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Taming the Big Data beast (Or… “I thought you were into cats. But, it turns out, you like Hitler. How will I spam you now?”)

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Full disclosure. I wear many hats. I’m the founder of a start-up data and research company, as well as the self-proclaimed “innovator in residence” for Anthill (assuming this moniker will catch on one day). It was, therefore, with many different hats and shades of eyeballs that I viewed the Ad:Tech Digital Data conference, at The Hilton Hotel Sydney 18th July 2012.

But enough about me, let’s talk about you.

For it seems we know a lot about you, or at least we think we do. If only we could decipher the ever-growing myriad of data flying around cyberspace in order to better target you with messages, ads, video… anything to tempt you with, my dear.

Sorry, I may have taken on a slight “witchiness” there, but such is the power of the Internet (and the new privacy laws, which dictate it’s my right to remain anonymous, or pseudonymous).

Big Data, as a name, is kinda naff (and so is the term “kinda naff” but we move on).

It’s a buzz word, a hyped-up term to describe something we are struggling to grapple with; the volume, variety and velocity of data we are generating every moment in the space-time continuum.

Murray Howe from Suncorp suggested that Big Data simply means “infinitely changing and available data”.

The art, as with most things in this world, is simplifying this data into a usable, scalable model of relevancy and personalisation, or as Leon Bombotas from CBS Interactive put it, “a personalised conversation with an anonymous visitor”.

Interacting with over 350 million mouths (that’s 700 million eyeballs, give or take), CBS Interactive equates Big Data to Big Audience, which is growing in scope, speed and scale.

Is this use of Big Data really “using data to create value for customers and prospects” as Christian Bartens from Datalicious contends?

Big Data. Mention the term to Experian and they will point you to their exponentially expanding set of Behavioural Data. According to Experian’s Director of Consulting Dave Audley, what we know about you on a geo-demographic and even a lifestyle level is fairly static.

Behavioural Data, on the other hand, is always changing.

But it’s a double-edged sword. For example, what if that website you visited about “Cats that look like Hitler” led us to believe that you really liked Cats, so we used that Behavioural Data to target you with ads about Cats. But, in reality, you might actually be into moustaches. And Hitler.

Therein lies the problem; it’s not about how big the data is. It’s how you use it that matters.

We focus on your past to try to predict our future, but imagine if we could tap into your preferred future and then play a role in creating that for you?

Big Data. It’s leading what Erich Wasserman of MediaMath describes as the ‘Quant Revolution’; using analysis of quantitative statistics to tame the Big Data beast. What has already occurred in the Medical, Military and Financial industries is now happening in the Digital Marketing realm.

It makes sense when you think about it. But surely this means that we can now evolve beyond current “innovations” (quotation marks fully intended); such as the video ‘pre-roll’ advertisement we are all forced to watch before the actual content (YouTube, News clips etc.), as a way to connect with a captive audience. Just saying. Data should be at the core of creativity, according to Aaron Michie, and seconded by yours truly.

Use Data to predict what we think will happen and we turn into Pacman; blindly “eating” data until an unpredictable ghost-like creature surprises and then kills us. On the other hand, approach Data with a view to unlocking what might, could or should happen and we are more in tune with the Universe, tapping into the unknown.

Big Data. It’s all about relevancy.

Irina Hayward from TBWA/Tequila spoke about how Electronic Arts harvests Data so they can cluster into segments, create one-to-one communication and feed relevant content (and one would assume, sell more stuff). JJ Eastwood from eBay spoke about trying to make sense of the largest consumer data set in the world using rare glimmers of insight.

Doesn’t anyone want to spam anyone anymore?

Maybe relevancy is one of the main reasons that Gen Y is less concerned with privacy than previous generations. They know less privacy means more relevant advertising and promotion and less spam. But this is a good thing. Isn’t it?

Smarter analysis and real insight turns Big Data into gold.

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