Just Use a Pencil: Knowing How to Apply Big Data

Dancing With Big Data
Jim Carey talks “Dancing With Big Data”

What do marketing, sales, finance, and IT professionals have in common? Apparently, we’re all really confused about big data. More specifically, how to use the vast amounts of data we have at our fingertips.

By (Wikipedia) definition, big data is “any collection of data sets so large or complex that it becomes difficult to process them using traditional data processing applications.” I had trouble processing that sentence.

Undoubtedly, big data is a pain point for most professionals; many have made it their personal mission to wrangle the beast. Jim Carey, adjunct professor at Northwestern University Medill IMC, is one marketer with such an attempt.

Carey, who specializes in data mining for B2B and B2C companies, led recent BMA Breakfast Seminar “Dancing With Big Data,” where he shared his insights and findings on what makes big data so…big, based on interviews with leading marketers and industry pros. Here’s a handful of takeaways from his presentation:

  • Know where to start. Most interviewees agreed that their company’s use of data was not optimal, not by a long shot. Organizations tend to utilize transactional data, whereas their focus should be on behavioral data, which is proven to be more useful.
  • Be aware of other solutions. People tend to fall in love with a particular solution and don’t explore other ways to solve a problem. Carey shared the infamous “Space Pen” anecdote: NASA spent millions of dollars developing a pen that would work in space, while the Russians addressed the problem by simply using a pencil. While elements of this story are false, it accurately conveys the idea that sometimes the answer lies in the simple solution, which is often overlooked.
  • Keep the silos on the farm. Organizations of all sizes struggle with silos; departments or divisions working in a vacuum with little overlap and integration. The larger issue at hand is one of change management and internal operations not working together to ask the right questions when mining their data. This is easier said than done from a tactical standpoint, but technology has enabled us to work smarter and more collaboratively, the key is implementation.
  • Learn faster. The only sustainable competitive advantage any organization or individual has is to learn faster, and that ability is derived from big data findings. 

You know what they say about too much of a good thing. As technology gives us access to more insights and behaviors than ever before, without the right approach and end goal clearly defined, it will still remain big data.