Highway Signpost "Big Data"

The phenomenon of big data certainly comes with big promise. After all, having terabytes of data on customer history and behavior is certainly better than trying to extrapolate from just a few data points.

For sure, online marketers who make sense of big data are going to be better able to build customer experiences around hard data and evidence rather than on hunches and guesswork. Instead of working on intuition, or crude analytics, you could use definitive evidence to design product pages that lure your best customers directly toward the shopping cart. You’d know exactly when to introduce your promotions and offers, and you’d know which promotion would work best with each particular customer. You could optimize your online interface, so that everything from search to registration to “Place Order” was virtually friction-free.

Getting to that point, however, requires first harnessing the data. It is no small feat to integrate huge amounts of data from a variety of sources. It is even trickier to figure out exactly how to translate that information into more visits and fuller shopping carts—in real time, customer by customer.

The good news is, there are technologies and tools that make it much easier to find the gold hidden in the data—and use it to refine your online marketing with laser precision. But there’s a mind-set at work here, too—a way of thinking about data that may involve some shifts in culture, depending on where your organization is right now.

Having worked with a number of online marketers who needed to tame big data, here are six steps to help you get there:

1) Think continuous evolution and iteration, not instantaneous.

Yes, big data can fundamentally shift the way you do business. But don’t try to change everything at once. It’s far more productive to adopt a “test and learn” philosophy. Two dozen incremental improvements in site design or wording or personalization can get you much further than trying to “innovate” in one fell swoop. We see this every day.

The most successful marketers are optimizing and refining all the time. They steadily move ahead, with a thousand baby steps, finding something to improve almost every day.

Note: This tactic may call for some adjustments to Web development processes. The most agile marketers can typically go “live” with tweaks, adjustments or tests in a matter of hours. (Slow marketers wait for the next release. Don’t do that.)

2) Align big data goals with your individual business goals.

Create separate initiatives or projects for each of your business goals, such as acquiring new customers, boosting conversion rates, improving customer loyalty or increasing lifetime customer value. This approach makes it much easier to determine what type of data to reel in, and exactly how to use it. Focus a team or a project on one objective at a time.

3) Sell the concept internally.

In some organizations, moving toward data-driven, evidence-based marketing may call for some extra communication to get everyone on board:

  • Encourage knowledge sharing, continual learning. Let everyone know what you found out.
  • Simplify everything. Present data and outcomes in easy-to-understand terms that managers can use to make decisions. Use pictures and graphs.
  • Communicate plans and achievements across the organization. Don’t hide results.

 4) Create one team for big data.

You will need to include marketing strategists, analytics gurus and Web developers. And especially creatives, who may sometimes feel threatened or hampered by having to work with hard evidence.

Then integrate with those responsible for e-commerce and site optimization. No silos allowed.

Find a committed, obsessed, dedicated executive to drive the process and act as a focus for future customer experience innovations.

5) Your own data is best. By far.

The real-time data that your website and CRM systems are gathering is far more valuable than anything you can obtain from an outside vendor. Because it’s about your own living, breathing customers, it is data that your competitors don’t have. Advantage, you.

Examples of the typical aggregate data you can capitalize on in a big data strategy:

  • Acquisition source
  • Geography
  • Interaction behavior
  • Transaction behavior
  • Recency of visits
  • Frequency of visits
  • Social attributes
  • Form inputs
  • Conversion rates
  • Conversion values by product or category interests
  • Channel/device

6) Aim for real-time optimization, customer by customer.

For most marketers, the goal should be to make in-session decisions as to what customers should see, what offers you recommend and what you say to them.

Craft a custom experience for each visitor, and they’ll buy more.

Do all of this, and they’ll be back.

This article was originally published on iMedia Connection

Written by Paul Dunay
Paul Dunay is an award-winning B2B marketing expert with more than 20 years’ success in generating demand and creating awareness for leading technology, consumer products, financial services and professional services organizations. Paul is the global vice president of marketing for Maxymiser a leading web optimization firm, and author of four “Dummies” books: Facebook Marketing for Dummies (Wiley 2009), Social Media and the Contact Center for Dummies (Wiley Custom Publishing 2010), Facebook Advertising for Dummies (Wiley 2010) and Facebook Marketing for Dummies 2nd Edition (Wiley 2011). His unique approach to marketing has led to recognition of Paul as a BtoB Magazine Top 25 B2B Marketer of the Year for 2010 and 2009 and winner of the DemandGen Award for Utilizing Marketing Automation to Fuel Corporate Growth in 2008. He is also a finalist for the last six years in a row in the Marketing Excellence Awards competition of the Information Technology Services Marketing Association (ITSMA), and is a 2010 and 2005 gold award winner in Driving Demand. Buzz Marketing for Technology, Paul’s blog, has been recognized as a Top 20 Marketing Blog for 2009 and 2008, a Top Blog to Watch for 2009 and 2008, and an Advertising Age Power 150 blog in the “Daily Ranking of Marketing Blogs.” Paul has shared his marketing thought leadership as a featured speaker for the American Marketing Association, BtoB Magazine, CMO Club, MarketingProfs, Marketing Sherpa, Marketing Executives Networking Group (MENG), and ITSMA. He has appeared on Fox News, and his articles have been featured in BusinessWeek, The New York Times, BtoB Magazine, MarketingProfs and MarketingSherpa. Paul holds an Executive Certificate in Strategy and Innovation from MIT’s Sloan School of Management and a bachelor’s degree in Marketing and Computer Science from Ithaca College.