As every marketer knows, the era of big data is here, and with it comes a huge smorgasbord of opportunities to connect with customers in amazing new ways. Vast quantities of customer information are now flowing into businesses from social media, smartphones, bots, GPS devices, cameras, appliances, and satellites, and increasingly sophisticated computer algorithms are attempting to turn it all into actionable intelligence of some sort.
For marketers and brand managers, the prospect of knowing more about customers’ lives, habits, and desires than ever before is understandably exciting. But amid all the excitement, it should not be forgotten that few businesspeople — even C-level executives — truly understand what a revolutionary force big data is, or the disruptive threat it represents for businesses of all kinds.
While you are preparing to take maximum advantage of all the glorious opportunities big data offers, keep in mind that the devil in big data could be in these overlooked details:
1. Secure your data
For companies that are collecting and storing vast amounts of customer data, the most obvious threat is a massive security breach of the sort that has plagued Target Corp, Home Depot, and J.P. Morgan Chase. Hundreds of other companies have experienced similar data breaches in the past couple of years, all because the people hacking into corporate databases have been more ingenious and persistent than the people trying to keep them out.
Better security in the big data era doesn’t must mean a well-intentioned policy review — it means committing to a long-term investment in the infrastructure and personnel needed to safeguard what is rapidly becoming every organization’s more important asset: its customer data. The more people trust companies with their personal information, the more companies need to be worthy of that trust.
2. Try not to drown
Big data isn’t just about more information; it’s about exponentially huge tsunamis of information coming from all directions at once, at speeds and volumes humanity has never seen before. The possibility of drowning in all this data is very real and so is the possibility of wasting a lot of time, energy, and resources wading through oceans of irrelevant data. The challenge going forward will be extracting the data you need from the data you don’t — and the hard lesson many organizations will have to learn is that too much information is just as useless as not enough — or not the right kind — of information.
Try to be as specific as possible about the kinds of data that would be useful to know. Data itself is getting ever more granular, so the sieve for sifting it needs to get more refined as well. Narrow your focus. Define your parameters. And don’t forget to ask the obvious questions, such as: If you could communicate with a customer, in real time, at the moment they are deciding between your brand and someone else’s, what would you say to them — and how?
3. Don’t get outsmarted
It has never been easier for a few people with an idea to mount a competitive challenged to even the most established businesses — and in the era of big data, size is not necessarily a strength. Big data will open up cracks and fissures in the marketing landscape that others can easily exploit. Anyone who tries can be a potential competitive threat, if not an existential one.
No matter what size an organization is, systems need to be in place to keep at least part of the organization operating as if it is a small, hungry start-up. Much more energy needs to go into market research, competitive intelligence, and ear-to-the-Internet scouting, because when change is swift and constant, competitive threats can come out of nowhere, in no time, and do a great deal of damage.