Five steps to harness the power of big data

A manageable plan to deal with the pressure to become data-driven.

This year, we discovered that 78 percent of marketers feel pressured to become more data-driven (2013 Teradata Data Driven Marketing Survey, Global).

The issue is this: The amount of data being generated by people every second of every day is massive. It doesn’t stop. It streams in from all directions, channels, and sources. As big data keeps growing, the insights and value get buried deeper and deeper in all the chaos. You need a plan.

Those who can harness big data will find themselves better positioned to serve their customers what they want when they need it. They will be the ones who effectively untangle the massive amounts of data their organization possesses—what I like to call the “data hairball”—and will become the trailblazers of this new digital age.

As PR and social media professionals who are already experienced in measurement and reporting ROI, you are well positioned to learn how to become a more strategic data-driven marketer.

I wrote “Big Data Marketing,” because I want to help you get the conversation started within your team and your organization about the competitive advantages of a data-driven marketing strategy. Customers expect businesses to understand what they want and need. Harnessing the power of big data can help you do that.

This five-step roadmap is a summary of the data-driven approach covered in more detail in my book:

1. Get smart. Get a strategy. Develop a data-driven approach that will position your entire organization for customer-centric success.

A data-driven approach is not the same thing as measuring the number of shares of a story or the number of followers in your Twitter community. Think bigger, broader, and more strategically, and put the best customer experience you can envision smack in the middle.

It’s a strategic vision of the ideal customer experience and everything that makes it happen: collecting, analyzing, and executing on insights from many different kinds of data (big data) across your entire company to deliver on your brand promise. The strategic vision becomes an engine that drives more relevant and timely engagement with your customers, improves efficiencies and innovations in your organization, and fuels revenue growth.

2. Tear down the silos. Become a highly responsive organization by fostering an environment of collaboration, coordination, and connection.

Every second, more information about customers’ preferences and behaviors becomes available. New channels to the customer, application categories, and types of data to exploit are emerging all the time. To keep up, you’ll have to do three things:

First , embrace technology and data as key elements of your professional skill set. In addition to your PR or social media marketing expertise, you’ll have to develop hard-core data management skills.

Second, look at the bigger picture. Let’s say you are already using a monitoring tool to track engagement. Sure, you know when thousands of people are mentioning @RedCross in their tweets on any given day. But what about when disaster strikes and you are trying to communicate to millions of concerned Americans, address all the press questions, mobilize your trained volunteers across the nation who can travel on a moment’s notice, and fill an all-time need high for AB negative blood donations? Suddenly your social media monitoring tool seems mighty inadequate. Teaming up with colleagues across the organization and sharing data access is no longer just a team-building exercise at a retreat. It’s an imperative.

Third, make IT and data analysts your new best friends. Why? Because you absolutely need modern technology to improve processes to deliver data-driven, integrated campaigns with higher ROI. Having colleagues who are trained data analysts and scientists will prove to be instrumental allies while you explore the opportunities that big data represents.

Together, this new team approach needs to align on common terms, goals, data access, strategy, and cross-functional initiatives.

3. Untangle the data hairball. Make sense of all your data, apply analytical insights, and inform more innovative and relevant messaging.

The moment you want to create relevance to your customer is the moment you will need data insight. First you’ll need access to the many sources of data. Be careful not to get lost in the mass of available data, though. Keep the ultimate objective of improving the customer experience in terms of relevance and timeliness in mind, and then make sure you are collecting and requesting the data that will inform the vision.

Next, you and your team must make sense of it all. You’ll want to know what matters to your customers, what they are saying when they talk about your organization, and the reasons for their loyalty and advocacy. Why? So you can draw insights about what matters to them in the form of relevant and timely messages for real-time, personalized engagement.

4. Make metrics your mantra. Prove your efforts increase business value by providing transparency and driving accountability into every layer of the organization.

Given your interest in measurement as PR and social media professionals, I’m sure you are already tracking and reporting campaign metrics and digital conversations. But remember, executives want results. Develop a core set of measures that tie to improving the customer experience and your role within marketing to deliver and drive the cycle.

To avoid getting lost in the data, work with your team, peers, and executives to understand which metrics matter and which outcomes will drive true value to revenue and improved customer experiences. Be more responsive and make better decisions on the insights gained from the metrics to optimize your contributions.

5. Process is the new black. Build modern, purposeful activities that are made possible by technology and automation advances.

Marketers, including PR and social media pros like you, don’t generally consider business processes to be sexy. In order to collect and analyze big data and respond as fast as market conditions change, you’ll need a process, or it will remain a useless, expensive data hairball.

By process, I mean modern, purpose-built marketing technology and automation. Tools that help you and your organization simplify the tedious, time-consuming parts of your job, so you can focus on the strategy to deliver relevant, real-time customer communications way better than the competition does.

If you and your organization are going to adopt a data-driven strategy, you will need a tool to manage customer relationships across all channels. An integrated marketing management (IMM) system will incorporate the business strategy, process automation, and various technologies required to integrate people, processes, and technologies across the marketing ecosystem.

With an advanced tool like this, you and your team will be able free up your time to be more strategic and use big data to create relevant and positive experiences for your customers.

Data provides teams with many things, but most important, it gives them the transparency and accountability to deliver a higher degree of performance and metric-driven discipline than ever before. In today’s aggressively competitive market, executives are hungry for ways to delight their customers, become more efficient, make decisions faster and increase bottom-line results. Be the trailblazer to start the conversation in your company.

Harnessing big data requires huge change, new skill sets and tools, and integrated teamwork across multiple departments. But consider this: The payoff is big, too.

Lisa Arthur is CMO of Teradata Applications and author of the new book “Big Data Marketing” (Wiley). Follow her on Twitter @LisaArthur. Reprinted from The Measurement Standard.

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