Big Data! What is it good for?


Attended a marketing industry conference last week. Good program, typical of such affairs – some engaging, informative and illustrative speakers, but a few stultifying and worthless presentations.

A few of the latter, though, revealed a truth I hadn’t yet considered: “Big Data” is a crock of s**t. I waited three years for someone to offer up just one example of what “Big Data” is and how it might practically be used. Just one tiny, concrete example?

Didn’t happen.

At least three presentations on this topic at this conference alone. Every time, “Big Data” was defined as “data.” Not a single real-life example. Just “Big Data” is “data.” Your organization has lots of “data,” or can get lots of “data.” Because there’s lots and lots of “data” to be had. But you’re going to have a hard time making sense of this “data” because that’s the nature of “data,” and the difficulty apparently is proportionate to the bigness of this “data.” But this “data” – if you’re able to get it, make sense of it and use it – will help you do whatever it is you’re doing.

If I wasn’t such a gentleman, heckling was a real possibility.

Today, I strolled through an exhibit in a nearby building. The exhibit’s title hints that “Big Data” is being used for urban planning to shape the future of Chicago and other cities. Now we’re getting somewhere.

“What Is ‘Big Data’?” the sign asks, before answering, “Big data is a catchphrase used to describe the volume, velocity and variety of modern data generation.”

So “Big Data” is a catchphrase and not a real thing at all. Kinda what I thought.

If any doubts remained, one of the exhibit’s videos blows them away. This nonsensical tour-de-force is stuffed with hilariously inane sounds bites that lead absolutely nowhere. The video does, however, perfectly capture the detail- and specifics-free nature of the “Big Data” presentations I saw last week.

The quotes from residents and business owners of one of Chicago’s neighborhoods show that the community long has thrived and even enjoyed growth for the past decade. Now the “Big Data” people want to capture data sets on “celebrating,” “fellowship” and “activity” in order to attract more businesses, apparently.

All the blabberings make no sense on their own or taken collectively. The best is this from one of the many unidentified speakers:

The city is lucky to have one of the best data portals in the country and perhaps the world at this point, really granular data about where crimes are committed or where business licenses are filed or you can even get geometries for building footprints. That’s useful in a lot of ways. And so is comparing the city’s data with census data. The gap there is that the census data is out of date at this point. In addition to being out-of-date, it relies on statistical sampling, which at the end of the day might be accurate but you’re going to have gaps and you’re going to miss important information.

It’s funny, but sad. No real answers about “Big Data” here either.

If I didn’t practice decorum in every facet of my life, making rude hand gestures to the security camera above the video screen was a real possibility.

Look, I know what data is. We use data all the time. Certainly not data’s biggest fan, but it can be very useful.

What data might I be talking about?

Data that comes from research into your customer and prospect base’s perceptions. Data that sheds hard light on what they value when considering your product or service, and why they might buy from your competitors instead of you. Much more what they think than what you think. That’s the kind of data on which you can build a valuable, preferred b2b brand that can help generate leads, allow you to earn a premium and grow profitably.

So forget “Big Data,” a meaningless catchphrase. But, please, find out more about useful data and how it can help you here: Brandwidth, A Semi-Subversive Perspective on Improving Your Business Brand.

One Response

  1. thanks, Mobium and Pat, for prompting us to think critically about what big data really means for marketers. The nature of the data and the tools for analyzing it are different, but as you point out, big data is…data. What matters is finding the right data to really inform the branding and marketing strategy. Sometimes that is big data, and just as often the jewels of insight come from “tiny data” like a one-on-one interview with a key customer or prospect.

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