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How to Embrace Big Data and Use it to Grow Your Business

How to Embrace Big Data and Use it to Grow Your Business

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A recent survey of 362 executives conducted by The Economist Intelligence Unit found that three out of four surveyed agree that their staff struggle with data and cannot apply data effectively to their decisions.

Data-driven companies are likely to be more profitable than their competitors, and they are more likely to ensure that employees apply the most relevant data to the business activities that most affect the bottom line. Yet companies struggle with data for three reasons:  culture, organizational structure, and technology. Fortunately, these hurdles can be overcome and marketers can take specific steps to begin making better decisions.

The Culture Struggle 

The survey reveals an apparent disconnect between how chief executive officers see the current status and benefits of data initiatives and how lower-level managers see them.

It’s not that CEOs are out of touch, it’s that they’re not getting the real scoop. Each level of management filters out some of the bad information. When the problems get filtered out, CEOs expect marketers to do things they’re not able to do. They may think that applying analytics to marketing decision-making is easy and, therefore, can be done quickly. When the CEO thinks everything is okay, he’s not going to authorize additional funding to close a gap you know exists because he thinks you’ve already done it.

All of this makes it harder to weave data-driven marketing into the culture of the company.

What’s the solution? Tell your CEO the truth!

You can’t have a clear understanding of the situation if the data is wrong or the picture is incomplete.  If your organization is ready to be data-driven and your CEO and everyone on down supports it, then no one should have trouble with the facts. You shouldn’t have any trouble talking about problems like the system is not operating at the speed that is required or the data is not available. If you can’t talk about the problems, then you’re going to have trouble changing the culture as well.

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The Organizational Struggle  

There is little disagreement among those surveyed that they struggle with data because they lack access to that data they need and they lack the ability to convert that data into actionable insights. When it comes to capturing and disseminating important business data, 57 percent of the respondents believe their company does a poor job.

Too often, data are not shared across departments or broadly among staff focused on the same goals. Two-thirds of those surveyed agree that some departments have much better access to data than others.

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To use data to drive your marketing, identify the data you need and determine whether it is available elsewhere in your company. Often, valuable data sources are available, but not accessible.

The Technology Struggle 

One in three surveyed believes that the struggle with data is caused by a lack of technology. There’s a breadth of tools and variety of vendors and price-points and capabilities to choose from. What’s on the market can solve their problems, but only if they have it in place. If they have it in place, then they can focus on the other areas, like culture, and the organizational challenges that prevent sharing the information.

There are many user-friendly tools on the market that can analyze data, deliver customizable data feeds and dashboards, and visually present the data in clear terms. When marketers can see and understand the data clearly, they are more likely to ask the right questions and they become much better at conquering the ultimate challenge: extracting relevant insights from data and applying them to their business.

Even if your company lacks the ability to deliver information on iPads or other new platforms, presenting decision-making options and tracking performance of decisions help give data meaning and make it more likely that marketers will continue to engage and adopt a data-driven approach.

How to Overcome the Data Struggle 

Creating the data-driven organization is a three-stage process, say the experts who were interviewed for the report.  The ideal approach is for company leaders to share with employees a vision of cultivating a data-centric culture, and then to support that vision by funding the tools and talent. The third stage is to require, acknowledge and reward those who use data to make decisions.

However, few companies follow this idea approach. Most start at the bottom instead of at the top. Most companies focus on the technology and tools, then consider the expertise they need, and finally, work to instill a data-driven mindset across the organization. The survey showed that only one-quarter of the companies surveyed pay financial rewards to employees who use data to make decisions.

This is where marketing can lead the way, not only by adopting the data-driven mindset, but by communicating early successes across the organization and speaking out about the obstacles to greater success.

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Marketers without a data-centric background need to develop their skills. Those with the skills should foster a data-driven mindset in others by helping them understand analytics can help you fine-tune your gut instincts. Far from removing creativity and the personal touch, analytics enhances them. With data to analyze, you can test a broad range of ideas because if an idea flops, you know it and you can change direction quickly.

  1. Marketers without a data-centric background need to develop their skills. Those with the skills should foster a data-driven mindset in others by helping them understand analytics can help you fine-tune your gut instincts. Far from removing creativity and the personal touch, analytics enhances them. With data to analyze, you can test a broad range of ideas because if an idea flops, you know it and you can change direction quickly.
  1. Don’t be fooled by the need for big data analytics. Recognize that social media and other newer sources of data don’t change the fundamental process of data-driven decision-making. Every decision still starts with an understanding of the business problem, identifying the data available and transforming it for analysis, analyzing the data and deploying a course of action.
  1. Recognize that data analytics is easier than ever. With configurable tools and interfaces that enable sophisticated analysis, all you need is someone with the skills to set up the tools initially. Once that’s done, a broad range of people with no analytics training or know-how can make use of the results.
  1. Keep everyone moving toward better use of data. You can get some quick wins for instance, by using data to support A/B campaign testing, even if you don’t have a holistic and fully-integrated view of your customers based on their online and offline behaviors and preferences.
  1. Measure the results and reinforce the need to make decisions based on the data, rather than finding data to support decisions. An effective way encourage data-driven decisions is to make data use competitive and fun, and to link data use to the goals of the individual, not just the goals of the business.
  1. Compensation, performance incentives and indirect benefits are effective in encouraging employees to regularly use data. What’s more, 25% of executives at data-driven companies say their firms offer compensation and performance incentives to employees who embrace data, as compared with 17% of respondents from less data-focused companies.
  1. Investigate further. To understand more about how data-driven organizations function and drive superior financial performance, download the full report.

The bottom line is that data can be helpful to your career and your business — if you know how to embrace it. By incorporating some of the information outlined above, you’ll find that data can be a transformative part of your business experience.

Bill Franks is Chief Analytics Officer for Teradata.  Franks is also a faculty member of the International Institute for Analytics and author of Taming The Big Data Tidal Wave  and The Analytics Revolution. His work has spanned clients in a variety of industries for companies ranging in size from Fortune 100 companies to small non-profit organizations.  You can learn more at Bill-Franks.com.

 

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