Terrified of Big Data? Think of It as Growing Pains

You Have a "Crush" on Data, but You're Too Awkward to Make the Approach -- You're a Tween

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Publisher and marketer brands are increasingly enamored with the power of "big data," but do relatively little to fully extract and translate its value. Google, Yahoo, Quantcast and my firm 33Across alone protect data on well over 2 billion people. These large data sets can help guide how and to whom brands advertise online. Yet, the data often go unused or misused -- a gigantic missed opportunity.

Why? You could argue that it's about privacy concerns, breaking consumer trust or being petrified to move forward. I'd argue it's a maturity issue. Users of big data are in the midst of their awkward "tween" years.

These years signify a painfully self-conscious chapter in life where you're still growing into your body, somewhat inept and hesitant about what to do next. Okay, let's be honest, TERRIFIED about what do to next.

Knowing that this is just a temporary phase, you can do your best to get over your insecurities, and transition into your teen years (rest assured, that 's another article in three years). Let's start by addressing a few warning signs that you're gearing up for the inevitable change.

You've Got a Big Crush on Data. Big data is growing at astonishing rates: 300 billion pieces of content are shared on Facebook each month, and over 235 terabytes of data collected by the Library of Congress as of April 2011. You know deep down you should be embracing all of that information. But when the opportunity arises, you're overwhelmed and don't know where to start. Look, there's a reason Underoos made Wonder Woman bras and GI Joe briefs. Parts of your body were changing, but you felt ill at ease and unsure. So pull up your big-boy pants and put on that training bra. It's time to make the first move.

"Everyone's Doing It" and it's Time to Join the "Cool Kids." While peer pressure isn't usually the right reason to do something, it is in this case. Now is the time to tap the bounty of data. You know in your heart that your success as a marketer depends on your ability to understand and extract relevant information. As Natalie Zmunda of AdAge wrote recently, article, "When CMOs Learn to Love Data, They'll Be VIPs in the C-Suite.—And If They Don't, They'll Be Relegated to Overseeing Promotions While Someone Else Takes Chief Customer Officer Role." The power of data is undeniable and since "everyone's doing it," why not just join the ranks and propel your career?

Groping Around in the Dark -- Are You Touching the Right Data? As you are taking steps toward leveraging data, take a moment to ask yourself: are all data created equal? Where does it come from? Is it your own? Social? Search? Content? Do you truly know what is driving brand lift? Is it behavioral targeting? Re-targeting? Social targeting? Or a combination of the three? Step back to assess your data assets, reach out to experienced industry role models and map out a plan that interprets data, expands valuable target audiences and eradicates media waste.

Break out of the "In-Between Stage" and Make the Right Choices. Remember, change is uncomfortable and often unkind. You may have to navigate out of dramatic relationships with data partners that don't respect privacy and are always looking for shortcuts. You will probably make mistakes with spend, media mix and attribution along this journey. But you have to put your chin up and power through it, voice cracks and all. Your reward: scoring with data that informs online and offline marketing campaigns, based on predictive insights gleaned from understanding consumers, their social and interest graphs and their behaviors.

Allie Savarino Kline is chief marketing officer, 33Across.
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