big data in marketing

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So what’s up in marketing strategy these days? Two words: BIG DATA. I’m okay around big data but am much more facile around LITTLE DATA. I use data often in planning: sales, margins, target penetration, adds, moves and deletes but I loves me some little data. Info that  resides between consumers’ ears. What they say they like. What they don’t say they like. What they dislike and why. And, of course, the culture into which products and services fits. This is the softer side of planning.

My two previous posts were about “proof.” One might think that proof, evidence and tangibles are not the softer side. Sometimes they’re not. But honestly, new unexpected proofs can be found while delving into the softer side. Contrary, market-busting proofs.

mike piazza blond

There was a cultural moment 15 years ago when the Mets Mike Piazza stepped out of the dugout with blond hair — giving permission to 100 million American men to color their hair — effectively doubling the size of the hair color market. That was a softer side or little data proof. Something that could have made a big data woosh had it overcame cultural stasis. It did not happen and here the hair color market sits.

Don’t overlook the itty bitty data club. As Yogi might have said, it’s big.




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Readers know my branding equation has three variables: claim, proof planks and proof points. The Affordable Care Act has one primary goal: improve patient outcomes. The big honkin’ goal is to make America less sick. If it works, the cost of care will go down. America spends $18-19 of every $100 on healthcare. If we prevent disease we can cut that number substantially.

We are in year 2 of implementation of the Affordable Care Act and the CMS (Center for Medicare Services) and most other number-gatherers are hard-pressed to find evidence of improved population health. We have lots of claim little proof. I understand big data takes time, but frankly, I think we’re not looking hard enough.

Rather than spend hundreds of millions on web site usability, call centers, systems integrators and community outreach, can’t we cut off a piece of that pie and hire 100 data analysts whose sole mission is to quantify health improvements in communities with improved health services?

As more patients have access to physicians and more patients are educated in ways to prevent high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease the numbers will improve. Daily. We just have to turn loose some data nerds. The data is there – it’s probably at Aetna, Blue Cross and United Healthcare – we just have to find it. And publish it. And celebrate it.

We have the claim right, now it’s proof time. Peace.


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Big data is everywhere. The top three areas I’ve seen it taking hold are: education, healthcare and marketing. On the marketing side, IT budgets used to be the provenance of the LAN, WAN, hardware and software guys. Now that money is controlled by the marketing peeps. (What good are wires and iron, if you can’t do something smart with them?) As for education, we’re on the cusp of using data to better learn how to learn. Or teach, i.e., individualized lesson plans based upon a student’s learning style or where s/he is on the learning curve. Once we figure this out, thanks to data driven assessment and some smart pedagogy, we’re on our way.

But nowhere is big data to be more impactful than it will be in healthcare. EHRs (electronic health records) also known as ISIL, I mean, EMRs (electronic medical records), are the next big platform battle. As is the case in free enterprise societies, new technologies often develop sloppily. That is, without a clear cut winner to start, the market is like a burlap bag full of cats. In my area of NY, there are 30 electronic health records companies serving physicians, hospitals and labs – very few of which speak to one another. It’s messy. And with the Affordable Care Act facilitating the need for EHRs, the battle is only now starting to occur in earnest.

Data done well will turn all doctors into good doctors. (Question: Do you know what they call a physician with a C average who graduates med school? Answer: Doctor.)  Big data in healthcare has the ability to make healthcare in America the envy of other nations. Right now it is not. These are exciting times and when the politics wear off, we’ll start to really see some wonderful outcomes. Great docs and great data will make for great patients. And that’s a home run. Peace.



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I once ran a promotion for ZDNet where we asked readers to write short essays as to why they were techies. The prize was a swim with porpoises in the Florida keys. We received over 35,000 responses. “Oh boy, now what are we gonna do?”  That’s a lot of reading. How would we scale? ZDNet had to hire temps to be judges. Unexpected expense there. I was talking to someone recently about a similar project and their approach was to build a reading/grading algorithm. At least to winnow the thousands to hundreds.

