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Relax, it's just data: Marketing in the Era of Big Data

If we take the latest business headlines and journals as paradigmatic of current trends, it’s now commonplace to concede that this is the era of data. Big data. The data sets are gigantic. The bits and bytes (and petabytes) cover a vast array of fields: customer profiles, business prospects, revenue, size of transactions, online consumer habits, website analytics, etc. The information retrieved and stored verges on overkill, such that sheer quantity threatens to outstrip our organizational ability to make use of it.

But let’s pause for a minute to think about a world we already find ourselves in. I read the Globe and Mail daily, but only the business section as it’s bookmarked in my browser. I walk into the maze of shelves at my local branch of the Toronto Public Library and reach for the photography stacks, because these beautifully bound volumes escape my budget. I consult an E-cookbook on my tablet for that tasty pulled pork recipe to prepare for guests coming to watch the home opener. And the most ubiquitous, if-all-else-fails information seeking behavior: I Google it.

What these everyday actions have in common is a tacit acceptance that some information necessarily escapes me. At any given time I can’t know all of it. But what I do have when seeking data is roughly one of these:

A specific question I want answered to perform a task.

An issue of concern I want to know more about.

A practice I engage in, that I care for, that’s essential to my (or my business’s) identity.

The usual “Who? What? Where? When? Why?” questions are all grounded in having things matter for us. What’s important, not important, significant and insignificant are questions that come right back to the questioners—us. Put simply, knowledge is tied to interests.

So what does big data mean for marketers? That we’ve got to ask better questions on behalf of our clients. That strategies ought to tie into parameters pinned down through qualitative insights. That big data, in the end, is just data.

Looking for insight while drowning in data? Call us.