What's Bigger Than Big Data?

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How’s your big data business strategy coming along?

I jokingly tell colleagues in the marketing world, that you can’t throw a professional marketer down a flight of stairs these days without the words "big data" tumbling out of their pockets. There’s no need to benchmark brands against their competencies with big data because, quite frankly, most brands don’t even have a proper definition for what big data means. Plus, even if they did, there are but a small, few brands who have the technical and strategic capabilities to truly benefit from it. On top of that, most brands are still incredibly weak at leveraging their current data sets to improve outcomes in a faster, more efficient, way. Translated: you have brands worrying about big data, when they’re still pretty sucky at small data. That doesn’t diminish big data’s ever-growing importance or its pending dominance, but it does take a lot of the steam out of the shiny bright object syndrome engines that we’re all faced with these days. So, while some media pundits dive on big data like it’s a Superbowl football, you will also find many people looking to see what’s next.

What if what’s next is not about bigger sets of data?

What makes big data work is the lack of human intervention. It is the ability for technology to merge data sets normally inaccessible to a human being’s capabilities, and run it with a velocity that no human being could ever do. The output of this should be some kind of unique insight or new spin on the information that would be almost unimaginable for a human being to uncover and develop. It takes a massive amount of automation for this technology to be feasible. The question then becomes, what are human beings good for? At this moment in time, human beings should be looking towards real-time opportunities with analytics. No, this isn’t about Oreo and their famed Superbowl power outage ad from last year, it’s about bringing an entirely new philosophical approach to business outcomes.

Putting big data aside for real-time analytics.  

What do your ad campaigns look like? How are they performing? Most brand marketers get these interesting reports (some quarterly, some monthly, some bi-weekly and some even get them weekly). The question isn’t really about when a marketing report is delivered, but much more about what actionable outcomes are done once that report is viewed? The failing state of traditional advertising lies in the fact that once an ad is placed, it’s hard to do/know anything about it until long after the effects of it are felt on the economic value it drove to the business (if any). Don’t kid yourself, this is one of the main reasons that Google‘s market cap is currently riding in the $385 billion range. Their advertising business is based on the paradigm that advertising can be both performance-based and optimized in near-real-time. Now, we’re starting to see a slew of new marketing solutions-based companies deliver real-time analytics for all forms of digital advertising (including data on retargeting efforts like time-to-conversion and even time-of-conversion). Now, it’s less about what you can fix on the next ‘go round and much more about how to optimize and create in this real-time environment.

The problem with real-time analytics.

You would think that these types of advancements in marketing measurement would be heralded as the future by marketers (and adopted a lot quicker than their passion for big data). It is when it comes to things like being quoted in the media or taking the podium to present for an industry function, but go ahead and ask the people in the foxholes just how excited brands are about this newly-available opportunity? They’re not that excited because it’s simply not being done. Massive opportunities lie ahead for advertising. This sudden interest in real-time analytics is not only driving a significant amount of venture capital investment, but it is ushering in the opportunity for brands to make even better (and more informed) decisions. What we’re currently faced with is a world where the data is available in real-time, but actions to do anything about it are still very "human."

Making "human" the opportunity.           

We live in a world of real-time bidding for media purchasing, real-time analytics to track performance, visualizations of data through dynamic dashboards and hoards of performance-based marketers shilling paid search optimization along with retargeting as a engine to grow dead email lists. Almost anything seems possible as an engine for marketers to digitize advertising, and make it seem that much more efficient. With that, you might think that the machines are taking over. They very well may be, but the trick is to leverage all of this data, analytics and performance in a way that machines can’t. Imagine a world where we take all of this new and amazing information and add the human element into it. To think differently about how to advertise, when to advertise and how to optimize it. We’ve been heading down this road for close to twenty years, at this point. The technology and data is simply getting faster and easier to understand. Now, it’s just waiting on us, the humans, to take action quicker, to iterate, to optimize and to think in real-time, instead of campaigns based on seasonality, yearly quarters and the holiday season.

The data is waiting for your human input.

The above posting is my twice-monthly column for The Huffington Post. I cross-post it here with all the links and tags for your reading pleasure, but you can check out the original version online here: