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Big Data: What is the question to the answer you already know?

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The true challenge of Big Data is not that it's “big” per se, but that its scope encompasses so many possibilities that marketers can find themselves faced with a form of writer's block—staring into the endless depths of 0s and 1s, wondering where to start and what value lurks in the seemingly unfathomable depths of their data. All the answers held in one large, unwieldy collection of data present the marketer with myriad choices for value creation and insight. So where to start? As you begin this journey, it's important to embrace the notion that you can and will be making technology-selection decisions. You need to think like a chief technology officer and not accept dead-end answers that a traditional IT department may give you. There are two obvious forks in the road, with many paths fanning out from there. First there is the route of insight and analysis. The Web log files that for years you've struggled to extract value from have suddenly become extremely easy to store and very accessible for analysis. The social media companies overcame these hurdles by creating a whole new technology for storing vast data files, and a whole new generation of database and business information technologies are making it easier than ever to analyze this information. Social media companies today are running their businesses by analyzing these data to manage customer churn and acquisition, segmentation of offers, and purchase propensity. A wealth of information that can be applied to every facet of your business is now available and accessible. And the more digitized your business, the more powerful this information. Start by supporting all your important decisions with data analysis. The second route is to create from Big Data totally new “productized” services and business models based on your ability to analyze and execute on that analysis. The world is full of start-ups using Big Data to create amazing new services on the Internet. For example, one is offering credit card companies a service to analyze card members' data on the fly and deliver special discounts the moment they swipe their cards; it's the rebirth of the coupon. Even in traditional industries, embracing business innovation on the Internet has been critical to thrive. The science of marketing is relatively new; until the development of business intelligence tools, marketing was largely driven by the knowledge acquired by the practitioner. This knowledge is still critically important to strategic decision-making, but now we have so much information it is possible for day-to-day decision-making to be done by nonpractitioners. It's seldom a straight path from point A to point B. And it isn't even a path paved with a clear ROI. You're embarking on a trip into the realm of creative destruction. Your goal isn't to break even—it's to build the next killer application. It's to rejuvenate your somewhat stagnant or settled business into a new paradigm for the 21st century. Kevin Cox is VP-corporate marketing at Actian Corp. He can be reached at Kevin.Cox@actian.com.

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