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If you’re like most marketers who don’t work at gigantic global corporations, you look at big data like a glamorous garment in a store window: enviously.

You look at what Facebook , Amazon , Target and your credit card company do with your data -- the personalized services, the product suggestions, the targeted marketing -- and you wonder why you can’t do the same thing for your business. As a  Columbia Business School report last spring showed , marketers believe in the value of big data, but aren't confident in their ability to capture it.

That's crazy! Marketers ... get over your envy, get over your fear, and dive in to big data! Not everybody needs to hire the armies of Ph.D statisticians that companies like Target and Facebook employ, because marketing software has evolved to the point where you don't need Ph.D statisticians to do optimized, personalized marketing at scale.

What’s the Big Deal With Big Data?

First, let's clear up what exactly big data is for anyone not in the know. Big data simply refers to data sets that are so large and complex, they become unwieldy to work with using the tools most marketers have at their disposal. But if big data is so, well, big , what value is there in it for marketers?

Big data promises to make everybody -- buyers and marketers -- better off. It enables optimized and personalized marketing, which means marketing that's more useful to buyers and more efficient for marketers.

And it's increasingly clear that the promise will be fulfilled. You can see the improvements for buyers and marketers in the stories of the companies like Tufts Medicare Preferred and Thermo Fisher Scientific , where increased personalization and optimization of the marketing process led to significant lead growth.

Why is this happening? A generation ago -- when we had three tv stations, read one newspaper, and used a phone plugged into the wall -- Tufts and Thermo Fisher would have bought access to a broad audience and broadcast a generic message. For companies, that was an expensive approach that didn’t produce good results. And for buyers, it was just annoying.

Today, not only do we have endless channels, apps, and websites, but they give companies and customers the opportunity to collect data about each other. Companies know their customers and prospects better, so instead of sending general messages that mean nothing to anyone, they can provide useful, targeted messages to smaller, more segmented groups of people -- and they can optimize the whole process, too.

Five Ways to Take Advantage of Big Data

How can you start taking advantage of big data in your business? Turns out you don't need to dive into a sprawling enterprise consulting project that will cost you hundreds of thousands of dollars.  If you're using a marketing software tool like HubSpot, you can build an optimized, personalized marketing process on your own. Here are five specific steps you should begin with:

1) Make A/B Testing a Part of Your Weekly Routine - Everybody’s heard of A/B testing , and everybody knows it’s a good thing, but who does it on a regular basis? If you aren’t doing A/B testing, you aren’t optimizing your basic marketing processes like email marketing sends and calls-to-action. So how can you expect to do more sophisticated data gymnastics?

2) Personalize Your Emails - In this day and age there’s no excuse for avoiding personalization where it’s appropriate. Set up a form to collect data from your prospects, then use the data you’ve collected to populate the appropriate values in your emails. Even if it’s just the salutation, it changes the email from a blasted billboard to a personalized message. And if personalization is too much of struggle, you should look for different email marketing software . To get you started, we wrote a blog post that gives you tons of ideas for email personalization .

3) Get Sophisticated About Segmentation - If your marketing process involves sending email, it should involve list segmentation . Sending a single blast email to your whole list is like running an ad on the nightly news circa 1965. You reach a broad audience with a general message and marginal returns, and the message isn’t that useful to the recipients. Instead, improve your returns -- aka your open and click-through rate -- by customizing the message and the offer for specific groups.

4) Create Content Informed by Keyword Research - SEO is still a critical piece of a robust sales and marketing funnel. Don't simply guess which keywords will be most effective and drive the most traffic. Instead, collect data and use it to optimize your content creation . Do you know which keywords drive the highest value traffic to your site? Do you know how you (and your competitors) rank for those keywords? If you want an optimized, personalized marketing process, you need to find out.

5) Optimize Your Funnel With Closed Loop Reporting - Many marketers pick their marketing mix (e.g., how much SEO versus how much social media ) by pure intuition. Don't do that. Set up a closed-loop marketing process , then use it to determine which channels are most productive for your business so you can optimize your marketing mix.

All these steps are fairly straight forward -- but that’s exactly the point. You don't need to get too fancy to begin seeing some serious of the benefits of big data. You just have to have the right process, and not be afraid to dive in!

Are you utilizing big data in your marketing?

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Originally published Jun 29, 2012 1:00:00 PM, updated October 20 2016


Data-Driven Marketing