Big Data and Online Marketing

Raise your hand if you recall the days of marketing before the internet. Without the technology to monitor keywords, clicks, email addresses, and behavior on a web site, marketers were quite literally in the dark ages of advertising; blind to much of what worked, how well, and where to optimize.

Marketing is to Music…

The internet not only changed what marketers know about their marketing; certainly, it moved innovations in marketing forward at pace unseen in history. Indeed, for the bulk of the twentieth century, marketing evolved at a manageable, dare I say annual pace as we moved from print and PR, to radio, to TV. Of course, the nuances of marketing moved forward more quickly but I’m reminded of the revolution in music that was MTV… truly, our ability to reach potential customers changed at the same pace that civilization moved from live music to record players to radio to music videos. And then, it exploded. To appreciate what I’m considering, think only of the next phase of my music analogy – from music videos to Naptser, the iPod, and Pandora. Suddenly, music is on demand, pervasive, and consumed as you prefer.

What exactly did the web do for marketing? If you were to try and segment each evolution in the same context that radio is to TV, we’d have to look at how the website, alone, was a tremendous leap. With that interactive brand experience, marketers had real time data, SEO, UX/UI, and technology to now consider. The way the web works brought us search engine marketing, display advertising and targeting, affiliate marketing, email, and social media. In the span of a couple decades, a handful of channels and techniques exploded and became dozens. And with that, a flood of data.

Big Data is to Marketing…

Imagine the challenge for marketers today. Set aside for a moment the incredible value that insight to customer behavior creates, consider only the challenge in keeping up. Where marketers could once practice and experience a single channel year after year, now a new, better CRM, social marketing tool, optimization platform, or email technology arrives daily, calling marketers to a new experience like a siren. The marketing industry has become exhilarating, dynamic, analytical, and incredibly fast paced. Imagine what the “Mad Men” of 30 years hence will look like when exploring the stories of the Don Drapers of 2000.

big data demandThat pace of innovation, those new channels and data sources, fostered the era in which we now find ourselves; the era of big data. Not only do marketers have more tools, techniques, and technologies than any sane person can keep up with, but we have a seemingly limitless supply of data to aggregate, explore, mine, and evaluate. One of my favorite data resources, Google Trends, shows the amazing rate of adoption and demand for big data and highlights not just the recent trend but uncovers the pace at which it continues to scale. In the past month alone, the hot topics in big data range from, “Obama Goes Big on Big Data” to, “Harvard Releases Big Data for Books” – everyone is involved in the future of big data.

The premier objective for marketers is to now understand how their work affects everything. Where once marketers lived in TV or print, big data and analytics enable marketers to follow the impact of every channel, optimize across vertical, and normalize the performance of everything such that an organization can evaluate and budget effectively against two extreme marketing opportunities – say, TV commercials and SEO.

Such intelligence enables us to start asking real questions about user behavior as our visibility to the impact of TV on conversions begs questions not just of how much we spend in each channel but how those potential customers are influenced. On what do they search after hearing about a brand on a radio show? To which social networks do they turn to ask for recommendations about products? What demographic circles influence their intent? Do they prefer authoritative news sources, blogs, or social media? All of these questions and more can be easily uncovered through the mountain of data available to us and the application of techniques and big data apps inconceivable decades ago.

Of course, the transparency to user behavior drives us to ask WHO is engaged with our business. That science, in many ways, leapt forward from studies and focus groups to much more intelligent, representative, and real time, user profiles when the early web pioneers moved basic display advertising forward with demographic and behavioral targeting. The web was still blind to the individual but marketing could now track and optimize relative to their most likely interests, intent, and needs. Social networks dawned and moved user transparency again forward by light years; now people online had public profiles where they shared their preferences, interests, and friends. Big data evolved from the web graphs, search graphs, and social graphs of intelligence to include the people graph, tied them all together, and and delivered an incredible era where marketers know the what, when, where, why, how, and who of their work.

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