We want to know what consumers are looking for, what their values are, and how can we meet their needs. It’s not just about Big Data; it’s about translating that into the truth.” — Gayle Fuguitt, President and CEO of the Advertising Research Foundation

Marketing leaders are using big data to get ahead. For example, the grocery giant Kroger attributes much of its growth (e.g., 43 consecutive quarters of growth at stores open at least 15 months) to its investment in UK-based dunnhumby, which helps Kroger analyze shopping data through its loyalty card. Using big data, Starbucks segments their loyalty customers before applying rules and targeted, individual offers. Citibank uses big data marketing analytics to determine which products and services (such as credit cards and savings accounts) to offer their customers. The list of success stories goes on and on.

Companies are learning that the most important ingredients in the recipe for big data results go well beyond technology. Here are 5 keys to getting the most out of your investments.

1. Begin with the end in mind

When done well, investments in the enterprise marketing stack should show clear ROI. And, the key to getting big ROI from big data marketing? Focusing on the insights and decisions that are desired.

Big data is not about the data or technology, but about the business decisions that the insights enable. The best approach to big data is business question or hypothesis-driven. Often the biggest challenge is to follow the 80-20 rule and identify the 20% of the data that provides the right insights.

2. Break down the silos

One of the greatest challenges with leveraging data for marketing is that so much of it is locked away in physical or organizational silos. One of the keys to big data marketing is integrating data from multiple channels, from multiple departments, and from outside sources, such as ad server and web analytics vendors. It is extremely difficult for marketers to get a comprehensive view of the consumer decision journey—or even how their campaigns are performing—when their data is so fragmented.

3. Invest in talent development/acquisition

Many companies fail to examine how far they have evolved their talent and how this impacts the types of marketing data and technology investments that are appropriate. There is a good analogy in car buying: smart car buyers don’t over-invest a Ferrari when a Mini Cooper will do. Because marketing has changed so much in such a short period of time, many in marketing are struggling to catch up. Those who rose through the ranks of traditional marketing are now faced with the need to develop very different skills and mindsets.

Consider the importance of data and analytics in marketing today. Companies that invest in new analytics platforms but fail to develop their marketing talent struggle to achieve the intended results. This may not necessarily be because they’ve over-invested in technology. It may simply be because they have underinvested in developing their talent or bringing in new talent. Given the pace of change in marketing, the marketing department should have some of the highest levels of investment in professional development anywhere in the organization.

4. Build cross-functional, efficient digital marketing processes

It is unfortunately common to find companies with new technologies and old business processes. Are marketing and IT still struggling to agree on the best interaction model? Are business processes taking longer to complete than needed? Are the handoffs between marketing and sales inconsistent? Is marketing optimized for agile, fast-iteration approaches?

All of these may be signs that investments in optimizing business processes haven’t kept pace with investments in marketing technology and big data. Optimized processes lead to better working relationships between marketing and IT and marketing and sales, happier employees, and rapid cycle times.

5. Make sure Marketing is in the driver’s seat.

Finally, make sure that Marketing is front and center—understanding and driving the marketing big data environment—from data to insights to decisions. The IT department is a critical enabler of big data marketing. However, the role of IT should be to manage and provide the technology capability. How that capability gets used must be in the hands of marketers. When this is not the case, it indicates that technology investments have gotten ahead of organizational readiness.

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