Big Data and the New CMO

Marketers and especially CMOs transition into increasingly technical roles as marketing becomes an increasingly metrics-driven activity. Big data is largely to blame. Metrics deliver actionable information on human community, phone apps behavior, ecommerce behavior, social networking, browsing patterns, as well as metrics on real-world trends and transactions that can be tracked. Data from many sources, tracking people doing many activities, classifying those activities, quantifying and converting to ways your company can generate more revenue, are all part of big data. Company website metrics are also increasingly technical, even analytical. Analytics are useless without good technical and analytical skill to properly read the stories that users are trying to tell you.

Big data intimidates even the mightiest of technical geniuses. Most marketing professionals are just beginning to get their heads around how to use big data, or what it even is. Big data has massive range of types of data, variations in speed or timeframes, and potentially huge volumes. The key is in setting goals for your ultimate benefits from the data. Understand the input, how to structure it, and report timely actionable output. Easy to say.

Capacity, budget, buy-in, all play a role—you need to make rapid adjustments, you must be empowered to respond decisively to reach customers in new ways based on message-driven outputs. You need many active, engaged minds in the room with bigger and better systems to tackle big data. To change strategies quickly, to adapt to big data outputs, requires authority and accountability—a strong and savvy CMO. A non-technical CMO often lacks confidence in the start-to-finish data-in/data-out process to make bold changes in strategy in time to capitalize on the new information received, monthly, weekly, daily, sometimes hourly. You have to have confidence in the message received in the metrics and act on it.

Big data means a whole new level of engagement. Traditional marketing principles and long-term marketing research still have a place. The twist is co-existence of multiple layers of strategy in widely differing timeframes with speed and agility applied with advanced technical and analytical intelligence to act with accuracy to successfully consume the steady flow of outputs. You work simultaneously in different channels at different speeds in different timeframes traversing biggest picture to minutest behavior. Obviously, none of this can be done on the fly. That means serious process development.

So today’s marketing professionals and especially CMOs must be analytical titans and process geniuses and agile adapters and confident movers. It’s an exciting place to be today.

If you have read this entry and still don’t understand what big data is, don’t feel bad. It’s a vertiginous ramp-up. I refrained from reading the Wikipedia definition of big data until I had finished writing the above piece. I had to laugh when I read in the very first line, “… collection of data sets so large and complex that it becomes difficult to process…” I laughed out loud. That about says it.

But when I stopped laughing for a minute, I thought, this is serious business, and harnessed properly, can mean serious revenue increase. Big data in the hands of the right CMO & team can separate the thriving business from the struggling one. But successfully using big data requires a qualification: no one can handle the full compass of total big data. Here’s the secret to success: Bite off as much big data as your resources can chew, and use it the best you can. In theory, it’s the age of Big Data. In practice, it’s the age of Medium Data.

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