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Big data, market research and a new year

DECEMBER 13, 2011 – With restricted budgets and the demand for ever-greater results, advertising professionals are turning to market research to get a better sense of what consumers want and how those consumers can be more efficiently, effectively targeted by marketing materials.

Whitney Keyes, writing for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, outlines some of the major trends that the marketing industry will see in the coming year. The emphasis on collecting “big data” tops the list, with advertisers working to collect real-time data on consumers. Learning how customers engage with in-store staff, tracking how they behave when shopping online and accessing their history of customer service interactions can all help improve operations and advertising.

All this information can provide a window into how companies can design future marketing campaigns and how they can communicate with consumers in the most relevant, meaningful ways. “Every minute you are not using Big Data means a lost buying opportunity,” Keyes warns.

She points to a study from IDC Research, which found that the rise of cheap data storage, coupled with technological developments that make collecting information faster than ever, has contributed to the sudden popularity of big data. Not only does it make gathering the facts and figures speedier, it also quickens the process of analyzing the findings and deriving insight from them.

The researchers cite Facebook, Twitter and foursquare as some of the new, dominant sources of consumer data.

“Essentially, they have built systems where consumers (consciously or unconsciously) are providing near continuous streams of data about themselves, and thanks to the ‘network effect’ of successful sites, the total data generated can expand at rapid logarithmic rates,” IDC says. “It is important to understand that big data is not only about the original content stored or being consumed but also about the information around its consumption.”

Keyes also highlights a new version of marketing automation, noting that companies are striving to cut down the manual processes required to manage their various social media programs. In addition to making the effort more efficient, integrating the platforms can help a company establish a system that connects sales and marketing statistics, linking the CRM systems and marketing automation platform to make the big data even more useful, she adds.

Big data can also increase the number of channels a business uses in its marketing initiatives, creating a “right-time multichannel” campaign that sends messages to consumers that meet their needs and wants, depending on their current activity.

“Right-time multichannel marketing takes conversations and customer interactions … and makes them part of customer profiles that can be contextualized in campaigns that drive the right offer to the right buyer at the right time,” Keyes explains.

Some are less convinced that big data is the be-all and end-all of marketing. In a column for Business 2 Community, Maz Iqbal argues that although the vast amount of customer information will lead to better advertising, supply chain management and customer service, it won’t do much for business growth and profitability.

Iqbal offers an anecdote, telling of when he worked in a business planning and analysis team and was trying to determine why a certain product was underperforming. While they were able to find out which item wasn’t selling, he and his teammates struggled to understand the root cause. He says the main lessons learned were that it’s extremely hard to find the main source of a complex problem and that without knowing the root cause, moving forward to act on the issue becomes even more difficult.

“You might imagine that analytics might help you to spot trends,” Iqbal writes. However, he says that from what he has seen of traditional analytics, “the modelers do all they can to strip out the outliers and create a normal distribution so that the math works – in doing that they filter out the ‘weak signals’ that point towards these trends.”