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3 Ways Companies Can Better Use Big Data in 2014 This year, more companies are expected to take advantage of data. Here's how your company can be a high performer.

By David Steinberg Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

We'll soon be entering the big data era.

Last year, big data 'crossed the chasm' and entered the marketing mainstream, with 32 percent of companies reporting investment in big data projects. This figure is expected to double in 2014.

With the growing focus on these initiatives, there's now a consensus in the marketing industry that mastering data management -- collecting, synthesizing and acting on high-value data -- needs to be a core competence of successful companies.

Despite this growing emphasis on big data's importance, there's still a lack of consensus about what companies need to do to profit from it.

Especially in the last year, companies have invested in new and technologically advanced ways to gather information on their core customers and best prospects. But not every investment has paid off, leaving CEOs to question the value of investing in big data in the future.

Related: How 2014 Will Be The Year To Monetize Big Data

CEOs should not reconsider their commitment to big data. In 2014, the question is not "if big data," but "how big data?" That is: how can your company be a high performer in the big data era? There are three areas to focus on:

Bridging the gaps. First is the time gap. Big data projects can take up to 18 months to fully implement, which makes it difficult to generate an ROI above investment thresholds quickly.

Next is the people gap. The exponential growth of data can overwhelm a company's resources -- especially if a clear plan on how to extract and capitalize on insights does not exist. In 2014, the increase in supply of data scientists and the introduction of new data mining tools will help bridge the productivity gap.

Last is the knowledge gap. Bridging this gap is the most complex -- but has the highest payoff. It starts with setting clear, granular objectives and/or laying out specific questions that only big data can answer.

Related: Why Spending on Big Data Isn't a Waste (Infographic)

Perfecting data management. The knowledge that is gained from big data means very little without an actionable plan to use it. CEOs need to ensure their teams are planning and utilizing big data initiatives with "so what?" in mind.

Collecting data from consumers has value only if it translates to improved business results. Information gathering that only adds cost or increases friction is counterproductive. In the coming year, high-performing businesses need to refine their data management systems to better serve their marketing teams. It is crucial to give these teams information with which they can work to develop strategies that target key audiences and thus move the needle on ROI.

Going where the customers are. A few years ago, the data generated by social media and mobile devices either wasn't accessible or just didn't exist. Now, the depth of mobile and social media data is overwhelming. High-performing companies will find it useful to employ this wealth of information, as it includes valuable nuggets of insight into customer behavior that were previously unavailable.

In 2014, seek ways to utilize these data sources as they become increasingly available to improve every stage of the customer lifecycle, from awareness and acquisition to retention and customer service.

Related: Why Big Data Is Your Key to Beefing Up Customer Engagement

David Steinberg

Serial Tech Entrepreneur; CEO, Zeta Interactive

David A. Steinberg is the CEO of Zeta Interactive, a customer lifecycle marketing platform company that integrates big data, proprietary technology and analytics to help leading brands acquire, grow and retain customers. The company's set of data, email, social, display, search and mobile solutions are used globally by hundreds of middle market and Fortune 500 brands.

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