Can Big Data exist with The Big Idea?

The term “big data” has become quite  prevalent in the marketing world lately. In a previous article, we examined the notion of big data and how it pertains to how brands and agencies work today. We started with a simple definition of big data.

In our marketing world, big data describes the plethora of information we have accumulated through the monitoring of consumers as they browse, socialize, search and purchase online. Every time a person visits a website, a cookie is dropped within their browser. Every time a person responds to a call-to-action from a landing page, data from the form they filled out is captured.

How marketers can benefit from big data

That’s just a small example of big data’s makeup. Dan Zarrella, HubSpot’s social media scientist, told me a little bit more about the kinds of data that are important to marketers and agencies – and how marketers and agencies should be using that data.

“A good marketer should have pre-campaign data and post-campaign data,” Zarrella said. “Pre-data is data about your target audience from observational studies or surveys. What are they reading, what are they retweeting? What do they love about products like yours, what do they dislike about them?”

Zarrella then spoke to the kinds of things marketers and agencies can measure using big data saying, “Once you actually start doing marketing to that audience, you can measure all sorts of things, from straight ROI metrics to engagement style metrics like time-on-site or retweets-per-tweet or likes-per-post, etc. Though if I had to pick one and only one, it’s all about ROI. If it don’t make dollars, it don’t make sense.”

Too much reliance on big data can harm creativity

While big data (or any data for that matter) is, of course, important — especially data that helps evaluate ROI — there are some who believe marketers are beginning to rely too heavily on big data, using it almost as a crutch to avoid risk.

Amusement Park’s Jimmy Smith (who is a Branded Entertainment Juror for the Clios) is one such person. Recalling what TBWA Worldwide Chairman and Global Director Lee Clow told him about Apple’s Steve Jobs, Smith argues one of the biggest and most successful brands in the world never much relied on research to develop its ad campaigns.

Smith also argues the skills it takes to come up with a successful big idea can’t and never will be able to be quantified. Coming from a man who will judge Clios, this makes perfect sense. After all, the Clios, Cannes and most other advertising awards organizations don’t, for the most part, award on whether or not an ad was successful; they judge it based upon whether or not it was creative…many times for creative’s sake.

Now I’m not bashing the Clios or any other form of advertising awards because, in a sense, I agree with Smith. The availability and prevalence of data has made it very easy to test everything to death and without trusting our gut instinct. In a sense, it’s killing creativity because when so many parameters are placed on the marketing and creative process, it becomes very difficult to, well, be creative.

Big data and big ideas: the middle ground

While some data wonks argue “being creative” is a waste of time and money when we have all this data to tell us what works and what doesn’t, data has never been good at representing subjectivity and that’s exactly what creativity is – a subjective representation of an idea that aims to connect with an audience.

I think big data and the big idea can and should live side by side. We have a plethora of data at our fingertips and, properly harnessed, it can very positively impact the outcome of a brand’s marketing program. However, while big data can support our gut, we should never allow big data to control our gut.

Post by Steve Hall

Steve Hall is a marketing professional, publisher, writer, community manager, photographer and all-around lover of advertising. Steve has held management positions in media and account service at Leo Burnett, Starcom/Mediavest and others, working on such accounts as Reebok, Marriott, and Marshmallow Fluff.