Everyone’s talking about Big Data these days, and it has marketers buzzing with anticipation. In fact, data proliferation is expected to grow from 130 exabytes to 40,000 exabytes by 2020. But what does that really mean for the average business? What’s an “exabyte,” anyway? Well, an exabyte is one quintillion bytes, or one billion gigabytes. I don’t know about you, but millions and billions of anything are hard enough to grasp, much less quintillions.
So while the concept of gathering all this Big Data sounds really enticing, the fact of the matter is that in order to be useful at all, data must be analyzed in order to make sense. And the more you have, the more efficiently it needs to be analyzed. For most small businesses, that’s a tall order for their existing IT systems. Even enterprise companies are hard pressed to parse all that data into manageable, useful information that can be used to make marketing decisions.
While there are automation processes being invented to parse this information as we speak, I think we shouldn’t overlook the power of something much simpler to gather and put to work-Relationship Data.
What do I mean by Relationship Data? Simply put, it’s the communication feedback we receive from one-on-one communications or small groups. The questions you ask your customers, the idea exchange from focus groups, conversations on social channels-even things you overhear while standing in line at the grocery store.
Huge marketing breakthroughs have been conceived just by batting an idea around in small groups. Something catches the ear, the germ of an idea blossoms in a creative environment, and presto-a killer tagline emerges that resonates so well with the target market that it explodes. For example, consider Nike’s “Just Do It,” or Coke’s “It’s the Real Thing.” These ideas weren’t parsed from quintillions of bytes of data. They came from human-to-human idea sharing.
To me the hype surrounding Big Data is similar to what happened with mass advertising, which made marketers lazy. “Hey, I can blast my message out to billions of people at a time now!” So they stopped concentrating on individual relationships and paid more attention to broad demographics. But look what happened to big advertising-it eventually was priced out of the realm of most businesses. Only the big guns could afford to use it, and when social media came along the whole dynamic changed. We went back to individual, one-on-one conversation, but on a huge scale.
So my advice to brands is not to get seduced by the lure of Big Data and ignore the power of Relationship Data. Want to find out how people really feel about your product or a particular service? Just ask them. We’re so much more connected today that we have many more opportunities for developing relationships. And if we concentrate our efforts on building and expanding those relationships, they’ll help us glean priceless information about how our prospects and customers feel about our products and services.
But it’s not just prospect and customer relationships that help us-it’s also the relationships we build with peers, industry experts and potential joint venture partners. Those are human connections, too, and can turn into a deep well of ideas that move us forward in business-but only if we spend time and energy in nurturing them. There’s no doubt that the management of big data will eventually produce actionable information that can be helpful.
But if I had to make a choice, my money would be on gathering Relationship Data first. It’s the solid foundation from which any business can grow and prosper, and it doesn’t require a huge investment in data warehouse management in order to be useful. Keep it simple and concentrate on relationships-they’ll deliver much higher returns.
Ted Rubin is the author of Return on Relationship™, The New Measure of Success, and the acting CMO of Brand Innovators.