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What Is Big Data, and How Is It Shaping the Future of Marketing?

Monday, August 11th, 2014 by Eric

E-commerce transactions. Customer relationship management (CRM) applications. Point-of-sale (POS) systems. Social media streams. Web traffic logs. Video cameras. Smartphones, watches, eyeglasses, and refrigerators. Thanks to these and countless other digital systems, the volume of data being generated and stored is exploding.

Welcome to the world of big data.

For marketers, the great hope for big data is that it will help them uncover valuable insights, unexpected correlations between disparate data sets—location data, web browsing data, bank and credit card data, weather data, macroeconomic data, and more—that can help the business better understand and serve existing customers, identify new customers and market opportunities, and create and target tailored messaging and promotions.

Here’s what can happen in a big data world: Imagine you’re the proprietor of a big data-enabled bakery. I’m your customer. From social media data, you know I’m a fan of your bakery. From historical transaction data, you know I’m an occasional customer, and I like your blueberry scones. From my smartphone’s real-time location data, you know I’m in the neighborhood right now. From loyalty program data, you know it’s okay to send me promotional text messages. You’re able to process all that information—instantly and automatically—and send me a text message with custom messaging and promotions right as I’m passing by on the sidewalk: “Hey, Eric! Come in now for 50% off a dozen blueberry scones.”

We’re not quite there—yet. There’s more than a little hype surrounding the big data concept, and for cost reasons big data is still more the province of big companies with deep pockets, not local mom-and-pop shops. But clearly this is one direction in which marketing is moving. Already, marketers are using big data to:

  • Gauge and respond to customer sentiment in real time
  • Optimize website usability
  • Get a deeper understanding of customer likes, dislikes, and behaviors
  • Segment and target customers more effectively
  • Engage customers with tailored messaging
  • Optimize cross-selling and upselling efforts
  • Discover and target new market niches

For example, Amazon.com’s recommendation engine processes big data to convert and upsell shoppers on its website. This is no small responsibility; Amazon’s recommendation engine drives nearly a third of the company’s revenue.

Airbnb uses big data to help hosts optimize pricing, so they make more money—and so does Airbnb. From the link: “When hosts price themselves within 5% of the suggested price, they are nearly four times’ as likely to get a booking as when they don’t.”.

The Financial Times uses big data to deliver more precisely targeted advertising. Big data drives what you see on the eBay.com home page. GE uses big data to create compelling infographics visualizing the benefits of GE products. And the list goes on.

Yes, big data probably has been overhyped. According to research firm Gartner, the backlash already has begun. Big data has moved past the “peak of inflated expectations” stage in the development of new technology markets, and entered the “trough of disillusionment.”

That probably sounds bad, but according to Gartner, it’s not. It’s a necessary step in the maturation of new technology markets. If big data generates enough real-world success, eventually it will go mainstream and become part of most every company’s standard marketing toolkit.

Meanwhile, real companies are already generating real value with big data. If you want to optimize your marketing, you should probably start thinking about doing the same.

And of course, when the time comes to leverage your big data insights in your messaging and marketing materials—from web copy, white papers, and case studies to PowerPoint presentations, infographics, and eBooks—the Content Bureau will be here to help!

is a member of the Content Bureau editorial team.

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The Business of Copywriting

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