As you can imagine, at Marketing Week we are having an increasing number of conversations, hearing more pitches and writing more articles about data – it has become the lifeblood of the profession and has even been called ‘the new oil’. But all the time the elephant in the room is making more and more noise. People are beginning to ask if big data is all a big con.
The sceptics allege that the phrase is just a way to scare companies into paying a lot of money for database technology that they don’t really need. Or that it’s really only an evolution, not a revolution, in the way organisations handle data.
I’m very careful about approaching buzzwords, since they’re often invented to serve someone’s agenda – invariably to publicise a business book. But my own feeling is that the phrase is in fact a helpful one, or at least one that describes something that’s genuinely both important and new.
There has undeniably been an emphatic shift in recent years towards certain human behaviours – notably ecommerce, online content consumption and social networking – that leave behind them unavoidable trails of data, which the previous equivalents of those behaviours – going to the shops, reading newspapers and talking to your friends – didn’t.
At the same time, governments and organisations are making more records, and in more infinitesimal detail, of all sorts of measurable events – human behaviour, market movements, machine performance and so on.
It is the accumulated data from these new and ubiquitous technologies that I now think of as big data, rightly or wrongly. It’s different from the customer transaction data and market research data that marketers have been accustomed to for decades because it is higher in volume, comes from more sources and isn’t as easily turned into digestible formats.
Not everyone will agree with this. But in any case, even if we settle on a definition of big data, that’s not the same as saying it’s useful to all organisations.
Most of the time, you won’t need a sales person to tell you if you need to invest in a data platform because you already know what data and insight sources are of use to your business, and it should become obvious quite quickly whether the features of a given technology product fit with your objectives. It’s not magic or alchemy, and there’s no need to be scared of it.
However, if you have another take, we’d like to hear from you, so let us know in the comment box below.