What’s the Big Deal with Big Data?

Written by Robert Faithfull & Russell Speight

Market research industry discussion is currently around new techniques and specifically how Big Data will replace traditional techniques.

The thinking now is that Big Data market research will answer all questions, and therefore traditional techniques will quickly become irrelevant. Or will it?

Traditionalists argue that Big Data informs us what happened in the past, but not WHY it happened! Without understanding the data, taking action is not possible.

Consider that Robert bought orange juice from Coles, in Vermont at 19:03 on 5th April 2015. We have this information about the sale but what we do with this? Who is Robert? Why did he buy orange juice? Why did he buy it at that time? Big data can tell us about lots of transactions but it does not tell us why this customer made this purchase at the time.

Big Data Analytics shows in Florida before a hurricane the #1 best selling food at Wal-Mart was not water, the retailer sells 7 times more strawberry Pop-Tarts right before a hurricane than any other time. Informatica, Jakki Geiger, 2014, The Surprising Link Between Hurricanes and Strawberry Pop-Tarts: Brought to you by Clean, Consistent and Connected Data.

Does this mean that grocery stores now reduces their stock of water and increase their stock of PopTarts just before a major storm activity because they will be stuck with oversupply of bottled water when the storm hits?? This wouldn’t be a wise change unless you understood why were so many pop tarts bought at that time.

Big data is an ocean of data where we can go fishing for knowledge. It is great to have all this data and it can reveal very powerful insights about customers, but we need the right techniques to identify the trends. When we have found these new trends through advanced data analysis techniques we will use traditional marketing techniques, like customer surveys or focus groups etc, to tell us why the new trends are emerging.

Lee says that traditional marketing, including advertising, public relations, branding and corporate communications, is rapidly becoming obsolete. Many people in traditional marketing roles and organisations may not realise they’re operating within a dead paradigm:

  • Buyers are checking out products in their own ways, often through the Internet;
  • CMOs lack business credibility and the ability to generate sufficient business growth;
  • Traditional marketing and sales, does not work in todays social media-infused environment.

Harvard Business Review, Bill Lee, 2012, Marketing is Dead.

We don’t agree with Lee that traditional marketing is dead. It might be downsized or even grow through the extra information, but it will definitely be driven in a new direction by the insights from Big Data. Where big data is not available for some suppliers or segments, traditional marketing techniques will continue.

Big data will reveal the deeper truths of customer behaviour that will empower traditional marketing methods to find new ways to meet customer needs and wants. The reality today is that market research traditionalists and the new technologists can work together, and the role of Market Researchers is being transformed to that of Big Data Analysts.

Do you think we will be sourcing all our marketing intelligence in the future from the owners of big data or will it become just another option for the marketing professional to use?


7 thoughts on “What’s the Big Deal with Big Data?

  1. Great question to finish with. There are many challenges that the marketing industry is facing in the light of the big data movement. It is giving insights and information that were never available before. Data is now “live” and at the touch of the fingertips – but there are issues around the quality of the data and it’s use. The modern marketer needs to skilled at the collection and interpretation of the data. It is quite pointless to gather data just “because it’s there”. I think as we see the big data evolution play out marketers will get smarter about it’s use. Time will only tell if it becomes a part of the marketers suite of tools, or becomes the tool.


  2. Very Good Question.
    Many challenges and opportunities that Big Data offers is
    1.Understanding big data in all of its dimensions
    2.How to derive new value from content and Big Data with unified information access
    3.Making sense of the big data “ecosystem”
    4.What Hadoop can and can’t do when it comes to unstructured content
    5.Selecting the right tools to extract maximum value from big data


  3. Hi Robert and Russell,

    Thanks for this great blog about Big Data. Regarding your question, I think that Big Data will definitely become an option for the marketing professional to use. Whether it will be the only option to use or one of the options in the future? I don’t think anyone can really answer the question now, it depends.

    Nowadays, Big Data is a very popular term to describe the growth and availability of structured and unstructured data. In my opinion, Big Data becomes more and more important to businesses. I have both Flybuys and Woolworths Rewards cards. Whenever, I buy anything in Coles and WWS, all my data about when, where, what I buy have been collected. Do you realize that we may receive different special offers from Coles or WWS via emails? I remember I got an offer from Coles last year about ‘Spend $40 or more in one transaction every week for 4 weeks and collect $100 off your shop’, but some of my friends got ‘Spend $80 or more in one transaction every week for 4 weeks and collect $100 off your shop’. Why??? Some customer shopping data must be analyzed and compared for the reward programs.

    I found an interesting article which may help your essay: ‘Coles, Woolworths, and Big Data: Could your choice of cereal affect your insurance premium?’ ‘Because you see, customers who drink lots of milk and eat lots of red meat are very, very, very good car insurance risks versus those who eat lots of pasta and rice, fills up their petrol at night, and drink spirits. What that means is we’re able to tailor an insurance offer that targets those really good insurance risk customers and give them a good deal via direct channels instead of above-the-line [advertising]. And it helps to avoid the bad insurance risks.’



  4. That was a very interesting blog and I agree with your opinions on this. I believe that if marketing died because big data took over, products would became too impersonal. Also, would big data be useful for all brands and services? What about smaller businesses? Would it eventually be affordable for everyone? There may be developments down the track re the ethics of big data as well, as people are more and more aware that companies are collecting data about them and they don’t like it. This could slow it down or even stop it, maybe?


    • That’s a good point about small business. It seems to me that Big Data will be the realm of a few Big Players. There are only a few business with capability or appropriate business transactions to gather this information and that rules out small or even medium size business. So are small and medium enterprise at a disadvantage? Will they be able to procure their market intelligences form their friendly Google Representative? I am not sure. The fact remains that the data will be in the hands of a few big companies and that puts SME’s at a disadvantage.


  5. Excellent article Rob and Russell,

    I think this is the biggest issue with data, we need to understand it well before we can arrive to any conclusion. I really like this sentence ‘Big data is an ocean of data where we can go fishing for knowledge’ but more importantly we need to know where the fish are. This paradigm needs to be executed well ‘There is a difference between numbers and numbers that matter,” write Jeff Bladt and Bob Filbin in a post from last year. One of the most important steps in beginning to make decisions with data is to pick the right metrics. Good metrics “are consistent, cheap, and quick to collect.” But most importantly, they must capture something your business cares about’

    Data also go both ways, these days we have a ton of data available at our fingers tips as a consumer too. This means that as a company we need to do the right thing by our customers and give them as much as information we can. Consumers now make well inform decisions due to the information available on the net.

    I have found a very interesting article about data this is only part of the data I found: ‘Companies are vacuuming up data to make better decisions about everything from product development and advertising to hiring. In their 2012 feature on big data, Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson describe the opportunity and report that “companies in the top third of their industry in the use of data-driven decision making were, on average, 5% more productive and 6% more profitable than their competitors” even after accounting for several confounding factors’.

    Info available online, retrieved 23/04/15: https://hbr.org/2014/05/an-introduction-to-data-driven-decisions-for-managers-who-dont-like-math


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