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If you are looking to get ahead of your competition, think “Big Data.” It is one of the top issues that keeps the C-suite awake at night. And guess what. The data is just going to continue to grow and grow.

Recently, a McKinsey research study showed that it was one of the top priorities for CIOs and another study by Corporate Executive Board highlighted it as one of the key issues that CMOs face today.

Historically, these two groups rarely agreed on the biggest challenge(s) facing their organization. With the advent of social media and mobile mania, however, times are changing. Both CMOs and CIOs are now trying to figure out what just hit them; Few executives are prepared for this deluge of data. And few companies have the tools or the skilled workers to handle it.

Even though marketers are becoming more technical, they are still feeling challenged to decipher what the data is telling them. With all the talk of ROI, it is amazing how many CMOs still don’t understand the economics of their business. Unless they can figure this out, they will loose out to their competitors.

Managing this big elephant can be a strategic advantage for companies. Reid Hoffman, the founder of LinkedIn recently highlighted this in Fast Company.

As the activity in this space gets denser, it becomes important for [deals companies] to maintain their value proposition, both for the merchant and the consumer, and to be able to match the right two.

The ability to do that kind of matching, off the data, is the kind of thing that has a robust, at-scale, defensible value proposition and makes it harder for other people to offer products that are as good.

Reid, who is now also a venture capitalist recently said that each company in his portfolio will be asked to have a Big Data strategy. So, who will be drive this in a company? Marketers? IT folks? Marketers should get a head start and begin driving this — just like they often find themselves driving social media policies and training. I am not saying the social, mobile and big data are the same thing, but rather, Big Data offers another opportunity for marketers to play a leadership role in defining the vision and the requirements. And then partner with IT to ensure the right infrastructure in place.

Big Data is important because it enables marketers to slice the onion even thinner and develop more detailed customer segment information. In fact, some people are referring to this as ‘Digital Characteristics.’ Even more important, customer information can be refined and updated real time, leading to more customized promotions. Imagine tracking a mobile phone users behavior real time and adjusting your promotions accordingly. Or better yet, up-selling or cross-selling on their recent behavior.

So, I recommend following steps to take Big Data the basket:

  1. Make it part of your DNA; be clear (and communicate to the organization) why you are embracing big data – that it is not only a trendy phrase, but also a way of being;
  2. Create the mindset that this will be a journey where you will have to be flexible and not have your KPIs set in stone and that you will tweak them and refine them overtime (This is the way of being!)
  3. Hire a data scientist and a business analyst who have experience in handling large data sets
  4. Train each employee to think about data — (Note: But don’t only think about quantitative information because the qualitative data is just as important)
  5. Be open to a cross-functional approach (Hey marketers, you can lead this charge) to leveraging large amounts of information.
  6. Know that data will grow exponentially, so be prepared to build the infrastructure and to build an infrastructure that can (continue) to scale over time
  7. Meet several times a week to discuss the changing nature of your data and your business (meeting once a week is not enough)
  8. Understand that big data sets could kill the concept of sampling

And last, but not least, CMOs should think of CIOs as their ally when venturing on the Big Data journey. Together, they should work to understand and leverage the large data sets and extensive learnings coming from their customers behavior online. This information will provide insights that will lead to more innovation, better products and more sales.

How are you thinking about Big Data?

Scott Wilder

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