If you don’t organize for it, BIG data just remains USELESS data!

by KURT FRENIER Senior Director Beverages, PepsiCo on APRIL 5, 2013

WOW. You can not believe the number of times I’ve heard the words “BIG DATA” in the last two weeks. It’s been a hot item for the past few years, but for some reason, at least in my social/professional circles, it has moved up the ranks, and is creeping in every sector, every business, every person. So, let’s tackle the number 1 buzz word in marketing and business today …

Let’s start with a confrontational question: Are you leveraging big data or drowning in the data pool? Or…are you just ignoring the issue?

What is big data?

<taken from wikipedia> Big data is a collection of data sets so large and complex that it becomes difficult to process using on-hand database management tools or traditional data processing applications. The challenges include capture, curation, storage, search, sharing, transfer, analysis.

It ain’t gonna stop!

Data is exploding -we all know it, we all see it. Here’s an interesting data point to prove the point: every month, 30 billion pieces of content are being shared on facebook. Wow! Try “handling” that. Twitter users send more than 600,000 tweets per hour. People own more mobile phones than they have toothbrushes -just sayin’! Data is increasing in volume (i.e. the amount of data), in velocity (speed of data -in and out), and invariety (range of data types and sources). The world’s technological per-capita capacity to store information has roughly doubled every 40 months since the 1980s! Cisco announced that data will grow 10-fold by 2016. Google Chairman Eric Schmidt predicts that every two days now, we create as much data as has been created from the dawn of human civilization until 2003! Decoding the human genome originally took 10 years to process; now it can be achieved in less than one week.  The average person processes more data in a single day than a person did in a lifetime in the 1500s! And you can go on and on and on. During the World Economic Forum in 2012 is was agreed amongst leaders in the world that “Data is a new class of economic asset, like currency and gold.” On a more abstract level, the world’s relation with data/information is changing, and with that, the fabric of humanity will change as well -AMEN.

Land of opportunities

BIG DATA is nothing new. There has always been data, and there has always been a lot of data. Some sectors have been better at capturing big data than others though. But now, rather than the “mathematical approach” to things, I feel that the coin has flipped and focus has shifted to the opportunity side. A great move. Because leveraging big data can lead to fantastic opportunities for marketing:

# greater consumer understanding, faster and cheaper
# being more relevant
# real-time mkt
# ability build tighter brand communities
# greater retention and loyalty
# greater efficiency
# more profitable advertising
# eCommerce

How the hell do I get started?

The trick nowadays is figuring out how to capture the data, how to analyse it, and how to deploy it efficiently to grow your business. Here’s a few pointers to start getting your head around it…

Understand the big data issue.
Understand the data sources that you have.
Understand what data can do for your business.
Figure out what matters. Not all data is valuable.
Get technology savvy.
Focus on turning data into transactions. Make it actionable!
Get close to your CTO.
Rally your marketing team around big data.
Put it on your CEO’s agenda.
Automate. To the max.
Take small steps. Don’t drown in the data ocean.
and … address the big ENABLER: get organized!

3 critical questions that you need to answer sooner rather than later:

– do you have a ‘big data strategy’?

– do you have the talent?

– do you have the tools?

Why all of this matters, in my opinion.

The key idea here is: COMPETITIVE ADVANTAGE. Every business is struggling with big data. Those who will figure it out fast will have an edge over their competitors. Reason enough to get started, I say.

Success stories exist already today


$444bn retail giant Walmart started using big data before the term was even remotely known in the industry. They organised their operating business around it; esp after setting up Walmart Labs, which was created after Walmart took over Kosmix in 2011. As an outcome, they now can reach customers, and friends of customers, who have mentioned something online to inform them about that exact product and include a discount -not bad. They are currently analysing over 100 million shopping cart  transactions per week. And some serious “magic” is coming out of that:  charcoal and tongs go alongside the barbecue grills, Tiny baggies go next to the pretzel boxes so Mom can pack snacks for the kids …and… customers who buy Barbie dolls have a 60% likelihood of buying one of three types of candy bars! That is data at work.


Amazon has an unbelievable mountain of data on its consumers. They can follow, interpret, and influence purchasing behaviour that it can mine from more than 150 million customers. Just think of the “you might like” suggestions you see when you land on your page. Amazon also uses Big Data to monitor, track and secure its 1.5 billion items in store that are laying around its 200 fulfillment centers around the world. Net net, Amazon moved away from an e-commerce player to a giant online player who offers much more than just products. In doing all that, they are given the consumer a sense of control. They focus on big data and are changing into a “big data company”.  Watch and learn, I would say!

Check out the BIG DATA BLOG of the Wall Street Journal: http://blogs.wsj.com/venturecapital/tag/big-data/ > lots of stories and best practices there.

Data remains data unless people make something of it!

Make no mistake. Even if you are all geared up, have your computers working at the speed of light, and analysis tools at the tip of your fingers, you will only be half done.  Data doesn’t get intelligent itself. Human interpretation remains the biggest final leap. And in my opinion, it is the forgotten element in the whole discussion. Data will show you what’s up, but people will have to tell you the why, and what to do with it!


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