Is "big data" the 800-pound gorilla that keeps you awake at night? Confronting how to apply all of the customer information your company is currently compiling—and imagining all of the data you could be leveraging—can be paralyzing. But, experts say the longer you wait, the more you risk letting others gain competitive advantage.
It’s time to break free of inertia. Focus on the basics to get started applying and managing big data now.
Big data represents the next chapter in the digital transformation. It allows today’s CMO to take advantage of the wealth of information now available through online (and traditional) engagement to enrich each customer’s brand experience across the purchase lifecycle. Marketers can use data to refine audience segmentation, inform pricing strategy, direct media investments, personalize messaging and otherwise fuel more effective and efficient cross-channel activities that drive sales and deliver results more predictably.
While leveraging big data is the next big thing in marketing, knowing the customer has always been fundamental to our craft. Today, the use of data analytics enables marketers to gain deeper customer understanding, anticipate needs and deliver the right information to each customer at the right time, using the contact method they prefer. The result is a more satisfying and helpful brand experience that leads to more sales, cultivates brand loyalty and drives referrals.
A recent study conducted by the IBM Institute for Business Value confirmed that CMOs who are most prepared for today’s "data explosion" have a far clearer picture of their customers than other CMOs, and "enterprises with a deep understanding of their customers are 60 percent more likely to be financial outperformers." The study further found that 94% of CMOs expect leveraging the value of data with advanced analytics will play a significant role in helping them reach their goals.1
Yet, in the same survey, a large and growing gap between "aspiration" and "action" was evident, with 82% of CMOs stating they feel underprepared to deal with expanding data, compared to 71% who felt that way in 2011.2 If you are among those who don’t feel ready to take on big data, here are five thoughts you can use to define your vision, set initial goals and chart a clear and successful action plan:
1. Focus Where the Fruit is Ripest
McKinsey director David Court says data and analytics can have a far-reaching impact, but to get started "the key is to focus on the big decisions for which if you had better data, if you had better predictive ability, if you had better ability to optimize, you’d make more money."3
When you take on big data, your other responsibilities won’t disappear. By aiming at the ripest opportunities, it will be easier to find the time and resources to stay on track when other priorities shake your tree. Choose an area where your efforts will deliver an important business return. Then, apply your full energy and data to achieve your goals.
Focusing narrowly to achieve significant initial success arms you with the metrics you need to build support for future projects, both in the C-suite and among your marketing team. It’s also a test of your organization’s readiness to pursue your larger big data vision, which brings us to our next key thought...
2. Build a Team of Biathletes
A traditional marketing skill set won’t support your vision for data-driven marketing. In addition to creative thinking and an intuitive grasp of what makes the business tick, you need a technology-driven skill set. Transforming your marketing organization to leverage data and analytics is essential to achieving your vision and extracting full value from your company’s data resources.
You and your marketing team members need to become what McKinsey’s David Court calls a "bimodal athlete"4 — or what we’ll call a "biathlete" — equally conversant in what makes your business successful and the information assets you can leverage to drive better marketing. Marketing biathletes have a true understanding of the data and an appreciation for its potential, coupled with the practical ability to apply information strategically to deliver more powerful returns on marketing investment.
Embracing big data will directly impact your staff development and recruiting priorities, and you won’t be alone. More than 50% of CMOs surveyed jointly by Deloitte and Salesforce ExactTarget Marketing Cloud "indicated a greater need for personnel with data and analytics expertise."5 Data analytics is fast becoming a marketing prerequisite. But, until the next generation of data-savvy marketing candidates arrives at your doorstep, you’ll need to invest in tools and training that make it easy for your team to understand, access and apply data in your marketing today.
3. Embrace Your Role as CXO
Cross-channel marketing and the digital channels that support it allow us to engage, influence and help customers across their entire brand experience, not just while buying. It’s why more and more CMOs are becoming their brands’ chief experience officers (CXOs).
