The buzz surrounding big data continues to circulate the industry, as do questions about how it can help businesses achieve their objectives. Is big data just hype or can it be used to drive measurable growth?
Most brands have invested in data warehouses and business intelligence. Their business decisions and marketing efforts are already data-driven -- big data just sounds like something used to describe what they're already doing.
But if you have this mindset, you are missing out on the opportunity around big data. This is to leverage established and emerging big data technology to understand your customers in a way never before possible -- so you can engage with them in a relevant, timely, personalized manner. In doing so, you will be able to delight your customers with the products and services they want, when and where they want them.
Big data is different because it enables you to consider and act upon everything you know about your customers. It leverages the rich, transactional data that today is aggregated and then discarded.
If you were to look into your data warehouse, you would see many ways in which your customers are summarized. You will see averages, counts and sums that describe what your customers have purchased and done. Even a transactional record showing a purchase on a particular day will often just summarize the amount spent in total and not the detail around each item purchased. That data exists, or existed, but by the time it makes it to the data warehouse, much of the richness has been lost.
Maintaining and acting upon this rich transactional data was, until very recently, almost completely unwieldy. But big data technologies have made it possible to use it to gain insights into the patterns of customer behavior that relate both positively and negatively to your KPIs and business objectives.
By understanding how these behaviors relate to what you do and don't want to accomplish, you can begin to improve how you engage with and influence your customers.
You can see when a customer does something for the first or last time. You can see when a customer starts to do more or less of something. You can see what is normal for an individual and what isn't. These are the types of details about your customers that don't present themselves in an aggregated view. Changes in behavior take too long to show up in an average but often represent a critical opportunity to engage a customer.
Leveraging big data to better understand and act upon customer behavior, forces you to think differently not only about what data to keep (all of it!) and how long to keep it, but also which data you should begin capturing. All of your customer's interactions with your brand -- your mobile app, your website, in the store, on the phone, through social media -- are opportunities to better understand their behavior.
This may mean you need to think differently about how and when customers identify themselves and how you may use, for example, a loyalty program to convince a customer to do so.
Alternatively, you may not know specifically who a customer is but you can use a channel -- such as a mobile app -- to both capture customer behavior and act upon that behavior as you better engage the customer through the channel.
A big data approach will also put new focus on those channels, such as mobile and social media, where you have the best opportunities to engage in a relevant and timely manner. For many brands today, Twitter accounts and mobile apps exist, but are not yet used strategically to drive growth and improve customer engagement. As you move forward, they will present prime opportunities to engage and delight your customers at the best time and wherever they may be.
This is the promise and the reality of using big data to change how you engage with your customers.
The author is an Entrepreneur contributor. The opinions expressed are those of the writer.