The Noodle

Making Data Sing

Breaking down the Vs of big data.

Birds on the wires.Who hasn’t seen a flock of birds perched together on a series of power lines?  It’s a common visual element in cluttered urban and suburban landscapes worldwide (that most of us don’t notice).

Reading a newspaper one morning, musician Jarbas Agnelli had a different perspective. He saw a photograph of birds sitting on five parallel wires and thought that it looked like a musical score. The birds’ relation to each other spread out on the five wires suggested chords and a melody to the composer, so he sat down at his piano to see what the melody might sound like. The resulting tune was featured in an award-winning YouTube video, Birds on the Wires, which has been viewed by nearly a million people worldwide, and in a popular Brazilian TED talk.

Similarly, many of today’s successful companies are hearing music in the vast and cluttered landscape of data, where others are just hearing noise. In a world where Google routinely captures a petabyte (1,000,000,000,000,000 bytes) of information every hour, it’s becoming more of a challenge to listen carefully and separate the music from the noise. Perspective, once again, is the key. “Think like a marketer, not like a techie,” says Donald Hinman, SVP with Epsilon Data Services. Often referred to as “Dr. Data,” Hinman has a Ph.D. in Mass Communication Research and is a 35-year veteran in the field of data.

“Before you dive into Big Data, you need to be clear about your objectives,” Hinman says. “Make sure you know what you want to achieve, and determine if data will enable you to do a better job. It’s more important to understand marketing than to understand Hadoop (standard computing platform written in Java). Narrow your focus by asking the questions a marketer would ask: who, where, what. Who is my customer, where do I find him and what does he need that I can provide?”

Eliminating the noise

By everyone’s measure, there is a loud crescendo cacophony of data circling the globe – more than we can effectively process in the foreseeable future. With the increased technical capability to gather and store data, the exploding amounts of data shared on the internet and faster processing times, you easily and quickly can collect vast amounts of structured statistical data (how many units purchased) and unstructured data (how those units were regarded) relating to your clients and potential clients.

You can readily determine the volume, velocity and variety of data, but the more important question, and the more difficult to determine, is, ‘What is the value of the data?

Donald Hinman, SVP, Epsilon Data Services

But just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Unfortunately, unimportant data seems to be growing much faster than relevant data and drowning it out. (Do you really need to know what your client had for dinner last night?) Hinman says that when assessing data, you must examine it in terms of The Four Vs (see “Breaking down the Vs of Big Data,” page XX).  “You can readily determine the volume, velocity and variety of data, but the more important question, and the more difficult to determine, is, ‘What is the value of the data? Is it worth looking at? What insights will it help you gain?’”

Fine-tuning

Dan Soschin, VP of marketing at Ultimate Medical Academy in Tampa, Fla., says that having a clear objective is instrumental to success. From his perspective, Big Data enables more personalization for marketers to create better user experiences for future and existing customers.

“This extends into all aspects of the customer lifecycle – advertising, acquisition, nurturing, selling, fulfillment, loyalty, and so on,” Soschin says. “More data points enable organizations to fine tune each of these experiences by better knowing their customers.”

Organizations can suffer from analysis paralysis when there is too much data. The solution is to first have a clear understanding of your objectives.

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As a marketer, I endeavor to understand first what my objective is, then how I will measure my campaigns against that objective before I ever launch the campaign.

Dan Soschin, VP of marketing, Ultimate Medical Academy

Organizations can suffer from analysis paralysis when there is too much data. The solution is to first have a clear understanding of your objectives. “As a marketer, I endeavor to understand first what my objective is, then how I will measure my campaigns against that objective before I ever launch the campaign,” Soschin says. “In other words, I would not run an advertisement or marketing campaign without first knowing what my goal is and how to measure the results against that goal.”

Staying tuned in

At American Public University, data is used for more than analyzing purchasing patterns and refining marketing programs. It uses data to stay in tune with their students from enrollment through graduation and beyond.

“We focus on the entire lifecycle of the student. We’re an online, data-driven university; we codify everything,” says Sebastian Diaz, AVP of Marketing Analytics and a former college professor of statistics. “What zip code students are from, how often they log on, when they log on – it all has value when it comes to ensuring the ongoing success of our students, and that has huge implications for us. We care about what happens to our students after they enroll, so we use predictive analytics to identify and address potential problems that may prevent student success. We are proactive. We target at-risk students and then provide those students the added support they need to graduate.”

The university’s endeavor to stay in tune with students has helped earn the school consistently high reviews and a No. 34 ranking on U.S. News’ “Best Online Bachelor’s Programs.”

Whether you need to fine-tune your marketing or stay more in tune with your clients, the right data used appropriately can transform meaningless prattle into a resounding melody. “All data is not necessarily useful,” Hinman says. “But data has the potential to help marketers make better decisions and faster decisions – you can react to changes in the marketplace much quicker than ever before. It gives marketers a good picture of what’s happened in the past, what’s happening right now, and if used optimally, it can give you great insights into what’s going to happen in the future.”

By Lorrie Bryan