Big Data: Revolutionising Marketing

Posted in Marketing & Strategy Articles, Total Reads: 1316 , Published on 20 February 2015

Big data refers to the prolific amount of data available today through the emergence of information technology; the techniques to harness this data for business use; and the benefits and challenges associated with the same. Marketing, which was earlier defined by marketers who imagined new ideas to capture the market, is being affected by big data. Big data offers immensely powerful tools to marketers, enabling them to increase their effectiveness and get more value for their money; but it also poses unique challenges that must be kept in mind by anyone looking to take advantage of its powerful tools.

Beating the flu

In 2009, the H1N1 flu was spreading rapidly across the US. Unfortunately, there was no vaccine available against this new threat. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was hoping to control the spread of the virus. However, their information gathering tools had a huge disadvantage: it resulted in a lag of around two weeks between the outbreak of flu in an area and its being recorded in the CDC servers. The organisation that actually predicted the outbreak of this flu in real-time was one which is not known for its medical prowess: Google. What Google made use of was its massive amount of stored data: keywords searched by its users. Using machine-learning techniques, they could, in real-time, predict where the flu was expected to spread.

This tech breakthrough has been revolutionising fields as far removed as medicine to marketing. In fact, Gartner suggests that the marketing departments of companies will soon be investing more in technologies like big data than the IT departments. The benefits that big data offers in terms of predictive analytics can enable a business to identify new customers, retain and better engage existing ones, launch more effective advertising campaigns and efficiently measure the impact of the campaigns.

Startups will perhaps benefit the most form big data techniques: they are nimble enough to adopt the new technologies and face the challenges posed. Uber is already using location intelligence as it expands across cities in different countries.


Big data: an offer you can’t refuse

Steve Jobs, the marketing genius, relied on his intuition and looked down on market research. And the products he launched undoubtedly had great market success. However, some of Apple’s products failed too. Big data provides tons of real time data to test a proposed idea before launching it into the market.

E-retailers like have long been using the power of Big data to provide recommendations to their customers through their “You might be interested in this” columns. These recommendations are generated from the search terms keyed in by the customers and their browsing history. These provide an excellent strategy to engage existing customers.

Instead of the traditional way of finding new customers by looking at group characteristics like age and geography, Big data offers marketers unprecedented access to individual preferences and characteristics, thus helping them identify potential customers.

The potential increases in advertising profits are immense. When marketers have access to the keywords searched by an individual, they can provide highly relevant and tailored advertising. For example, a customer who has been searching for “schools near Vastrapur, Ahmedabad” can be offered advertisements relevant to his/ her needs. Such one-to-one advertising will make marketing spend much more precise.

Measuring the success of advertising campaigns becomes possible through data gathered on clicks, conversions, impressions and social actions. By getting data on the number of clicks on the advertisement, and the corresponding purchases, marketers can evaluate which of their campaigns are effective and which are not giving value for money.

BloomReach, a firm that is backed by Bain Capital and Lightspeed Venture Partners, uses big data techniques to create solutions for increasing a website’s traffic, and for improving mobile web experience. It is poised to take the search engine optimization and the marketing industries by storm. Led by Raj De Datta, a former Director of Product Marketing at Cisco, and Ashutosh Garg, a former Chief Scientist for Google, BloomReach is on the verge of becoming the first $ 10 billion enterprise marketing company. BloomReach builds its products on the simple underlying principle of big data analytics: websites can do much better if they are able to connect people searching for a particular product/ experience with the sellers who provide that product/experience. And riding on the big data wave, they are all but ready to define a new genre of search engine optimisation, one based on the algorithms that make up big data analytics.


Privacy has become a major concern in the present day scenario. Using big data techniques for business purposes is inherent with potential risks of privacy infringement. Since the law and regulations vary in each country, it is advisable to be aware of the relevant laws, especially regarding personally identifiable information, such as that gathered from social networks.

Another challenge is that harnessing the power of big data requires specialised experts in the field of analytics. These experts often have backgrounds and mindsets different from other employees in the organisation. Given the demand for analytics experts, hiring and retaining talent in this field is itself a challenge.

Apart from these, a sophisticated technical infrastructure is obviously needed to efficiently use and derive benefit from the big data techniques. A lot of computing power and storage space might be needed to harness the power of big data analytics.

Is the future all about algorithms?

Big data makes marketing more about math than magic; science than art. Leo Burnett created magical marketing campaigns like the Marlboro Man and the Pillsbury Dough Boy through the power of intuition and “gut feel”. However, are algorithms now poised to replace the human element of marketing? Perhaps not in the sense of outright replacement.

Algorithms can provide superior insights into data, but they cannot replace human imagination. Thus the future of marketing will most likely be one of human imagination powered by algorithmic processing power. In the words of Scott Brinker, CEO of Ion Interactive, “big data makes it cheaper and easier to test concepts, but marketing is still about coming up with the big idea. Algorithms are great at optimization, but terrible at imagination.” Big data cannot yet come up with the next big idea; it can test a lot of ideas generated by marketers and suggest which one is most likely to capture the market.

This article has been authored by Aditya Kumar from IIM Ahmedabad


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4. Nberger, V., & Cukier, K. (2013). Big data: A revolution that will transform how we live, work, and think. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.


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