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The Big Data Firehose

HBR Article Claims Marketers are Flunking Big Data Test

I saw an unfortunate piece on the Harvard Business Review website the other day that allleged that marketers are "flunking" the Big Data test. The article pointed to a survey that said 89% of marketers surveyed at Fortune 1000 companies use Big Data for only 11% of their customer-related decisions.

The article also made this amazing statement, completely unsupported by any data: "in today's volatile business environment, judgment built from past experience is increasingly unreliable." The article went on to cite "once-valid assumptions (such as) older consumers don't use Facebook or send text messages" that are now erroneous and can presumably sink the intrepid marketer as he or she ventures forth to serve customers.

I ask, who amongst us has ever thought Facebook was the province of the young? Hasn't it been common (and correct) wisdom for years that a large part of Facebook's success is based on parents and grandparents (you know, "old people") using digital cameras and Facebook as today's Polaroid?

Further, didn't a generation of Baby Boomer parents get cellphones for their tweens and teens precisely so they could text them at any time to try to keep tabs on them?

The HBR article sets up a strawman argument and a false dichotomy. The fact is, Big Data as defined today is still in its infancy. Many Big Data firehoses are so large that the software samples it, actually using only 5-10% of it. Other Big Data apps may be set to collect something that a marketing person sees of no value for a particular campaign: the old chestnut, GIGO rears its ugly head again.

Marketing departments, particularly at large-volume, consumer-oriented companies (eg food and drink, clothing, retail) have been the most voracious consumers of data and statistics on the planet for generations now. But they like to see valid data. They like to see useful data. They're not fans of a firehose loose on the floor.

Big Data is just not mature enough to meet these needs consistently. It's not a matter of the smart person using data analytics and the stupid person using "gut feeling." It's a matter of all marketers using Big Data where it seems to be most relevant. And today, that's apparently true in 11% of their decisions.

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More Stories By Roger Strukhoff

Roger Strukhoff is Executive Director of the Tau Institute for Global ICT Studies, (@TauDir), with offices in Illinois and Manila. He is also a writer & editor for SYS-CON Media. He writes for Cloud Computing Journal & Computerworld Philippines. He is Conference Chair of WebRTC Summit and Things Expo. He has a BA from Knox College, Certificate in Tech Writing from UC-Berkeley, and MBA studies at CSU-East Bay. He serves on the board of the Campbell Center for Historic Preservation Studies, and has served as Director, U.S. Coast Guard Aux Int'l Affairs.