August 31, 2014

Going Deep With Big Data

(The first in a series on next generation behavioral analytics)

“Accustom yourself to attend to what is said by another; try to inhabit the speaker’s mind.” ~ Marcus Aurelius

The old saying, “know your audience” has never been more important or taken on deeper meaning. And that knowledge has never been more accessible than it is now.


hat was once an “Information Superhighway” that turned into an “Internet of Things” has rapidly evolved into a “Global Digital Ecosystem”. To suggest this evolution has caused a paradigm shift is to understate its impact. And the radical shift has many, particularly those concerned with consumer engagement, scrambling to find effective business strategies.

Consumers now have a voice that echoes loudly throughout the digital ecosystem and extends well beyond their product choice (i.e., their wallets). Consumers’ voices are heard in what they read, what they play, what they skip, what they click, what they pick, and most tellingly with what they produce, publish, and share – content.

Did you know: According to Eric Solomon, Head of Brand Strategy at Google/YouTube, in any given minute, YouTube content consumes 20% of the Internet’s bandwidth.

Under the right microscope (i.e., next-generation behavioral analytics), the massive amount of consumer-generated content in the form of video, audio, photos, and endless written commentary – not to mention clicks, skips, and picks – is ripe with behavioral markers. Individual character traits, psychosocial and intellectual tendencies, habits, and other relevant attributes can be gleaned by connecting dots previously hidden deep in the growing digital ecosystem and allow us to go deep with big data.

A Bit on Big Data

Organizations of all types and sizes struggle to survive and thrive amidst the deluge of data created by the rapidly expanding global digital ecosystem. The data explosion has been loud and has jolted business leaders to the realization that data is a valuable asset. Data management is no longer relegated to the corners of IT shops. Data management strategy now receives the same type of attention traditionally reserved for business operations, technology, finance, and marketing. In fact, many organizations have appointed Chief Data Officers to better leverage data as a corporate asset with strategic and tangible value.

[ Related: Should data be on your balance sheet ]

Recognizing the potential for data to deliver tangible value is certainly an important first step. Extracting value embedded in the data, particularly unstructured data (e.g., video, audio, narrative text) is hard work. And those that can dig deeply into the mountain of data and extract greater value are rewarded with a clear competitive advantage. It’s really the quality, efficiency and sophistication of the data analysis (i.e., data value extraction process) that provides the basis upon which organizations can rest their data asset valuation logic. In short, data (big, small, and everything in-between) only becomes valuable when analysis transforms it to useful information and insight. The greatest value of the data can only found by going deep.

Big Data: Key to Consumer Engagement

Chief Marketing Officers are under tremendous pressure to rapidly embrace the data explosion. As creative types, it is natural for CMOs and their teams to look at the global digital ecosystem and focus on creating new content that will stand out against a backdrop of nothing but content. The harsh reality facing those challenged to engage consumers is that simply generating more content (noise) is a bit like spitting into the ocean.

Perhaps more than any other member of the C-Suite, Chief Marketing Officers are increasingly under pressure to rapidly evolve with the global digital ecosystem.

Developing a successful consumer engagement strategy in this new paradigm demands a far deeper understanding of consumer behavior. Marketing professionals must, as the opening Marcus Aurelius quote suggests, “inhabit the [consumer’s] mind”, which is to say achieve a level of empathy thereby creating a more intimate relationship – walk in the consumer’s shoes. It’s no longer about the most creative; it’s about the most insightful (empathy-driven marketing). It’s about understanding behavior – deeply.

Behavioral Analytics At The Waterline

The current generation of behavioral analytics is what I call “behavioral analytics at the waterline”. It’s deployed to assess consumer clicks, skips, and picks to provide insight into the general likes and dislikes of plugged-in, tech-savvy, information-overloaded consumers. According to Techopedia, current generation behavioral analytics,

…take business analytics’ broad focus and narrows it down, which allows one to take what seem to be unrelated data points and then extrapolate, determine errors, and predict future trends. All of this is done through data exhaust that has been generated by users.

It uses user data captured by analytics platforms such as Google Analytics while the web application, website or game is being used. The data being recorded are user trails such as clicks, navigation paths, purchasing decisions, and viewed advertisements.

This type of behavioral analytics is undeniably valuable. It offers critical information and decision support for many organizations. It informs online marketing and advertising strategies, as well as social media, public relations, and communications decisions. While the insight gained from such analysis is valuable, it’s limited. It is derived from a narrow set of consumer actions and choices (i.e., people interacting online in very specific contexts), and thus falls short of enabling businesses to truly know consumers.

Those CMOs (and their organizations) that wish to not only survive, but thrive should consider the next-generation of behavioral analytics – what I call behavioral analytics under the waterline.

Embedded in the seemingly incomprehensible noise of 2.5 quintillion bytes of daily digital chatter are signals of insight. In the world of big data, favor is given to the listener over the chatterer.

Behavioral Analytics Under The Waterline

Our understanding of what fuels consumer (human) behavior is changing, particularly as the disciplines of psychology, sociology, neuroscience and economics merge to better understand why people act and behave as they do – essentially, how consumers choose. Next-generation behavioral analytics applies various and sophisticated behavioral models of all types against structured and unstructured data using cost-effective, high capacity computational resources to uncover character traits, psychosocial and intellectual tendencies, habits, and other relevant attributes that help illuminate the true nature of individual consumer behavior.

[ Related: EBay Is Running It’s Own Sociology Experiments ]

Consumers plugged into the digital ecosystem don’t just engage in ready-made web applications, websites, and games. They don’t just click to shop. They create, publish, comment, post, direct, and produce content in virtually every digitizable medium and on a massive scale.

Embedded in all this data, deeply buried in places that businesses have yet to search is valuable insight regarding the true drivers of individual consumer behavior. Armed with such insight, consumer engagement strategies can be crafted to more closely align with individual consumer tendencies.

It’s one thing to know what consumers do (click, skip, and pick), and extrapolate from such information to form a strategy. It is an entirely different and far deeper and more valuable type of knowledge to truly know why individual consumers choose as they do.

For example, is an individual more likely to understand, appreciate, recall, and engage in metaphor or analogy, humor or seriousness, nuance or sharp distinction? Consider sarcasm. Some of the most creatively genius marketing strategies rest on sarcasm. But sarcasm might well be lost on – or simply not appreciated by – those that show a strong tendency to hyper-logical and literal thinking and perception. In an environment where engaging individual consumers is fully supported by the growing digital ecosystem, genius invisible to a consumer, no matter how great, is an opportunity lost.

The answer to why consumers choose as they do illuminates a direct path forward not to a broad market but to each consumer that comprises the market. It is this type of insight – deep and individualized – that allows us to truly listen, and to paraphrase Marcus Aurelius, attend to what is said by each consumer so that we may inhabit their minds.

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