Small data, big impact

Small data, big impact

IDM’s flagship B2B marketing event (this year entitled ‘Engage’) is always one to check out. Over the years there’s been some cracking speakers, and plenty of good debate about where the industry’s going. This year, perhaps predictably, the topic of ‘Big Data’ cropped up a lot, and my usual veil of cynicism was fully in place when I arrived at the Commonwealth Club at the start of the day…

The problem with ‘Big Data’, is just how I’ve written it: it requires inverted commas either side. Which says that no one really knows what it means, what its impacts are, or, most pressingly, what any of us should actually do about it.

However, the IDM event made me realise what I’d been sorely missing in the B2B events calendar recently: hard, practical advice and examples that are tangible, and useful when I get to the office the next day. There’s been far too much empty theory bandied around elsewhere – which is fine if everyone’s in an ‘early adopter’ phase where people just crave education and some nice diagrams. But, the B2B world has moved on – we want action, not talk! And at Engage, that’s what we got.

The practical examples
 Of course, some stat-tastic big numbers were flung about: 90% of the world’s data being created in the last two years; by 2015, 3 billion people will be online sharing 8.2 trillion Terabytes… But what was more interesting were some of fantastic ‘little’ examples of what data, and the use of it, is doing in the real world.

Take the situation of an airlinehaving to choose who to give a free upgrade to: the frequent 1 st class flyer who happens to be travelling economy, the random passenger who they’ve no information on (but would like to impress), or regular airmiles traveller who always travels economy. A bit of data analysis later, and the answer is the regular traveller: give them a taste of the high life, and they keep coming back.

At Unum (one of those insurance brands who cover the majority of us, but without us knowing it), ‘little data’ there has been a quietly impressive success story. Bill Mansfield has built a team of five bright young data geeks and delivered actual strategy change in what is seemingly quite a stuffy insurance company. Interestingly, this didn’t happen through some Big Data strategy, just by looking at some numbers and spreadsheets and trying a few small changes (to marketing campaigns, to product pricing and so on), and then learning and building on it. Quietly, and without a Big Fuss. Well done Bill.

At D&B, the Duns number is a small piece of data, that has some big impacts: it acts as a unique identifier for an organisation, which means organisations can start to link up CRM and inbound/outbound marketing info in a meaningful way. Now that’s a big impact, from something quite small.

The practical advice
 Big Data is a damaging term: it’s scary, almost as if the data/IT industry want people to be deterred from doing anything themselves, presumably so the industry’s well paid consultants can dive in to save the day.

So, here’s some ‘top tips’ that I took away from IDM Engage.

  1. Start small.Big data doesn’t have to be a Big Project. Look at the data you have already, Unum started with spreadsheets and an Access Database. Even I can work one of those!
  2. Find a quick win, then find a strategy.Most organisations are slightly reticent to commit to a big data strategy, but provide and prove a few nice bits of analytic-based insight and you’ll have a much easier business case to make.
  3. Make it fun.Not something you’d be expecting me to say, but maths is actually fun. Analytics is a fascinating area to play in, many of presentations I saw had a real sense of enjoyment about what they’ve achieved. Develop this mentality in your teams and you’ll get momentum.
  4. Data = money = career advancement.No one said this overtly (everyone is far too nice and humble at these events), but I saw lots of examples of marketers who’ve got close to the data, worked hard in the background on what it could do, made a financial difference to the company they’re working in, and, ultimately, earned themselves a pretty pivotal role in that company. Clearly, data pays off, and not just for organisations…

Most importantly, none of the examples I learned about were beyond the resources and skills that most of us already have today. We can all make data valuable, and there’s simply nothing to fear but fear itself.

So I prefer the term Small Data. Sure, there’s lot of data, but that’s not the point. IDM Engage showed me that even some small forays into looking at your data and doing a few new things as a result can have some big impacts.

Go on, give it a try, you’ll be surprised at what you’ll achieve. 

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