Monday, March 25, 2013

Introducing a new law on Big Data and Marketing: mine

So you have heard of Moore’s Law, right? According to Wikipedia, Intel co-founder Gordon E. Moore concluded in a 1965 (!) paper that the number of components in integrated circuits had doubled every year since its invention in 1958, and he predicted the trend would continue for the next 10 years. The only thing wrong with his prediction about the doubling of computer horse-power was the “10 years” part: the law still holds true today.

I have been thinking a lot lately about the Big D word. Yes, Big Data. It is now used (and abused) so much that the term delivers 2 billion 200 million results through a Google search. If we narrow the search to “Big Data Marketing” the results are still a portly 445 million results. That is a lot of data about Big Data.

But has it been helping marketers to date? I don’t think so. In fact, the opposite of helpful seems to be true. So I humbly present Maarten’s Law of Marketing Data and Understanding.

Although I think the picture is clear, here is how I have put the law into words: “As the amount of marketing data increases, the marketers understanding of where to look and what to deduct from all this data decreases at an equal rate”.

According to a White Paper published by IBM and 9sight Consulting in October of 2012, big data and marketing is a huge opportunity just waiting to be tapped. All you need to do as a marketer is to become comfortable with things like “The Hadoop Ecosystem” and “Process Mediated Data”. And don’t forget the important step of “Data Virtualization”. Got it?

The obvious promise of the Big Data vomit (a technical term I borrowed from data guru D.J. Patel, formerly of LinkedIn and now at Greyrock - @dpatel) is that marketing becomes seriously measurable, predictable and ROI driven. In theory, I believe this too. But in reality I am speaking with many large Fortune 500 Marketers and their agencies and they are all as bewildered as you and I are.

So let’s examine the facts first:

How much data is there?

In 1995, Craig Jolley stated that one weekday edition of The New York Times contained more information than the average 17th century Englishman would encounter in a lifetime. In that same year, Jack Trout & Steve Rifkin stated that more information had been produced in the preceding 30 years than in the 5,000 years before that (both quotes sourced from here). And this was 18 years ago. There was no i-anything yet. Mobile phones were meant for making phone calls.

Today’s data-stream has dramatically increased. Here are some data-points I found on this blog from Marcia Connor: in one day, 144.8 billion emails are sent (and they seem to be all in my inbox!), 340 million tweets are sent and 72 hours of YouTube video uploaded. The list goes on, and only covers digital media. Add to the list your car, refrigerator, toilet and very soon your glasses and wrist watch.

The Marketers Data World

As a marketer, life used to be easy. In order to evaluate the sturdiness of your media plan all you needed to do was to look at the number of GRP’s the TV plan generated. What GRP’s were wasn’t quite clear to you, but more meant no doubt better. Perhaps you also looked at the number of radio spots and outdoor locations booked for your campaign. Again – more was probably better so that was your benchmark.

The truly enlightened (or dorky) looked perhaps at Cost Per Thousand (CPM), Cost Per GRP or (for the really advanced) SOV/SOM. Not to repeat myself, but the yardstick again was “more is better” with the exception of CPM or Cost Per Point (Cost per GRP) where the opposite was true: less is better.

Here is a definition of Cost Per Thousand. It is probably telling that I found this on the Museum for Broadcast Communications website.

The scary part is that it seems that for most marketers time has stood still. The only difference is that instead of GRP’s we apply the same “more is better” rule to Click-Throughs, Number of Fans/Likes or time spent on a website. And “less is more” to any cost measure (especially agency remuneration).

The Marketers New Data World

And now you have heard of Big Data and the promise of uber-measurability and ROI. IBM, Salesforce, Adobe all promise to make sense of it all. Do they? And even if they do, will you be able to follow along?

You can't and probably won't. Because you’re not a statistician or a data-analyst. Chances are no-one in your marketing department is either. So it is time to strengthen your department with someone who is capable of that (unless you want to leave the informed decision making also to IBM/Adobe/Salesforce/etc.). 

The good news is that salaries for Data Analysts are coming down somewhat according to data from Indeed.Com (I looked at the data hotbed of San Francisco).

You may also want to invest in a dashboard. "But I already have 15 of those," you say.

Let me guess: dashboards for Nielsen, social media, search, Salesforce data, web-traffic, and a bunch more. All reporting very useful but isolated outcomes from individual pieces of the puzzle. Very likely reviewed by different people in your team, perhaps even different functions (marketing, sales, digital, insights and more).

These are all not dashboards. They are scorecards, trackers and other data-sets at best, all very relevant in their own right. And all great inputs into your Big Data solution. 

But there can only be ONE dashboard and that is the one reporting tool where all this data converges to tell you where you are coming from and where you should be going next. Getting to that is the true destination of your big data collection.

There are some very clever companies that can help you with this. Ask me and I will tell you who they are (this is not a product placement post after all). 

One thing is certain. We are in the pre-historic years of Big Data for marketing. The journey is starting now. It is probably better to be prepared for the ongoing laws of Messrs.’ Moore, Trout, Rifkin and Jolley then for your business to be in a world resembling Maarten’s Law of Marketing Data and Understanding.

PS: I am really looking forward to reading this book. But isn't it ironic that it is a book?


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks Guys! I am but a mere user of data (with many wishes!).

  2. Great post on big data - as we are YET to start!

    1. Thanks SK - good luck, and let me know if you need any hand-holding along the way!