What is Big Data? It’s All About ‘Individual Actionability’


ADOTAS — There’s been a lot written lately about what Big Data means.  Some have linked the concept to data volumes (even though there have always been huge data sets) while others have suggested it describes a less-structured storage approach (even though there have always been more flexible data models). Still others talk about Big Data as multiple, parallel indexing capabilities (okay, only the really geeky talk about that).  To me, Big Data is all about “Individual Actionability.”  I get that that’s a mouthful.  But here’s what I mean.

I live in the East Bay, my favorite region in the Bay Area, and I always shop at Diablo Foods in Lafayette.  Why?  Its aisles are so narrow, two mini-carts can barely pass; the selection of any one item is minimal at best; and, on Saturday afternoon, you have to buy someone off to get a parking space.  But Bob at the butcher counter knows how I like my chicken cut for kabobs; Irene at the deli knows which ham I like; and the selection of crackers include the three brands I really care for.

So, how does that relate to Big Data?  To me, Big Data is the ability to create the kind of individualized and highly relevant experience that I see at Diablo Foods for all web users.  When you view your Facebook page, you expect it to be “your page;” when you go to Amazon, you expect the offers to be based on what they know you’ve purchased before.

Amazon wrote the book on knowing its customers, almost to the point that their consumers seldom worry about privacy.  As a result, the e-commerce giant is providing individual consumer experiences that keep its shoppers loyal and coming back for more.  Given Amazon’s success, there is no reason why an individual-touch approach (like the one I love at Diablo Foods) can’t be applied on a much larger scale to consumers across the web.

Big Data means giving advertisers, website operators, publishers and anyone interacting with a user, the ability to create that kind of individualized experience.  How do you do it?  By understanding three key elements about each and every user, at an individual level:

  • Who is this user and what do they like? (Descriptive Elements)
  • How have I engaged with this user in the past? (Engagement Elements)
  • How have they responded to those engagements? (Action Elements)

When a digital business understands these elements, it can craft the right message for the right user and deliver it in a way that will produce the greatest response.  At the end of the day, what matters most is being able to understand and build on the consumer’s digital experience through the integration of content, commerce, and advertising with trust, speed, intelligence, and social interactivity.

And that’s where Big Data comes in.  First, it takes the ability to maintain huge quantities of raw data about every interaction a marketer or publisher has with a user – not just a list of what segments those users fall into, but actual data on every interaction.  Very few in the market today can do that.  Even leading marketers like Delta and Starwood fall short sometimes.  As a premium traveller on both, I am on one of Delta’s planes or in one of Starwood’s hotel rooms almost every week.  Still, based on the volume of ads I see for both, it’s clear that I remain categorized as just another high-value target and the messaging rarely has any specific link back to my status in their loyalty programs or my typical travel patterns.

Second, it requires the ability to understand – on a dynamic basis – the interactions among all those elements.  This means evaluating literally tens (or even hundreds) of segment overlaps every day.  Without that granular understanding, results are based on a string of simplified assumptions that almost invariably miss the true point of Big Data in the first place: Individual Actionability.

For Big Data to realize its full potential, and not just become the next “ad tech” sound bite or shiny object, it must produce real results and pay off on the notion of Individual Actionablility.  Users want websites to understand their needs and anticipate their actions the same way that Bob at the Diablo Foods butcher counter interacts with me every time I drop by the store.

Together, “the cloud” and Big Data represent a turning point for the consumer web, bringing fundamental changes to how information is stored, shared, and transmitted and to how individuals communicate and connect. To date, bandwidth, storage limits and user access points have suppressed the potential of a web-enabled world.

Those barriers have melted away, and forward-thinking companies of every kind are making moves to better manage their consumer relationships and to better equip themselves to interact more intelligently with their consumers across the web – all in the service of delivering faster, cooler, smarter and safer web experiences.


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