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The conundrum of 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 unfathomable depths of their data. All of the answers held in one large unwieldy collection of data present the marketer with a myriad of choices for value creation and insight. So where to start?

As you begin this journey, it is 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. You're here to rattle the cages and get some action.

There are two obvious forks in the road with many branches fanning out from there. 

First there is the route of insight and analysis. The web log files that you've struggled with for years to extract value 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 now analyze this information. Social media companies are running their businesses today by analyzing this 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 data is. 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 the analysis. The world is full of start-ups creating amazing new services on the Internet based on using Big Data. For example, one company is offering credit card companies a service to analyze their card members' data on the fly and deliver special discounts at the moment they swipe their cards at a store; it's the rebirth of the coupon. Even in traditional industries, embracing business innovation on the Internet has been critical to thrive. Just look at the media industry's continuing transition to digital. Who better than marketing knows the customer well enough to play a role of positive disruption?

Let's face it, the science of marketing is relatively new. Until the development of business intelligence tools, marketing was largely driven by the learned knowledge of the practioner. This learned 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 never a straight path from point A to B. And it isn't even a path paved with a clear ROI. You're embarking 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. As you begin this journey, it is important to embrace the idea that you can and will be making technology selection decisions. You need to think like a chief technology officer.

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