The big deal with big data and direct marketing

Have you heard the buzz words big data and customer engagement this year? I'd be surprised if you haven't. Both are essential tools for direct marketers, but big data has the potential to create a whole new industry.

Big data (the concept) can mean different things depending on how you want to use it. Generally, it refers to the vast deposits of consumer information generated by a wide array of online interactions. Data is collected constantly by social networks, transactions, supply chains, surveys, sensors, and other technologies. The result of this constant stream of information is what we refer to as "big data," and is a new gold rush with many searching for ways to mine it.

In many ways, the web is only now fulfilling its promise of in-depth customer data and demographic targeting that businesses have been looking for over the past 20 years. It's hard to believe, but just six years ago there was no Facebook. Ten years ago we were looking at the shrapnel of a dot-com bubble and wondering if the web would ever be profitable.

The arrival of big data has changed the game again.

The age of segmentation is over and the age of personalization is here. Consumers no longer respond to ads targeted for the 35-50 married suburban segment. They expect ads relevant to their individual, immediate needs and their rapidly changing lifestyles. Direct marketers, using the power of big data from social, mobile, and local sites, can now deliver that kind of pinpoint targeting on a massive scale.

Judith Hurwitz, from emerging technology research firm Hurwitz & Associates, summed it up best. Small businesses are no longer looking at database reports of last years sales figures. Big data now allows them to:

“make use of all the information relevant to the business—sales data, chatter on social networking sites, information from partners and suppliers, as well as publicly available data. Understanding all this information can mean the difference between anticipating an issue before it can derail sales and explaining why you missed your sales target.”

As processing speeds increase, storage gets cheaper, and the broadband pipe gets wider, marketers will be able to identify global trends fast enough to get on board (and even predict) consumer behavior with assurance.

That's going to be big.

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