Big Data in business

We’ve entered a new era in business. Digital marketing and ecommerce are rapidly becoming the new norm, with Digital commerce transactions predicted to climb to US$8 trillion by 2020. As the internet becomes the central platform for marketing, buying and selling products and services, the very concept of consumer insight is changing. With the growth of online sales comes a wealth of opportunities for businesses looking to understand their audience better. And that’s where big data comes in.

Big data is exactly what it sounds like (millions of bytes of information regarding human behaviour when online), but the name doesn’t come close to conveying its real value to the modern business. By studying large sets of data relating to how specific audiences interact with their content, businesses can pinpoint exactly what works, and what doesn’t for their brand. By quantifying audience engagement and providing insights into consumer behaviour previously only available through (often unreliable) consumer surveys, big data has revolutionised the marketing process. The business insights garnered through big data are huge, so why have companies been so slow to take advantage of these new opportunities?

Instinct over analysis is always a gamble

Despite the growth in big data, marketing professionals still rely too heavily on intuition and blanket distribution to get their message out there.  Whilst it’s vital a business doesn’t forget it’s USP, it’s also important to consider the metrics behind each figure before proceeding. Analytics tools track customer activity like bounce rate, the number of clicks and time spent on site, and generate reports based on the findings, removing a huge element of the guesswork from marketing. With Google Analytics, businesses can break down which aspects of their content works, as well as provide an insight into how to improve future output with ecommerce and conversion reporting. Businesses can find the right formula for their specific audience through studying a visitors demographics, interests, language, and location, as well as what devices and operating systems they use.

“Businesses can find the right formula for their specific audience”

Data distrust is natural, but rarely justified

Many companies distrust the information provided by big data, preferring instead to rely on intuition and business knowledge. These are the veteran marketers, dedicated to the kind of time-consuming audience research no longer applicable to the pervasive digital mass-market. They argue that big data might be able to tell you what people are doing, but it’s through intensive research that you find out why. Whereas the data can reveal a site’s click-through conversion rate is 6%, marketers need to use business acumen, API know-how, and common sense to understand why it isn’t higher. Whilst these skills are essential to anyone looking to grow their brand online, they just can’t take into account the changing attitudes of consumers to the same degree afforded by the addition of cold hard data. 

Improvisation is not the enemy

Campaigns have to be tailored to a specific audience. Taking an unbending approach to marketing never yields the best results, so it’s vital companies employ some business acumen when seeking to study their data. The issue for many marketing professionals today is the perceived rigidity of web analytics tools. But with web tools like Google Analytics, businesses can tailor their metrics to only show the data relevant to them. Analytics is a fantastic marketing tool, but it’s down to the marketers themselves to decide to what extent the data should influence the overall business strategy. Every business needs its own unique style. Basing every decision on data alone is a surefire way to leave a site cold, clinical and unloved, but to ignore it completely is to doom it to a life of internet obscurity.

“It’s down to the marketers themselves to decide to what extent the data should influence the overall business strategy”

Always check your process

Although big data has proven itself as an indispensable marketing tool, new opportunities will always throw up new potential pitfalls, and it’s important to understand a tool’s shortcomings in order to avoid them. The problems with big data arise when businesses fail to interpret the numbers properly or begin to view their clients in terms of numbers, rather than as people. Writing in Data-Informed magazine, CEO of software company YouEye Malcolm Stewart argues “The downside of this data obsession is that companies end up optimizing for where people click, instead of their actual experience.”

Stay on top of your data

It’s also natural to get overwhelmed with so much quantitative data available, but in order to effectively implement strategies based on site analytics, a business must first understand what they are seeing. This involves combining the human, qualitative approach to modern business and a firm grasp of digital design with clearly considered and accurately interpreted data. It’s a tricky task, but for those willing to put in the time to find the right formula, the rewards can be colossal.

Placing all your faith in the numbers will rarely let you down, but businesses would do well to remember it’s not the silver bullet to all their marketing woes; they still need to interpret the data correctly and implement strategies effectively. Business is about understanding your client, and the big data being pulled in across the web every day can be your ticket to real insights, but don’t let the figures hold you back from making original marketing decisions. There are some things even analytics can’t teach, and it’s in those moments that good old fashioned business instinct is your greatest weapon. Likewise, charging in with gut feeling alone will only see a business so far. The growth of ecommerce and digital transactions has changed business forever, but it’s only through integrating the fundamentals of yesterday with the tools of today that we can hope to ensure a fertile business environment tomorrow.

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