Digital marketing insights for CMOs

Insight/ Strategic Planning

How To Rein In The Riches Of Big Data

by Steve Olenski
Contributing Writer

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It’s no secret that brands are being deluged by what one expert refers to as “a tsunami of data.”

“There is an inherent danger for companies, for sure,” Tim Suther, CMO of Acxiom, tells “I mean, just because they have all this data doesn’t mean they should use it. The best companies and brands will be those who do a better job of controlling the data.”

Indeed, what to do with all of this newfound data and information presents many challenges and pitfalls, Suther says. How much data are we talking about? According to a 2011 IBM study of more than 1,700 chief marketers worldwide, consumers now create as much information every two days as they did from the dawn of civilization to 2003.  

“I know full well the subject of Big Data and how to deal with this ‘tsunami’ is causing much angst among CMOs,” Suther says.

Of course, the data influx also brings along with it newfound intelligence that can benefit CMOs.   

“Look at how we analyze keywords,” says Julia Carcamo, vice president of brand marketing for Isle of Capri Casinos, which operates 15 casinos in the United States. “Today I can see which searches are generating sales for me. If I put that data stream into a warehouse with all this additional behavioral information, I can start judging my efforts against sales and behavior rather than just by sales alone.”

However, with this extra knowledge comes added responsibility. “The availability of this data can help me either make wise decisions or help me dig myself into a spot that I can't easily remove myself from,” Carcamo tells “I like to call it digging in the weeds. Data can only be as useful as you are thoughtful.”

Another added responsibility of Big Data comes in the form of “who”--as in who in a given organization will handle, control, and disseminate the information so it can best be used to increase the bottom line?

Many companies are looking to outside firms to manage their data needs. “We rely on outside suppliers with the technological capability and analytical know-how to provide guidance in a short enough time frame to act in a meaningful way,” says Denny Post, SVP and CMO of Red Robin, who is also cognizant of the possible trade-off. “We all keep outsourcers in business, but are we giving up a critical, potential point of competitive advantage in the process?”

Post likens the use of and need for third-party data vendors as a world where fantasy and reality never seem to be on the same page. “I've seen this movie many times in my career--our dreams outstrip our internal abilities, and we can never seem to catch up,” she tells

Mining For Big Data Gold
For search-engine marketers--those entrusted to mine for and find keywords that generate traffic, which, in turn, generates sales--the effect of Big Data has already been felt.  

“Big Data has been impacting search marketers for some time, especially on the ad side,” says Danny Sullivan, editor-in-Chief of Search Engine Land, in an interview with “They’re involved in auctions where prices are constantly changing, dealing with ads linked to listings that themselves might be constantly changing.”

However, Sullivan thinks the real test for search-engine marketers comes at the all-important point of sale. “I suspect where the real big data challenge for many of them remains is on the conversion side. After you’ve gained the visitor, you’re generating tons of data about how they found you, what they did on your site, did they convert, and so on.”

The perfect scenario for search-engine marketers, according to Sullivan, would be the development and implementation of an application that could provide advertisers with instant feedback and recommendations on how to use the data they’ve collected. “What you’d ideally want is an analysis tool that would make recommendations that could be implemented on your site with a push of a button. We’re a long way from that.”                                                                             

But even if there were such a tool, it’s doubtful many search-engine marketers would even use it, Say Sullivan: “I suspect that despite having tools that let us analyze the data, we still don’t have the time--or make the time.”

Safe, Sound, And Secure?
The collection of Big Data has profound privacy-policy implications. Scott Vernick, a partner at Philadelphia law firm of Fox Rothschild LLP, is concerned. “I never cease to be amazed at how many businesses don’t know what their organizations are doing when it comes to cybersecurity and data protection,” he tells “In fact, many don’t know what is in their privacy policy in the first place.”

In terms of what businesses and brands should do as the “tsunami of data” hits them, Vernick recommends each company start with the basics. “The first question a company needs to ask itself is, ‘What does our privacy policy say?’ he said.

From there it’s just more of the same kinds of basic, logical questions, according to Vernick, such as whether policies are written in such a way that an average consumer can understand it, and whether the companies are actually adhering to them and being up-front with people as to how they plan on using the data.

“It seems obvious, but companies still get into trouble because they’re not forthright and candid about what they’re doing with the information in the privacy policy itself,” Vernick adds.

And lest any CMO need proof as to the impact a privacy policy can have on their bottom lines, or proof that consumers are even reading them in the first place: Nearly half of 37,000 respondents in a survey by Forrester Research indicated they would not buy something from a given business if they came across something they did not like in that business’ privacy policy. 

The Choice Is Clear
Big Data presents a world of opportunities for brands, marketers, and advertisers. But what Acxiom’s Suther says bears repeating: “Just because they have all this data doesn’t mean they should use it.”

And should you decide to use it, beware. “You can collect and use this data broadly and hope you don't run afoul of an angry consumer with a lot of Twitter followers ready to destroy your brand with your own behavior,” says Forrester analyst Josh Bernoff. “Or you can adjust your policies based on this rising level of awareness. It's up to you.”