Big data is the end of the beginning

As published in MarketingTribune on February 24, 2015. Big data is just data, no more, no less. The current image of big data reminds me of a famous Winston Churchill statement: “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.” Big data has taken up a fixed place in our society and will continue to grow exponentially. It is the end of the beginning, in a way that the challenge is to keep transforming big data into inspiring and activating consumer insights and to distill personal and relevant value for the consumers from it.
Three Vs are typical for big data: Volume, Velocity and Variety. The volume of data which is produced by mankind on a yearly basis is unimaginable. In order to save that new yearly quantity of data, you would need to make a copy of the Chinese wall – 8,852 km – with 32GB iPads, but make it 10 times as high. Velocity refers to the speed with which data is gathered. As this goes many times quicker than the speed with which we can structure, analyze and interpret data, Gartner predicts that no less than one third of all Fortune 100 companies will have to deal with a true information crisis by 2017. Variety has to do with the diversity of data types and sources: loyalty cards’ transaction data, smartphone and wearables’ sensor data, the public web’s click data, mobile apps’ user data. Which does not even begin to cover the Internet of things: Cisco IBSG estimates that, by 2020, more than 50 billion objects will be linked to the Internet and therefore also to each other.

The new normal

Big data is the new normal. Just like we talk about marketing in a digital world instead of digital marketing, the meaning of the word big in big data keeps decreasing. It’s a bit as Google’s main man Eric Schmidt declared at the World Economic Forum in Davos recently: “The Internet will disappear.” At the moment, the Internet is so interwoven with everything we know and do, that it is almost pointless to talk about the Internet ‘an sich’. The relevance of the term big data will disappear when everything and everyone will generate data, a moment which is near. Evidently this brings up important questions about the role or even the continuation of the concept privacy. The unilateral adaptation by Facebook of its privacy rules is rather alarming. It indicates that we are gradually evolving towards a society where privacy is becoming scarce, preserved for those who can afford it.

A lot is not enough

According to Moore’s law, data grows exponentially: the quantity of data we accumulate every year doubles every 18 months. We cannot even try and imagine the consequences of such an exponential growth, as we are used to linear thinking. However, it is pointless to start up a discussion about much data, a lot of data or a huge quantity of data. The paradox lies in the fact that the business world is contending with a big insights and big ideas shortage in the middle of a tsunami of data. David Ogilvy made a tart comment: “Unless your advertising contains a big idea, it will pass like a ship in the night. I doubt if more than one campaign in a hundred contains a big idea.” This does not refer to much data, but to deep data. A marketer’s main challenge is to find a smart way to connect an increasingly number of dots which lead to big insights: insights about the consumer which are familiar, surprising and activating.

From knowing to serving

Data, insights and ideas are without value, until you translate them into useful actions within your brand’s context. However, this is more difficult than it seems! Even with all the satellite data in the world, it still took specialists almost 3 weeks before they managed to calculate the possible crash location of the mysterious Malaysian Airlines flight MH370. Big data needs to be increasingly personal and smart. It has to serve consumers who are becoming increasingly critical and demanding. Its value depends directly on the extent to which it offers contextual relevance to consumers. The role of artificial intelligence will become more and more prominent. Netflix promised no less than 1 million dollars to the person who could improve the algorithm of its recommendation software.
Big data is the end of the beginning. The future is for companies that are capable of finding an increasing number of needles in ever-growing haystacks.

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