Rupert Harrison
Rupert Harrison 6 January 2017

Big Data Is Dying - Long Live Smart Data

Many companies are struggling to make sense of what can feel like a limitless amount of data - and are instead focusing on making information work harder and smarter. Rupert Harrison, Planning Director at Zeta Global, looks at why big data is out, and smart data is in.

Data is the single most valuable asset for today’s marketer, allowing them to gain a deeper understanding of their customer, improve targeting and ultimately boost their bottom line.

With big data being hyped and heralded as the silver bullet for brands, a number of businesses have taken the approach of gathering as much data as they can.   This has meant that many companies have gone from having too little data to being overwhelmed by too much.  One of the greatest challenges now for businesses is how to create actionable, meaningful insights from what can feel like limitless data at their fingertips.

Now, marketers need to rethink their approach to data, focusing first on how quickly they can process it to gather actionable insight and add value to their business, and working from there. Big data is dying – long live smart data.

Bigger isn’t always better

Big data simply means large amounts of data. But that’s not necessarily useful, particularly when it is unstructured. Brands need the right information at the right time – not all of the information, all the time.

That’s why companies are increasingly shunning big data for smarter, faster data. It’s about quality, not quantity – rather than collecting data for the sake of it, marketers need to identify the metrics that are really adding value to their business, then efficiently process the data to benefit from those insights more quickly. And if companies are to get ahead and prove they really understand their customers, they must start filtering out the noise to focus on the information that matters.

What, then, are the golden rules for brands to make their data work smarter and faster?  

Create actionable data insights

Disparate data and data proliferation means that many brands are struggling to join the data dots to create a single customer view and unified customer journey. That’s why it’s important marketers only collect the information they can create actionable insights from.

Smart data analysts will interpret information on past behaviours and use this insight to predict how customers will shop in the future. But smart marketers are now building machine learning into their marketing strategy – letting the bots do the heavy lifting when it comes to working out how best to target customers.  Recommendation algorithms, for example, learn from past behaviour and become more accurate over time. By harnessing the benefits of AI technology, marketers can develop predictive recommendations and create newer, faster targeting tactics, which will be essential to driving relevancy across channels. With 38% of marketers already making the most of machine learning, its use is only set to grow in the future.

Connect disparate points of the customer journey

Consumers are now browsing and shopping on more channels than ever before. Although this presents a wealth of new marketing opportunities, it also presents a number of challenges – and has made it increasingly hard for marketers to establish a single customer view.  

Managing your data is key to unifying the customer journey. Location-based targeting will go a long way towards gaining a fuller view of the customer journey. But only by combining this with data based on behaviours, attitudes and demographics will marketers be able to see the bigger picture.

Focus on identity management

Consumers are increasingly demanding relevance online. Rather than blanket targeting, customers now expect the same understanding and recognition they receive in their usual shops, hotels and restaurants.

Smart data is key to allowing marketers to go beyond crude segmentation to targeting people on an individual basis at scale. Targeting based on behaviours, attitudes, demographics and location will be key to mimicking the offline experience online – and go a long way to building greater loyalty and brand affinity.

While today’s marketers have the capability to target customers via their email address, we’re finding that many email marketers don’t take advantage of all the data that’s available to them. According to a recent report published by The Relevancy Group and Zeta Global, just 42% of email marketers use demographic data, and only one-third use click-through data. All marketers hoping to earn a bigger chunk of the customer’s wallet must now account for engagement behaviour – or risk being left behind in the race for personalisation.

Establish point in time relevance

Relevancy also depends on real-time data for targeting and analytics. The constantly connected customer means they are always online and ready to shop, so the ability to act on real-time behavioural elements will be key to driving better results.

Geo-targeting, for example, is a huge growth area for marketers. When done well, location-based marketing makes the consumer’s life easier – adding value to the customer journey by targeting them with their favourite products, in the right place at the right time.

And it’s a win-win situation: one of the key benefits of location-based marketing is that it gives brands a fuller view of the path to purchase. By blurring the line between online and offline, the data capture opportunities are better and more accurate than ever before. This in turn means brands can tailor messages in a much more personal and relevant way, predicting and delivering appropriate content and product offerings to their customers.  

The future of data   

A company’s ability to compete will increasingly depend on how well it can use its data. To avoid drowning in it, businesses need to focus on a smart data strategy that will provide them with the insight they need to cater to their customers. Ultimately, it’s this pervasive personalisation and increased relevancy that will help businesses to get ahead.

Zeta Global is a digital marketing and smart data company helping over 500 brands worldwide to acquire, grow and keep customers. It was recognised as one of the 50 most promising private companies by Forbes in 2014 and has featured three times in the Gartner Magic Quadrant for Multichannel Campaign Management.

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