At Virginia Tech last fall, researchers concluded a study on how to spot early signs of defects in cars by following social media posts. Also last year, a medical journal published a study that revealed Twitter could have predicted the 2010 cholera outbreak in Haiti more quickly than the country’s official sources. Even more recently, engineers at Microsoft implemented some tailor-made, data-driven software to make their 500-acre headquarters more energy-efficient and are saving millions in energy costs.
These are all examples of how new insights are being discovered through the use of big data, a term that’s been adopted by different industries as they learn how beneficial it is to their work. As the recent NSA scandal unfolds, many questions are being asked about big data and the ability of any large entity, be it a corporation or the government, to follow people’s activity, communication and decisions. People are also asking questions about just what big data is and how it can be used.
How big is big data?
In the marketing world, big data can be defined in a variety of different ways. For an online business, it’s the digital transactions during a certain period of time. It’s the customer comments on a particular product page. It’s the results showing where traffic is slow on a site. It’s all the clicks, views, likes, purchases and shares for a product or service landing page.
All this data over a day’s time, according to IBM, adds up to 2.5 quintillion bytes (or a 1 followed by 18 zeroes). With each phone call, tweet or text, data is generated and a business can take advantage of this data if analyzed properly.
This high-tech ability to gather large amounts of information aims to do something essentially low-tech: to engage with someone on an effective and possibly personal level. Although the marketing target itself hasn’t changed, big data can allow a company to achieve goals that weren’t possible until now.
Data: the best gadget in the new digital toolbox
Big data isn’t an end unto itself. It’s a means of responding to customer behavior more quickly than ever before. When an organization collects information and finds important patterns within that information, an insight can be reached and a clearer pathway to customers opens up. In trying to find that pathway, inbound marketing has proven it’s no longer effective to take a one-size-fits-all approach. With the help of the Web and social media, consumers are making more sophisticated buying decisions, and an equally sophisticated approach is required to stay current with them. Taking a customized approach to people who expect customized information is a crucial part of this.
Big data can also answer more targeted and specific marketing questions. Knowing a person’s interests and activities from blog writing, Twitter messages and any shared articles or links enables a company to determine if a user will be receptive to their brand. It’s about working smarter, not harder. Big data can help organizations ascertain how to make content more relevant, potentially leading to devoted communities of supporters.
Often the more personal something is, the more universal it is. Something that at first seems too specific to appeal to a broad audience will often do just that: speak to people in a meaningful, penetrating way. For the marketing field, using big data effectively is about finding the balance between the universal and specific: using massive amounts of information to create specific strategies in order to better connect with those who will respond to a particular message.