeking? Answer with details about their geographic preferences: brick and mortar, online, both? How do they define their geo?
  • HOW are they seeking? Answer with details about their buying cycle. For example, what is their Zero Moment of Truth (ZMOT)? How many resources (referrals, ads, blogs, etc.) are at their disposal? What value do they place on each resource?

If generating the right answers to those questions doesn’t keep you busy for at least a couple hours, your answers are wrong, you don’t know enough about your customers, or you just don’t care. Or some combination of the three. Perhaps you believe you already know their answers. In the era of Big Data, believing that you know these things without having facts may be increasingly fatal to your business.

But I said six key elements. Have you already figured out what is missing?

The Importance of Why

“Why?” is the most important and complex question for successful marketing. It closes the loop of understanding, opens new opportunities, and forces new ideas. Also, context has trumped content as the dominant means of understanding your customers’ “why.”  For example, if you owned a printing company and Donald Trump bought stickers that said “Trump Pence” on Monday July 11, it would have seemed strange. Strange, until the “why” question was answered. At that moment you became one of the few people on the planet with early knowledge of his choice for Vice Presidential running mate…and you would likely have been sworn to secrecy.

“Why” mattered a great deal.

But that example barely scratches the surface of why “why” matters. The question has multiple facets. Let’s go deeper to explore more whys.

Why did he pick your printing company? Quality, price, location, great Facebook reviews? Knowing that answer serves as an input for future marketing decisions.
Why did he order them on July 11? Understanding his (and other customers’) buying cycle serves as an input for future marketing decisions.
Why did he search for a printing company instead of using an existing relationship? If you offered something his current shop did not, you have a competitive advantage that needs to be promoted.

The answer to “why” can help bring understanding or even better answers to “who”, “what”, “when”, etc. The unstructured data (“why”) that you may or may not have had previously, offers clarity and insight to the structured data you have been studying (hopefully) for so long. Unstructured data is your most valuable untapped resource.

What About Big Data and Marketing?

Success with Big Data is not about technology.  It’s not about creating the perfect data warehouse from the latest technology from the coolest vendor.  Instead, it is about doing things that you haven’t done before.  In particular, it is about analyzing unstructured data, which until recently was not readily available or analyzable.

The combined analysis of structured and unstructured data makes the difference. Analog companies of the last few decades were focused on structured data: quantifiable information such as demographics and sales volume. A few companies trying to be hip and edgy started looking at their unstructured data but failed to incorporate their previous structured data analysis or ignored it altogether. They must work with cohesively toward the same goal.

Big Data enhances marketing because it enables better understanding of your audience. Having huge amounts of information at your fingertips is useless if it is not put to use. Customer service ratings on Google, logistics analyses, retail in-store behavior studies, even employee reviews all offer real-world examples of “why”. They serve as a means of gathering data that can be measured, analyzed, and used as input for future marketing decisions.

The Courage to Follow Big Data

For Big Data to enhance marketing, it should challenge many of your current beliefs.  It will almost necessarily be scary. This data must be reviewed and then reflected against your goals. Where do you want to be tomorrow? Next year? Next decade? Big Data can help you reach those milestones or give you incontrovertible evidence that one or more of your goals is not achievable. You must have the courage to follow the data. Informed decisions are better than blindfolded throws at the dart board.

Think of your structured and unstructured data more as inputs than support. If all you seek is justification for your existing decision, you won’t be in business much longer. You are competing against leaders much more hungry for success than glory. Their goal is to reach the market, not force the market to reach them. With an effective analysis of your data you are empowering yourself and your team to meet an unmet need.