Sales and Marketing Software

Does Big Data Present Risks for Marketing?

Does Big Data Present Risks for Marketing?

By Bob Johnson, VP & Principal Analyst

Yes, big data absolutely does pose a risk for marketing. So, before you run headlong into teaming with new, “spatially-centered” data analysts or scientists, or invest in new processes and tools maybe you should sit yourself down for a reality check.

This is one shiny thing in the corner that does grow brighter, but will burn some organizations. Because while transactional data is captured and often used to present new promotional offerings or related products in the B2C space. In the B2B space, prospect pursuit becomes much more complicated as you try to modify your approach - not just your offer - based on the activities and personas of individual buying team members.

I am no big data expert, but I have seen how data has been used in hundreds of demand generation, content creation, sales enablement, and brand building exercises. And this raises concerns around how we can really use big data and to what degree marketing can rely on it.

Big data uses both structured and unstructured data to discern patterns, trends and gain insights you would not otherwise have. My real issue is in the unstructured data coming from social media in particular. Structured data has been collected for a long time and we’ve learned and then refined what we gather, so it has certain safeguards in place that strive for accuracy and reliability. That can’t be said for unstructured data, such as information from social media conversations or interactions. What is said, how it is posed and how accurately it reflects real behavior is often suspect (everyone has an agenda).

This means as we use various search, monitoring, and analysis tools, what we gather raises questions:


  • ROI: Many of us gather what we can from these new mediums and are unable to correlate that to revenue. So not only is what we gather limited, but we tend to put too much weight on it in terms of cause and effect. How many of the social media metrics you have can you directly relate to the increased likelihood to recommend, consider, purchase or renew? Most likely not many, and the ability to make more direct correlations is something we must improve upon.
  • Importance: We also don’t understand the relative importance, in terms of buying impact or interest intensity from the metrics we do collect. And worse we collect what we can, not what we should, an issue that tools are rapidly working to improve upon.
  • Reactive: The unstructured data we gather tends to be somewhat random and reactive. We have to build better ways to proactively pursue it and that means we must know where to look. But even if we do that, we struggle to get the full picture or a balanced picture of what is really going on.

So given the accuracy and reliability of unstructured data coming from social mediums, are you willing to bet your strategy on it and adjust what you do in mid-stream? I suggest not, for the time being when it comes to overall strategic planning unstructured big data should be viewed simply as another data point, an arrow in the quiver as marketing seeks to understand and drive informed decisions about target audience tendencies and competitive realities.


As you see these new sources of big data insight go through a few questions to make sure you don’t get hurt by the decisions you make.

  • How are we insuring that the unstructured information gathered is reflected of the broader market place?
  • What safeguards do we have in place to clean the information and check it for accuracy through the analytics we use?
  • What degree of importance or weight should we place on unstructured big data insights relative to our more traditional sources of customer and market information?
  • Where can big data best fill in gaps in understanding, insight and action?
  • How can we improve the reliability and confidence in unstructured data to move beyond using it for response to individuals and extend it to more effective strategic planning?

All this just goes to show the risk that big data poses to marketing departments if it is not treated with caution. What are your experiences of unstructured data?


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Bob Johnson

VP & Principal Analyst, IDG Connect

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