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Big data is a broad, rapidly evolving topic. As a marketer, when you first hear the term, you may not think that it’s something that you need to be “in the know” about. It sounds far too technical, and perhaps it’s only utilised by the large global enterprises who have the many various specialised departments necessary to handle such a thing.
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Well, not quite. Whilst the large enterprises certainly have the upper hand in terms of resources, that does not mean that start-ups and SMEs should just sit back and watch as they reap all of the advantages that big data can bring. With the right solutions, small businesses can also harness big data to derive useful insights, improve their marketing strategy and, ultimately, help level the playing field with their larger competitors.
But before we dive into the ins and outs of how big data can add value to your business and improve your marketing strategy, let’s take a step back and explore big data for beginners.
An exact definition of big data can be hard to put down in words; it can mean different things to different people and be used in several ways amongst various projects, business professionals and practitioners. But generally speaking, big data is large amounts of information that is so complex and unorganised that it becomes next to impossible for the traditional data processing tools to store and analyse.
Sources of big data vary widely but can include customer databases, payment systems, advertising tools, website behaviour logs, medical records, mobile apps, social media, scientific research repositories and so on. The data in this form is likely to be raw, and so requires the use of a data mining tool or data preparation software to get it into a state that is useful to a business for analysis.
Volume involves the sheer amount of data that there is. To put things into perspective, big data can sometimes comprise terabytes or petabytes of storage space. In comparison, a Microsoft Word document only takes up just a few dozen kilobytes.
Velocity involves the speed at which the amount of data that exists is increasing. Internet and technology use is ever-growing, which leads to businesses generating more and more data, and in turn, requires a bigger processing capability.
Variety involves all the various formats in which information is now stored. Consider the diversity among the files in your database – MP4, DOC, HTML, CSV, etc. Each one of these requires different steps to be stored, processed and analysed.
With these mass amounts of data, a great storage solution is required. The two most popular options for storing big data are data warehouses and data lakes. What solution works best for your organisation can be dependent on several different factors. For example, who is using the data and how, the size of the data, whether it is structured or unstructured, and its purpose and tasks.
Data lakes are more cost-effective when it comes to larger data storage solutions, holding all the relevant data a company might require from multiple sources. However, this data is often quite messy, unstructured and not something from which the likes of a marketing department would be able to derive useful insights. In fact, data lakes require set-up and maintenance by data engineers and are a storage system that, on its own, requires the processing skills of a data scientist.
On the other hand, with a data warehouse tool, you have the ability to translate raw data into meaningful information and insight. A data warehouse is the most common use case for data integration in marketing. The data here has been cleaned up so that it is well-defined, organised and fits a specific schema. This offers an effective way to support queries, analytics, reporting, modelling and forecasting of any future trends. So for marketers who will be primarily reading and collecting data to assist with decision-making, a data warehouse is a more suitable approach as the data is ready to use.
With the right tools, the possibilities on offer for how big data can improve your marketing strategy are abundant. Let’s take a look at some of these now.
A key element of any marketing strategy is to know who exactly you are targeting and how you should do that. With big data, you can truly understand your target audience – no guesswork involved, just real and accurate data. Use data to track the types of visitors that are bringing you the most value, whether that is in terms of sales, social media engagement or whatever marketing metrics mean the most to you. With behavioural data sourced from your website or app, you can drill down into the steps taken by these visitors to achieve the desired outcome. Armed with this knowledge you can devise a marketing strategy that caters to these behaviours and aims to guide your visitors seamlessly through the buyer’s journey, taking your target audience from that initial awareness stage right through to becoming a customer.
With big data, you can identify which traffic sources are bringing you the most visitors, leads and sales. Using the right channels for your digital marketing strategy is a key element of success. As of 2021, global statistics indicate that approximately 54.46% of all internet traffic can be attributed to smartphones/mobile devices. So if you fail to have an active presence on social media, or your website and digital ads aren’t optimised for mobile, you could be missing out on reaching over half of your potential customers. However, this is a broad generalisation, and different demographics and target groups will use different methods to access information online. With the help of big data, you can know for sure which channels are most fitting for your target audience and you’ll be able to optimise your content accordingly.
Big data enables marketers to gather insightful information about their customers. For example, their likes and dislikes, online behaviour, shopping habits, social media interaction and even the times of the day when they are most susceptible to purchasing from or interacting with your brand. With this data, you can gain a better understanding of the types of content your various customer segments connect with best and create your digital marketing campaigns based on this.
Consider how much more successful your digital ads could be if they were tailored to an extremely specific target audience, featuring the products or services that are most appealing to them. In this day and age, your consumers expect this level of personalisation. Mass or blanket marketing is no longer an acceptable method of targeting, and it will weigh heavily on your resources with very little return. Big data gives marketers the confidence that they are targeting the right audience, at the right time, with the right content and via the right channels.
Choosing the right keywords is an important element of any digital marketing strategy if you want to drive organic traffic to your website. With big data, you can figure out exactly what keywords your target audience is searching for when looking for solutions to a problem that your product or service solves. Using this information you can determine potential keywords you should go after and make sure these are carefully placed within your digital ads, website content, blog posts and social posts.
This data is provided by tools such as Google Ads Keyword Planner and can even provide you with an insight into the keywords being targeted by your competitors, allowing you to bid against these with the hope of stealing their traffic.
Things move too fast nowadays to ignore something that isn’t performing as well as you might like. In the past, there was a lag between the launch of a marketing campaign and the gathering of results. But now, thanks to big data, marketers have instant access to performance metrics on all digital marketing efforts.
By constantly checking, re-checking, testing and measuring all elements of your marketing strategy you can be sure that everything is operating at peak effectiveness. So if certain blog topics are getting more traction than others, you can create more that are similar. If emails get a higher open rate when you use emojis in the subject line, you can continue to use emojis with confidence. If certain calls-to-action on your website aren’t gaining enough engagement you can make edits, such as to the copy or colours used, to see if this changes anything. If your Facebook ads are outperforming your Google ads, then you might want to allocate your budget more towards Facebook. Big data provides you with the ability to fine-tune every minor detail of your entire marketing strategy as you go along, keeping you at the top of your game.
Establishing an appropriate price point can be tricky. You don’t want to price too high at the risk of scaring off any potential customers, but then again pricing yourself too low can give off the impression that your product or services are of poor quality. With big data, you can easily gain access to the insights you need to monitor consumer interest for all the various price points of your products or services. From this, you can make better-informed decisions and help adjust your pricing accordingly to help you get the most out of each and every sale.
At the end of the day, what matters most to your boss and any other key stakeholders within the business is ROI. No matter how great you think a social media post or blog is, if it doesn’t resonate with your target audience and get you closer to achieving the overall campaign goal, then it can’t really be seen as a win. With big data, you can use analytics to prove exactly how every penny spent as part of your marketing is having an impact on company profit. For example, by using tracking parameters within a URL you can show the exact pathway taken by a customer from the moment they clicked on your Facebook ad right through to making the actual purchase as a result.