Digital marketing practitioners seem to have rediscovered their love of metrics & analytics of late. As a result, witness the current flurry of activity in this space. One suspects this is partly a result of business beginning to question the efficacy and business value of social media and demanding that marketers prove its true value in terms of real, and measurable, ROI. How novel.
Those who have seen this movie before, most notably during the dot-com bubble, but really with every new-new thing to emerge since, can’t help but scratch their heads over this. And, truth be told, I have heard many a seasoned practitioner comment that they see a repeat of the hype we saw more than a decade ago, and they expect an inevitable collapse when business realizes that the snake oil they have been sold is just that. And, clearly, it was only a matter of time until social media entered what Gartner calls the Trough of Disillusionment and business leaders with P&L responsibility (or their C-level management and investors) woke up from their hype-induced delirium and demanded to know if their investment was actually moving the needle.
As a result, there is now a mad rush among business and digital practitioners to prove their worth, show evidence of the value of social media, and provide data to back up their claims. Suddenly, everyone seems to want data, the more the better. And tools, of course. Oh, don’t forget dashboards and reports, clearly, we want those too. But the problem was never really a lack of data, tools or dashboards but, rather, a lack of insight. Which gets to the crux of the matter: business today is awash in data, but true insight and understanding of what drives what and delivers true incremental value seems as elusive as ever.
But, worry not, for here comes the latest over-hyped buzzword: Big Data. And, again, the focus is on volume rather than understanding, quantity over quality. A figure commonly cited is that 90% of all data has been created in the past two years. With the emergence of the Web, suddenly every online interaction became a data point. With the rise of social media, these interactions – and the resulting data – grew exponentially. With addition of the anyplace/anytime mobile Web and integration of POS systems and loyalty programs (both of which make offline behavior more trackable) and data volumes exploded.
We are now at the point where we are literally drowning in data, but even the best marketers will admit that true knowledge – actionable insight – remains as elusive as ever.
Of course, you’ll probably have to get them away from their boss and maybe get a few drinks into them before they admit this candidly. I spoke with one senior marketing exec at a recent conference I helped organize and he admitted as much: “Are we ready for Big Data? Hell, no. We still suck at “little data” and struggle to get basic Website metrics right. Sure, we have every analytics and BI platform available and track just about everything that happens on our dozen or so sites. We just don’t understand what most of it really means.”
And that just about sums it up.