4 Big Data Strategies IT Should Steal from Marketers

Thursday Oct 23rd 2014 by Jeff Vance
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The Big Data strategies employed by marketers may in fact lead the larger market toward Big Data adoption.

Big Data is on the rise, with analysts and pundits almost unanimously predicting rapid adoption and growth. IDC, for one, predicts that the market for Big Data products will reach $16.1 billion by the end of this year and hit $41.5 billion by 2018, growing six times faster than the overall IT market.

Investors are also pouring money into Big Data startups, with the biggest splash being Cloudera’s billion-dollar investment from its partnership with Intel.

As more and more companies jump on the Big Data bandwagon – a recent Gartner survey found that 73 percent of all businesses are already investing in or have plans to invest in Big Data – IT will begin to get pressure to help turn these investments into actual business initiatives.

With the promise of Big Data being so broad, however, it’s often hard to figure out what Big Data strategies are most advantageous. One shortcut available to savvy CIOs and IT leaders is to study early adopters. Arguably no business unit has done more with Big Data to date than marketing.

Marketing teams are using Big Data to fine-tune online advertising campaigns, to figure out the most effective email subject lines, to turn up opportunities for cross-selling and upselling, and to personalize the content people see when they visit a website.

Here are 4 Big Data strategies IT should steal from marketers:

1. Treat your audience as an asset, not a headache

We all hate high-pressure, high-B.S. sales tactics. We avoid the Glengarry, Glen Ross sales types, who think of selling as a competition – with you as the mark. In the age of social media and Big Data analytics, it’s pretty easy to prove that these techniques aren’t optimal.

Yet, many, many businesses still employ them. Many businesses still treat their prospects as flesh-and-blood piggybanks that they’re eager to crack open.

Similarly, IT all too often treats the people seeking its help as nuisances, rather than as business assets.

It’s become a cliché that the most important asset in any business is its people, yet the biggest complaint about IT support interactions tends to be that IT comes off as too arrogant and is too dismissive of the people it serves.

How do you counter this?

A good place to start is with all of those calls that are supposedly recorded for training purposes. Rather than simply storing them for compliance purposes and then forgetting about them, now is the time to actually start analyzing them.

Lesson for IT: Tools from companies like CallMiner, Nexidia, and Utopy will help your organization apply text and sentiment analysis to calls to help you identify patterns and trends. Over time, effective techniques will stand out, as will effective members of your IT support staff.

2. Differentiate audience segments

In the not-too-distant past, businesses reached prospects, or audiences, through one-to-many, cookie-cutter mass messages. They bought ads on TV and radio, sent out direct mail, and advertised in newspapers and magazines. What very few did was develop a plan that Jeffrey Rohrs, VP, Marketing Insights, Salesforce Marketing Cloud and the author of Audience: Marketing in the Age of Subscribers, Fans & Followers, refers to as “proprietary audience development.”

Developing a proprietary audience involves nurturing and engaging with a person from the minute they become aware of you on through to when they follow you, sign up for your email newsletter, share your messages, and, eventually, become a loyal repeat customer. The key, though, is to tailor your communications, so they match where people are actually at along that path.

“If you send people the wrong message at the wrong time, you can do more harm than good,” Rohrs told me when we sat down at the Connections conference earlier this fall to discuss his book.

Marketers have woken up to the fact that they need to focus, in granular detail, on the needs of their audience, needs that evolve over time. Yet, the only way to better target your audience is to figure out who, exactly, these people are.

“Most companies have not taken the time to differentiate their audiences,” Rohrs said. “Contacts are strewn across different channels, databases, and teams, and there is no real strategy for engaging them.” As a result, audiences are regarded more like resources to use up, rather than business assets to cultivate and serve.

Rohrs identifies three main audience segments that marketers should focus on: seekers, amplifiers, and joiners.

Seekers are looking for information or distractions. This is what pretty much all of us do when we browse social media looking for interesting articles. Amplifiers are on the hunt for things they want to share with their own followers. Amplifiers have their own large audiences, and they are the fuel that powers any viral campaign. Then, finally, there are joiners, or the people who actually purchase your products or services.

Of course, people inhabit different roles at different times, so those roles can and should evolve, but it’s important to tailor your message to where people are now, not where you’d like them to be.

Lesson for IT: Start studying every interaction you have with the people you serve to see if you can segment them into more discrete audiences. After all, the person you need to remind to check to be sure their power strip is turned on will have much different needs than a tech-savvy person frustrated by some software glitch. Yet, all too often, each person is queued up the same way, which is wildly inefficient.

3. Figure out how to get influencers to help you

Marketers love it when important influencers share their stories, videos, and even ads. As a journalist, I could spend all day simply sorting through emails, DMs, and social media comments asking me to cover or share something.

The problem is that 99 times out of 100 those requests focus on the needs of the person sending it, and they completely ignore my needs as a journalist, while also ignoring my audience’s preferences.

Big mistake.

Marketers have developed data-driven techniques that help them identify influencers, and which then measure communications with influencers to figure out what actually works. As a result, concepts like the rule of reciprocity (do a favor for me, and I’m inclined to return the favor) are becoming part of the influencer engagement playbook.

Lesson for IT: Figure out who the key IT influencers are in your organization and develop a plan for winning them over. Every organization has a few tech-savvy, non-IT people, who are often the first people their colleagues turn to with their tech problems.

How do you find these people? If, for instance, you’re busy implementing new BYOD policies, how do you target key influencers so the policy becomes widely understood and followed – naturally, with the employees reinforcing it themselves?

Sentiment analysis isn’t just for finding fans on Twitter. Rather, it can be used internally to help you target influencers who will help amplify important IT messages.

4. Use Big Data to boost your standing within the organization

Before marketing switched to data-driven approaches, it was often distrusted by many business leaders. Too much of what marketing did was fuzzy and impossible to measure.

How times have changed.

Yet, there are still plenty of challenges to contend with before organizations become truly data-driven. One of the biggest challenges is figuring out how to break down data siloes, so you can actually analyze all of the data – both structured and unstructured – that your organization has collected over time.

Easier said than done.

Marketers were early adopters of Big Data tools, and this is one reason that Gartner predicts that by 2017 CMOs will spend more on IT than CIOs. Marketing’s effective use of Big Data has caught the attention of the C-suite, and, as a result, the power of CMOs is on the rise.

Yet, no one really owns Big Data yet. Marketing and sales both have the momentum, but they don’t have the tech-savvy of IT. They don’t understand how various systems influence one another, for good and ill, nor do they understand how to build out the infrastructure to support widespread data analysis.

In fact, much of marketing’s Big Data lead is due to the fact that many data-driven marketing tools are consumed as cloud-based services.

Lesson for IT: IT has the chance to leverage Big Data to boost its own profile within organizations, much as marketing has. The fact that there is no coherence to the many Big Data efforts happening across organizations is actually an opportunity for IT.

If IT can proactively break down data siloes, can implement better data creation and retention policies, and can create and own the underlying infrastructure that will enable Big Data initiatives across the organization, IT will carve out a more strategic, proactive role for itself.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

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