Big Data and Marketing: Don’t Believe Everything You Read
by Susan Nelson & Jorge Aguilar, Landor Associates


Landor Logo With business publication headlines proclaiming “Big data’s promise to business: three steps to success”1 and “Big data for dummies — or at least product managers,”2 it’s no surprise that big data is such a hot topic.

Given its popularity, one could assume that marketers share a common understanding of big data and that it has become a top priority. But is big data as prevalent as the business press suggests? Or are there too many assumptions about its role, adoption, and impact?

We consulted with senior marketers at Fortune 500 organizations to illuminate the current state of big data, the requirements to make it work, and the challenges that lie ahead to realize its promise in the context of marketing and branding activities.

Big data in marketing and branding
At the most basic level, and despite all the hoopla, the findings indicate that there is currently no common definition of big data. Marketers’ perspectives on big data are related to how it is implemented in their organization. Some define it as it relates to customer relationship management; others, to demand planning; and yet others, to experiments around linking data sets.

Although many marketers find themselves working with a limited definition—and scope—for big data, common themes emerge: Copious amounts of data are gathered, stored, and managed, and tools and resources are utilized to help analyze the data, which in turn results in better decision making. All marketers agree that a robust, crisp definition that aligns an organization’s stakeholders and agendas around a common purpose is key. Without this, the potential of big data is curtailed from the get-go.

Despite big data’s popularity in business conversations and potential for transformational change, it is not deeply entrenched in business or actively embraced by marketers. More than one large marketer declined to participate in the study, stating that big data was not a priority, or that they were “not in a position to be a benchmark for others.”

Embarking on the big data journey
If not all marketers are actively embracing big data, then who is? Big data is deeply entrenched in sectors like financial services, retail, and B2B, which have historically generated vast amounts of data and have invested in the systems, tools, and human capabilities to manage, mine, and act on it. They are beginning to see the benefits of big data in the form of higher revenues, lower operating costs, and better customer feedback. In contrast, companies within the consumer packaged goods and industrial sectors lag behind. For marketers in those industries, big data is conceptually important but not part of their everyday operations. Many of them question whether technology is ahead of market demand.

For marketers who are more experienced in using big data, key elements set them apart: The leading players align big data with strategic goals and initiatives, and then support it with significant investments. Understanding, resourcing, and capitalizing on big data is a multiyear journey that requires significant corporate commitment.

But this does not mean that marketers should be at the mercy of corporate agendas. “No one owns big data in our organization, and no one should, given its scale, scope, and ambition,” one senior financial services marketer said. Successful marketers fund centers of excellence and innovation groups to explore and test big data and then integrate lessons learned across the organization. This explains the emergence of the chief data officer, who essentially manages data as a strategic business tool.

What’s next
Although corporate America has yet to fully embrace big data, early adopters continue to benefit from being ahead of the curve, bringing better products, services, and experiences to their customers. Of course, they will inevitably falter at times, investing in technologies that turn out to be a flop. But this allows marketers in lagging sectors to learn from those mistakes.

Big data has the potential for real transformation. It’s an opportunity to rethink how marketing works and how brands are managed in a more fluid environment. It is not a shiny new object that sits at the corporate level; it’s an essential part of doing business in a more effective and competitive way.

1 Steve Shine, “Big data’s promise to business: three steps to success,” Forbes.com (8 October 2013), forbes.com/sites/piyankajain/2013/10/08/big-datas-promise-to-business-three-steps-to-success.
2 Ashlee Vance, “Big data for dummies—or at least product managers,” Bloomberg.com (12 September 2013), businessweek.com/articles/2013-09-12/big-data-for-dummies-or-at-least-product-managers.

This article was first published in Marketing Daily (9 December 2013). mediapost.com

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