Data Science2CV POV

Six ways to harness the human face of big data

Big data is poised to become the defining marketing theme of the next decade. 2CV's experts reveal how marketers can move beyond the hype to capitalise better on the true potential of this trend.

Six ways to harness the human face of big data

In the age of big data the single biggest challenge for business is the growing disparity between the amount of data a brand collects and its ability to interpret that data meaningfully. The declining cost of storage, combined with the rise of digital platforms and a growing reliance on algorithms, has created a virtual storm in marketing, with brands facing up to a seemingly never-ending supply of data. Yet, among many of the world's biggest brands, this increase in data has not been matched with a greater understanding of how to make use of it.

Mark Bagnall, managing director of 2CV UK, says that big data has already provided phenomenal benefits to society at large.  'From improving health through better cancer prediction rates to traffic management, the role of big data is huge, but unless you can truly understand it and draw value out of it, it is meaningless.'

With this in mind 2CV's team of experts have gone behind the rhetoric to identify ways in which brands can harness the human face of big data in order to achieve tangible success.

1. Beware of the data deluge

There is no doubt that big data can have a transformational impact on business but brands must beware of equating volume with insight. It does the marketing industry no good to collect huge amounts of data that is then only partially analysed and understood. 'It's like going to a supermarket and buying all the raw ingredients and then never making a meal,' explains 2CV's Bagnall.

Many brands are at risk of simply piling up a bonfire of data that will never be utilised. Felicity Carlin, associate director of analytics at 2CV, says that in order to tackle this problem brands need to shift their focus away from simply accumulating information. 'Clients and brands need to think more about how they use data, the worst thing you can do is overwhelm your team with data,' she explains.

2. Don't ignore the story behind the numbers

In the age of the algorithm it is all too easy to believe that big data in isolation can provide marketers with all they need to know about their consumers. However, while brands now have access to an unprecedented volume of purchase data, what this data doesn't show is the motivation behind the decision-making process. 'What big data can't do is provide us with an insight into the motivations, the feelings, and the attitudes of the people we're looking at'. Rather than rejecting big data what we do is harness it and stitch it together with primary research to improve our analysis,' explains 2CV's Bagnall.

Josh Sparrow, associate director and digital specialist at 2CV, believes that marketers are facing up to a data glut, which is posing a myriad of challenges. 'Micro-data enables us to make decisions in real time, but the big question is where does the strategic vision and innovation come from?'.

While data is an enormously powerful resource it is a blunt tool when taken in isolation.

3. Interpretation is everything

The role of researchers as editors and curators has never been more important. 'The fact is there are multiple truths garnered from data, qualitative, quantitative, telemetry, and buzz tracking, to name just some. On their own these are isolated insights, but when you bring them together you get to the richer insight,' explains 2CV's Bagnall

Marketers are grappling with a new age of data and many believe it will change the face of the industry forever.  'Big data is the fundamental next step for business and if brands aren't thinking about how to adapt to it they will be left behind,' explains 2CV's Carlin.

4. Move beyond the hype

Big Data may well be the biggest buzzword in marketing today, but marketers need to beware of simply jumping on the bandwagon. 'The clever marketers will be those who look beyond the hype and have a big data strategy that recognizes that collecting the data is just the starting point,' explains 2CV's Bagnall.

Indeed the big data industry is already evolving apace and smart brands are seeing that data can also have a consumer-facing role in their business. 2CV's Carlin points to the success of Nike's Fuelband as evidence of the growing role of data in consumers lives. 'What is really exciting about big data is consumers actually enjoy tracking themselves - and this is something that brands could really exploit,' she explains.

Data visualisation is another trend coming to the fore and 2CV's Sparrow believes that it has become a source of fascination not just amongst marketers but in the world at large.  'Tools that help us build up a truer picture of data are empowering,' he explains.

5. Big data is not at the expense of small killer insights

Size isn't everything and in the big data era researchers have a key role to play in advising marketers how best to focus their data strategy.  'We are in the best place we have ever been to find the insights to drive a business. In terms of finding that needle in a haystack it is not just about having the right software or more data, you need to have the right people,' explains 2CV's Carlin.

In practical terms this means taking a fresh look at research and ensuring that data interpretation is assigned to a team of analysts with no vested interest in any given outcome.  To get the most out of big data, researchers are embracing new skills and stitching together multiple and disparate data sources to provide brands with unparalleled insight. 'The skill of quantitative analysis should not be underestimated,' explains 2CV's Sparrow 'If you just rely on one data source you will only ever get one side of the story.'

6. Always put people first

It is all too easy to be overwhelmed by the hype of big data and believe data is the solution to any given problem. However, 2CV's Bagnall argues it is time for a recalibration of the importance of digital in the marketing sphere. 'We need to remember that people are still people, they still crave real life human interaction, they get on the bus, they go to the pub. It's important to realise that consumers aren't more concerned with being digital than being people'.

Herein lies the biggest lesson of the big data age: a consumer will never be a data point in isolation. Big data will only ever be just the start of the journey, not the end.

2CV Takeaways

  • Big data represents a step-change for business and brands need to reappraise their strategy constantly.
  • Data alone is not the answer to any given marketing problem; now more than ever, human understanding and interpretation is key.
  • Marketers need independent advice and independent analysts to help them ensure they are not simply creating a 'bonfire of data' with no actionable insights.
  • Cindy Gallop, CEO of IfWeRanTheWorld, summarized very succinctly where marketers should be aiming 'we should not be data driven but be data informed'