Taming Big Data:
Five Steps to Alignment with Business Requirements
Copyright 2015 Faleiro, LLC. No reproduction without permission.

We live in the era of Big Data, a time when it is impossible to keep up with best practices and lessons learned without running into someone mentioning Big Data. If you are in any way involved with marketing or strategy, more than likely (and hopefully) you are somehow involved with data collection and interpretation. This is especially true with those involved in the world of digital strategy, a field that has led to this era of Big Data by the very nature of the amount of information that is possible to measure and collect through the digital realm. Everyone is applying techniques like SEO and SEM, and measuring effectiveness by looking at the analytics, from unique visits to time on a page. Reports are produced showing KPIs, whose results are passed onto Regional Vice Presidents, Global Brand Directors, Vice Presidents of Marketing, Sales, etc. And while we may relish in the amount of data being produced, and be content that we are following all the rules that we need to be following, the true question comes down to one of effectiveness. With all the tactics, and all the data, are we truly being effective in our ultimate goal: having our message reach our target audience in such a way that they are able to take an action based upon that information?

The unfortunate answer is that too many companies are overwhelmed with information, overworked meeting stakeholder requests, and not efficient at meeting, or even understanding, the true business requirements (mainly due to conflicting messages coming from marketing’s stakeholders). Luckily it is never too late to begin implementing best practices. The following five-step process is a general overview of a process that can help tame the chaotic environment of data, marketing, sales, and IT.

Big Data Q1As the Internet has evolved to become the dominant resource of information, consumers in both B2C and B2B sectors are spending more time researching products and services online before picking up the phone. The brand implications of this are serious (and will be covered in another post), but the data opportunities are staggering. Decision makers are conducting their own research. This means that in all likelihood, your target is at one point or another giving you the opportunity to communicate your message to them. This begs the question, are you being effective? Now the tendency is to pull out your raft of metrics and say: “if they searched for x term, there is a y% chance we appeared on the first page…” or, “we have B amount of unique visitors to our site every day from C regions…” Well that’s nice, but it didn’t answer the question. Data is only useful if you know how to use it. Data is only useful if you have developed a plan that integrates marketing goals into the management, tracking, and reporting of that data. Data is only effective if you start with the business requirements first.

The continually growing amount of tools and information available to us as marketers and strategic decision makers is like being a kid in a toy store. We get excited and think, “I need this” or “my competitor probably has that so I should get it”. Before you know it we have more toys than we know what to do with, we’re confused as to what it all means or how to use it, and the result is that rather than helping us to be more effective in growing our business, we have become overwhelmed to the point of paralysis by analysis.

1. Big Picture

All is not lost. Take a deep breath, take a step back and go back to the basics. At its very core, what we call marketing comes down to three fundamental elements: Business, Brand, and Customer. Start by understanding the needs of the business, and the objectives for your brand, region, product, functional area, etc. What do you want the relationship with your customers to be? What do you want your customers to do? Create some boundaries, and then determine the success measures for these boundaries. How does this fit with the company’s overarching growth strategy? What is the information that will help you determine these success measures? What is the information that will help the decision makers for the region, product, brand, and for the company understand where they are relative to where they want to go?

2. Marketing Alignment & Content Strategy

Once you have a handle on the overarching business questions, it is a good time to look at marketing fundamentals. You understand your business, your brand and your customers; this gives you a good foundation to bring into consistent alignment your marketing messaging and activities with your goals, focusing on each of these three fundamental elements. Look at your existing content. What type of content do you have? What is the messaging within each content type? Does your marketing messaging match your business objectives? Doing this will provide the basis for the development of a content strategy.

If the fundamental alignment is solid, then it is time to look at how the content is developed and distributed. Who owns the content? How is the information gathered to develop the content? What are the distribution channels? What is the flow between content ownership and distribution? How close to the customer are the owners? Do they understand the specific needs and how they may vary by customer type or geography? If you are an international company, this gets more complex as it is important to understand the needs of the specific target audiences. This is CRITICAL. Just because your widget may be used in the same way, the majority of the time the ranking of the reasons for making a purchase decision, if not the reasons themselves, will vary from geographic market to market.

Taking the time to conduct this high-level overview and alignment is not only important in terms of getting control of all your data, but it also helps with identifying key gaps or bottlenecks that may exist in your marketing / digital operations. Ultimately, this helps move a marketing organization from a constant state of being reactive to one that can now be proactive. This helps strengthen competitiveness, and builds barriers to entry.

3. What To Measure

Now it’s time to begin to develop KPIs. It is important not to go crazy – just because you can collect a certain metric does not mean you should. Your car may have cup holders in the back seat but that doesn’t mean you should use them while you are driving. Focus on what is important based upon the business needs. What information do you need? What would be most helpful? What can you measure over time that will help your team improve your product / service / delivery / brand image / competitive position? Look at the content strategy. What do owners need that will help them develop better content (again, particularly critical for companies operating in multiple geographies)? What are the distribution channels? What are the influencing channels?

A good way to start is to list all of your customer touch points. Once you have completely exhausted all your ideas, push yourself to list five more (trust me, they are there). Then, as before, take a step back. Look each of the points. Prioritize them. What is most important in terms of the business and the brand? Now you can ask the questions above and begin the process of developing the most valuable KPIs for your business needs.

4. How to Measure and How to Present

Big Data Q2By this point, you have a handle on the business requirements and marketing objectives, the fundamentals are solid, the content strategy is in place, and you have determined the data values that will help smarter decision-making. Now you can begin to look at data management and collection strategies. Of the KPIs you developed in the previous step, which ones can you collect? How are they going to be collected? How often will measurement take place? This is also a good time to look to see if you are missing any data points or if there are any marketing metrics had you not thought of prior to aligning business objectives, marketing goals and KPIs that would be useful.

Perhaps most importantly, especially for larger organizations, you should ask who is your audience for this data and how will this data be used? You may already have the answer to this from the previous steps, but make sure to then be able to answer the question of how will this data be reported in a meaningful way that can help you and your stakeholders make better business decisions. Do not forget about continual improvement. How will you develop lessons learned? Where can you set benchmarks? How often will these benchmarks be updated? How will you develop best practices?

5. Technology

Notice anything missing? Technology has not yet been mentioned. Without going into the constant battle between marketing and IT departments around the globe, ultimately the needs of the business are first and foremost. Once the business requirements and marketing requirements have been determined as outlined here, then is it finally appropriate to compare these requirements with the capabilities of various technology platforms. Assess what you already have. Does it meet the needs set above? If not, what does it provide and what doesn’t it provide? If a new investment needs to be made, what is the ROI and does the need justify the investment? If you are looking at making an investment, the first four steps above will have essentially written your statement of need. It will also help you when meeting with vendors who will try to sell you all types of bells and whistles. You are in a much stronger bargaining position by having developed a plan. It will also be much easier to justify significant investments to the CFO or the board.

Data for the sake of data is ineffective. That is not to say that data is not important. Quite the contrary, it most certainly is. The point is that in order to be an effective marketing organization, in order to have an effective digital strategy, it is important to make sure the business requirements drive the data process. The business, the brand, the customers are the starting point. If you are already swimming in a pool of acronyms and numbers, don’t worry you are not alone. A hefty percentage of companies we have come across are piling up data but don’t know what to do or how to use it. Take a step back, look at the big picture, and then begin to dive in, creating a plan that will help your organization be more effective, to turn from a reactive position to a proactive organization; and control and use the right data to help your company succeed in the era of Big Data.