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Does my data look BIG in this? A call for Smart Data

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“Big Data” is the talk of the town. And of every marketing congress in town. It’s hailed as the new holy grail of business, the final frontier for marketers, the offer you shouldn’t refuse. But is it really?

Big Data

Let's start by defining 'Big Data' so that it's clear what we're talking about here. Big Data is often described in terms of three "V's": volume, velocity and variety:

  • Volume: Big Data copes with volumes beyond the capacity of conventional database systems. It calls for large data warehouses and high processing capacity.
  • Velocity: Data is becoming real-time. Every click, every action can be measured as it happens. Sensors are spitting out continuous flows of numbers. The Large Hadron Collider at CERN for example generates so much real-time data that scientists must discard the overwhelming majority of it — hoping hard they've not thrown away anything useful.
  • Variety: Big Data is often messy, not well-structured, not 'clean'.

Diving into such Big Data can be mighty powerful. It's how Google predicts outbreaks of the flu. It's how Nate Silver became a hero correctly predicting the results of the American elections for each state. It's how the Santa Cruz police force was able to predict crimes before they happened.

Small Data

In contrast, Small Data is about small pieces of ready-to-use, easily digestible and well-structured data. For example those bits of customer data often captured by marketing campaigns. Or your operational sales tracking data.

Fact is that most companies already have difficulties enough dealing with this – crucial - Small Data as it is. And collecting the data, that's the easy part. The real challenge is in getting from data to actionable insights. It's in discovering the story behind the data and making it visible: who are our top customers? What channels are they using? Which of our marketing efforts work, and which don't? …

Towards Smart Data

It's a common misconception that more data de facto means more knowledge. According to the law of diminishing returns, the tenth gigabyte of data you'll add will be worth less than the second. If you look at the two images below for example, you can easily tell that the right one is clearer, has more data. But what additional information does it really give us compared to the left one?

redbird_bw_low.jpg redbird_bw_hd.jpg

What more can we learn from the right image that we couldn't get from the left one? Not so much indeed.

Now instead of focusing on how much data we gather (and as a result increase the efforts it takes to turn it into actionable insights), we should focus on the data we can act upon. Call it 'Smart Data'.

Let's return to our image example. Don't bother adding lots of data to make it sharper. We don't need it. What would make a real valuable addition to our data is any new form of data we haven't collected yet, like in the example below.

redbird_bw_low.jpg redbird_color_low.jpg

Now that does make it far more interesting, doesn't it? Instead of adding all that data to make it sharper, we chose to add a completely new type of data. And that's exactly what Smart Data is all about: collecting the right – not necessarily more- bits of data that will allow for better insights.

It's about diversifying your data to broaden your view. And above all, it's about knowing the business questions you'd like to be answered and collect the data needed to answer them. With Big Data, the risk doesn't lie in 'not collecting answers'. The risk is 'not knowing the questions'.

To round up

So does this mean all this Big Data is worthless? Au contraire, mon ami! Big Data can for example have great value in detecting new business opportunities. And as the tools get better to turn Big Data into actionable Small Data, more and more companies will be able to benefit from it.

But for the majority of companies, the main focus now should be on getting the most out of the Small Data already available and turning it into Smart Data.

Want to know more about how you too could be getting the most out of data? Call Serge Van de Zande on +32 475 72 41 81 or e-mail him right here.

Main sources:

  • WassUp Recap, December 2012 edition: the slides

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  • Gespot: 5 interessante marketing start-ups

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  • Beyond advertising: Paid by Relevance

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  • LUON Wassup Lunch "State of Marketing", 1 december 2015

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