I guess you teach the algo some rules (like what?) and let it do its thing. It’s sad actually. When we use social media monitoring to gauge sentiment, that’s also algo-driven. And frankly, that’s not social.

I likes me some big data, no doubt. But when I drill into the big data I’m looking for humanity. The open ended question section of quantitative is a favorite. It’s where subjects, after checking boxes, get so fed up they want to blow out the important insights. It’s where they expect you to listen.

Marketing at scale has to have its eye on the sea of humanity, not the statistics alone. Right Mr. Spock? Peace.


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data nerd

When hired as director of marketing at a company selling interactive whiteboards and professional development to the K12 education sector, I was very excited to build a department for the new digital economy. We already had digital peeps: a coder, a manager, an applications developer, all of whom were smart and proficient.  Also, they were excited to learn how to use the web for marketing good.  

One of the things I wanted to introduce to the department was a data nerd. It was in my plans but not a top priority — not until I got the brand plan right. And not until I had begun the process of enculturating the company (and especially the marketing and creative dept.) with the strategy.  The company, BTW, had over 100,000 records of past customers, with which it was doing nothing. The records were in various forms: paper, Excel, SharePoint, and a few other databases. This was an asset I’d seen at very few companies of this size. The nerd, was to be the cherry on the sundae.  Didn’t happen, my failure, and the company suffered. 

My first data nerd was a grandfatherly scholar at a huge health system. He was the “insight” that drove the brand strategy. He once told me in the catchment area surrounding one of the system’s more up-market hospitals, 50% of the woman gave birth via C-section. Come se convenience?  There was little this dude didn’t or couldn’t know. And he is still killing it 15 years later.

All big dog marketers get the data nerd concept.  When SMBs get it and invest in it, there will be an amazing whoosh in marketing effectiveness. Now, wash your hands an make me another 2 for 1 Tweet.



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A couple, two, tree years ago I predicted the trivestiture of Google. It will still happen but perhaps not for the reason I initially thought. One of the businesses that will spin off will be an analytics business. The more the cloud powers the world, the more data actions are recorded. And I’m not just talking about purchases, I’m thinking mobile apps, geo-location, word capture in texts, searches, likes, LOLs, picture tags, etc.

Big data allows a lot of this now, we just don’t have the tools to use that data. HubSpot is a dashboard company that offers rudimentary analytics, but they don’t do much more than offer reports.  One of my first big clients AT&T once told me, “It’s not enough to capture data, you need to do something smart with it.” Google has the scientists, computing power and cash to use consumer and business data to predict purchase behavior. A data action seen in the cloud such as the search for new Netspresso machines for the office can indicate small business growth. Predictors of commerce is a business.

When an entire industry has grown up with a .250 batting average – that industry being advertising – the time has come for a marketing tool with a bit more clarity and exactitude.  That marketing tool is data-based. And it’s in Google’s sweet spot.  Unless Amazon beats them to the punch. You think Google makes money on advertising now, you just wait. Peace.

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In AOL Chairman Tim Armstrong’s earnings call yesterday, he spoke of “One insertion order, all screens” which is an awfully bold idea.  Continuity focused media planners aside, creating an ad and promotion that is arrayed across a number of media screen and types (not all media is screen-based) offers a media lab that will be tres helpful to marketers.

When advertising doesn’t work, who do we blame?  “When the phone don’t ring,” the country song goes, “it’ll be me.”  But with a number of ads in different media situations performing and measured by big data analytics, marketers have something tangible to work with. They won’t just be looking at the voids.

Let me vamp here. Say you go to AOL and buy 2 million impressions – all at a blended CPM rate.  Some or on Huff Post, others on local editions of Patch, more on a video channel or mobile site.  Perhaps a TV component or podcast.  Measuring and managing that activity, by media, offer, and message will be cool dashboard stuff.  Then overlay some demographic data on the performance and you have veritable marketing fun house. Of course there will be some mess, but big gains usually start messy. Como se the Affordable Healthcare Act? Peace.

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