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September 06, 2016
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Beer with your nappies? Just one example of Big Data’s impact on marketing!

Given my role, and as I’ve outlined in my previous blog, the role of big data in marketing is a topic I’m particularly interested in. Recently, I hosted a webinar with Luca Olivari, chief data officer at Contactlab and it reignited my interest in how my fellow marketing peers are – or are not – using big data to shape marketing strategies and plans.

Headquartered in Italy but with operations globally, Contactlab has leveraged data collected over the past 15 years as a traditional marketing agency to completely re-engineer its business model to create new data-driven products and revenue models. Luca and his team have been working with Hortonworks to underpin its effort to help clients grow revenue by making sense of the available data and identifying actionable insights. It has done so by adopting a customer-centric framework to ingest, analyse and activate customer data, providing a 360-degree view by collating data from multiple sources to improve engagement – both of and for its clients.

New found importance or business as usual?
Thinking broadly, in some ways it is obvious how important big data is becoming to the marketing department. Consumers generate a huge amount of data when they research, discuss and buy products. While it varies from sector to sector, broadly speaking this data is invaluable to marketers for shaping and promoting a brand or product – but that’s no surprise to any of us!

However, Big Data is allowing organisations to analyse huge – seriously, huge! – amounts of insights as a way to better understand and engage with their customers and ultimately drive revenue, loyalty and ROI. Not only that but the speed at which it can be performed thanks to technologies like Apache Hadoop is making a big impact. As a customer in the mining sector recently shared with me, it could do almost everything Hadoop brings but it would take months or years, at which point the data was largely redundant, rather than the hours, days or weeks it enjoys now.

With the digitalisation of shopping and commerce, the amount of data now available for analysis has skyrocketed. This includes clickstream information, web logs, social media interactions etc. As a result, marketing organizations are running an “arms race”, where only the most tech savvy brands will win. Being able to draw value out of customers’ insight has become an imperative.

Equipped with quality insights, marketers produce better-targeted, cross-channel campaigns that can be modified as they are running, due to real-time feedback. For instance, marketers are now able to determine how to split an investment between the digital advertising and social outreach of a campaign, even after it’s been launched, to determine what focus would be most effective.

Avoid looking for the needle in the haystack
There are several challenges for the CMO associated with the implementation of a marketing strategy based on data analysis. These can relate to the integration of unstructured (the social media, clickstream areas mentioned earlier) and transactional (the historical, traditional database type!) data while also accommodating privacy concerns and regulations. Another challenge relates to skill building – many of the most valuable big data insights come from advanced techniques like machine learning and predictive analytics. However, in order to use them effectively, a mind shift is required.

Similarly, CMOs need to make sure how to apply the insight into their business strategies. Incorporating big data analytics into the business will require a change in industry practices from those based on weekly or monthly historical reporting to new techniques based on real-time decision-making and predictive analytics. The days of 6-month or even quarterly planning need to make way for being more agile to respond not just to the business needs but reactions from consumers.

Look to peers for best practice
In addition to Contactlab, Hortonworks also works with Beabloo based in Spain, the global omni-channel digital marketing company, to use big data analytics to gain valuable insights into consumer behaviour. Through a mix of analytics tools, physical sensors and digital marketing assets such as displays or beacons, Beabloo enables retail merchants to communicate efficiently and configure their points of sale to maximise ROI, improve the shopping experience and use resources more efficiently. Their solution is implemented by leading brands including Sainsbury’s, Shell, L’Oreal and Mango.

In addition to Contactlab and Beabloo, we have organisations across numerous sectors that have been able to re-think marketing strategies and operations. For example, there is the utility provider who identifies the ‘next best action’ for its customer services and field engineers to communicate to customers personally rather than unsolicited mass mailing into the abys and the retailer who now understands it makes sense to display beer offers by the nappy aisle in its supermarkets!

Neither of those examples started on their journey with Hortonworks with marketing as the primary use case but it was clear there were some easy wins with a part of the business that has such a direct and quick impact on profitability and revenue. And I hear in countless customer meetings that’s the trick to gaining momentum and seeing success with Hadoop with the various line-of-business leaders – whether HR, finance, marketing, etc. – engaged and supportive.

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