Ah, big data. It’s hyped as the panacea for everything from identifying new market opportunities to personalizing one-to-one conversations with your customers and supercharging your social media program. While the promise of big data is alluring, the fact is that most companies struggle to turn it into reality. As McKinsey recently noted, “The exabytes of data compiled on the Internet have not yet enabled companies to generate the super-targeted communications to consumers they seek.”
The problem? Most companies do not use their small data well across many functions, including marketing. Consequently, they’re not prepared to scale their analytical efforts to include big data.
If you want to go big with your data, you have to start small. How do you know whether you’re making the most of your small data? Or if you already know you’re not making the most of it, how do you know where the opportunities are for improvement? Let’s start answering these questions by walking through the three pillars of small data success.
In my experience in working with diverse clients ranging from Fortune 50 companies to government agencies and nonprofits, I’ve found that three pillars are key to getting small data right:
The first pillar is collecting data. And you don’t want just any data—you want data that clearly answers the question, “what is my situation?” Of course, data that helps you understand your customers is a no-brainer. A more surprising source of useful data is your content. If you’re like any leading CMO today, you’re investing a third of your budget or more in content marketing (Content Marketing Institute 2014). Collecting data about your content’s performance and effectiveness sheds more light on your customers’ behavior and perceptions, as well as your impact on them.
The second pillar is interpreting what the data you collected means. An essential element of interpreting is to report your data in a clear and compelling way. If I had a bitcoin for every time I heard a senior marketing manager or executive complain about the analytics reports they receive, I could buy out the Winklevoss twins. And the complaints are justified—when an analyst throws a 100-page report over to your team, along with a lengthy email describing every possible caveat in painful analytics jargon, you have a problem. The opposite problem—having little to no reporting of data or a cryptic dashboard—is just as worrisome. Too much or too little information will prevent you from turning your small data into intelligence.
The third pillar is about turning your intelligence into action. Another way to think about this pillar is answering the question, “Now what?” If your small data doesn’t eventually lead to an informed act of human judgment, you might as well not have any data at all.
Let’s look at a simple example of these pillars working together toward action. I advised the niche online and catalog retailer FootSmart on planning a content marketing product, the FootSmart Health Resource Center (FHRC). We collected and interpreted data about whether FHRC reached more of the right customers. Chock-full of articles, diagrams, quizzes and other useful content about foot health conditions, FHRC content ranked near or ahead of content by major health websites, such as Mayo Clinic and WebMD, in search engine visibility. That search engine visibility led to a significant increase in web traffic from people who care about such foot health conditions—and who likely care about treatments for those conditions. So FootSmart acted, deciding to add more content to FHRC and improve the merchandising of products on FHRC. That action led to a 36-percent average increase in weekly sales.
Those are the basic pillars of using small data well. But how do you know whether they’re working together successfully or where they could improve? To help you answer those questions, I’ve developed a checklist.
I created this checklist based on both my experience in seeing what works and in interviewing a wide range of marketing and business intelligence professionals for my latest book, “Does Your Content Work?”
As an example of focus, Kraft credits its remarkable marketing success to bringing its CRM, content and data disciplines together under Julie Fleischer.
I talked with Rishi Dave, Chief Marketing Officer of Dun & Bradstreet, about the value of interpreting small data. He noted, “With the analytics available today, we can get a myopic view of our content’s performance in each stage of the marketing funnel. That’s great. But we also need a big picture view….we focus increasingly on the entire customer journey.”
Before you rush into big data, get your small data ducks in a row. You’ll gain valuable insight into your current situation and identify useful questions to ask about big data. I recently talked with Senior Director of Business Intelligence Alan Segal at Cox Media about the importance of asking the right questions. He put it like this: “The technology behind big data is arguably the easy part…Going through the data mining process and asking the right questions is the hardest part. With seemingly unlimited data and finite time, narrowing the scope to yield meaningful answers is critical.”
When you know the right questions to ask of big data by improving your small data, you will maximize your investment in all of your data.
Originally published by CMO Council in Marketing Magnified
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