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The data deluge: Can you handle it?

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Bigger, better, faster — how will we describe data next? Lately it seems the industry is consistently wielding different adjectives to describe data, which, according to, means individual facts and statistics; a body of facts; information. Simple enough, right?

To many of us, “big data” is a matter of perspective. In the world of information technology, it refers to masses of data that are simply too big to store and use if all you have are traditional relational database management tools.

The language surrounding data can be bewildering, but big data — like it or not — has turned business on its head. David Selinger, founder, CEO and data scientist at Rich Relevance, says big data is the business challenge of the 21st century and 2012 was the year the big data revolution rocked the C-suite. That’s a hefty statement I agree with. However, it makes data seem complex and rigorous, especially to marketers who may be on the fence about fully plunging into data management and analytics and making a big splash with it.

I like to keep things chewable, so people can digest the information and get the full value from it. Think of data not in terms of its size, but in terms of what you can extract from it and turn into actions that yield positive results. My colleague Tim Suther, Acxiom’s chief marketing officer, says 2012 was the year of big data and declares 2013 the year of better data. Better is an adjective I can wrap my head around. It’s not about collecting petabytes or a wide variety of data, which one would expect when bringing together lots of disparate sources of data. It’s about finding the right information and using it to strengthen connections between your business and your offerings with your clients, prospects and audiences.

Arguably, data has always been an integral part of successful life insurance marketing. Inarguably, it helps us better understand our customers, so we can provide them with relevant information at a time when they are seeking such relevant information. However, a lot of us treat the data we collect and their source as the silver bullet, as if one piece of data can accurately describe or predict customer behavior. The better data strategy requires us to collect all relevant data across the enterprise, including the brand’s online and offline data publishers’ and partner data, and do so in a privacy-compliant way in order to better engage customers across channels. In this new amped-up data environment, an integrated marketing platform that can handle large volumes, integrate data from various systems, such as your CRM, mobile response, etc.; support analytics; and ensure secure, compliant use of data  is absolutely essential.

As I stated in my October blog, we have to move beyond good intentions: Most marketers will tell you they have a relentless focus to better understand and recognize high-value customers. However, according to a recent survey by Digiday and Acxiom, 74 percent of them admit they can’t recognize customers in real time, and 79 percent don’t yet measure customer value.

Why does this paradox exist? Well, it’s due to the usual suspects: a lack of resources, money and access to customer data, plus the lack of necessary integration skills and technology to derive insights from that data. It’s tough to fuel customer-centric innovation while tasked with delivering short-term results. Customer centricity might be a relentless focus, but execution efforts are hindered by the daily reality of running the business.

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In a nutshell, collecting big data alone is no way to get the job done. It’s important for marketers to collect all possible data and then determine the right data to better select audiences and measure results. There will always be more data, but will it be better data?

Moving forward, let’s change our perspective on data in the life insurance industry. Better is bigger than big!

For more from Rose Cahill, see:

Giving thanks … and some advice

Customer focus will put life in your sales

Escheatment: Why It Matters