Suzanne Kounkel, Leader of Customer and CMO Services with Deloitte Consulting LLP, says, "Increasingly, CMOs are asked to be more than proficient marketers, but also to act as the stewards of the customer within their organizations, building bridges across functions to enable customer engagement (and) create the consistent, personalized experience that today’s technologically-empowered customers demand."6 A study performed jointly by Deloitte and Salesforce ExactTarget Marketing Cloud found 38% of CMOs now have a larger role in customer service and 27% have been given increased responsibility to align internal functions to deliver customer impact across a purchase journey where responsibility has been traditionally split between product, sales and service functions.7
Looking forward, you don’t want to be among the 53% of CMOs who say they feel increased pressure to enable revenue growth while facing "a conversion path they don’t entirely own."8 Whether your expanded CXO job description is formally accompanied by the title or not, take responsibility for the entire customer experience, because your goals for sales and revenue growth can’t be met without positive engagement throughout the customer’s relationship with your brand.
What does all of this have to do with big data? Mastery of your brand’s customer information — all of it — is vitally important to any CMO intent on driving enhanced customer experiences. It’s why more than 60% of CMOs say data acquisition is a top internal marketing priority in 20149 and why industry observers predict by 2017, CMOs will spend more on information technology and analytics than the chief information officer down the hall.10
4. Make your CIO a BFF
Big data marketing requires a mix of skills and knowledge, and experts say closer working relationships between CMOs and CIOs are essential to achieve success. Accenture Interactive observes that, for CMOs, "Turning this data into relevant customer experiences at scale is a far cry from past capabilities focused on creative and brand strategies. These new services require a new kind of rigor and a deep technology backbone to enable them."11
While CMOs are rapidly assuming responsibility for the customer experience, CIOs still own responsibility for the IT infrastructure. What’s more, they can contribute the technical knowledge necessary to capture, integrate and deliver data in ways that are useful to marketing. When marketing invests independently in technology solutions, the ability of CIOs to maintain seamless integration, ensure privacy and uphold other standards is diminished.
IBM research shows close CMO-CIO collaboration has a positive impact on business success. Where the CMO and CIO work well together, businesses are 76% more likely to outperform other organizations in terms of revenues and profitability.12 Accenture researchers say, "Marketing and IT executives agree that gaining better customer insight and reaching the market more efficiently must be at the top of the CMO’s agenda."13
While the emergence of big data initiatives has made the relationship between the CMO and the CIO especially critical, there is much work to do before many CMOs and CIOs engage in truly collaborative and productive relationships. Findings reported by Accenture suggest that organizations continue to struggle with "who operates the technology to drive outcomes" and "who controls the design of experiences."14 Only one-quarter of CMOs and CIOs say they have completely integrated their brands’ customer data, while four in 10 report they continue to struggle.15
Many CMOs and CIOs haven’t fully accepted their codependency. Neither considers the other their most important C-suite relationship; however, almost equal numbers of CIOs and CMOs say much more collaboration is required between their functions. One way to improve collaboration is to create cross-disciplinary teams of marketing and IT pros and by investing in staff development to make marketing more technology savvy and IT more agile and responsive to market needs.16
A mutually respectful alliance between the CMO and CIO is essential to successfully leverage data assets and staff capabilities — and deliver the seamless brand experience customers want. Start working better with your CIO today by tearing down the silos and building a collaborative partnership focused on the customer.
5. Respect Their Limits
In your drive to apply customer information in your marketing, it’s important to respect the line many customers draw between helpful engagement and invasion of privacy. The recent impact of privacy transgressions by government agencies and major technology brands shows how easily reputations can be tarnished when that line has been crossed and trust broken. A recent Scientific American article suggests extreme cases of misuse can be used to shape public opinion about the use of customer information by marketers.17
Customer concerns about privacy should give every CMO pause when considering their next data-driven campaign. One way to avoid problems is to cultivate sensitivity to privacy issues across your marketing organization. Put internal safeguards in place to assess the potential ethical or legal implications of any planned new uses of customer information before they are implemented. To minimize the impact of any missteps, closely monitor customer comments on social media channels and through your customer service center to detect and correct problems before they become too widespread.
Big Data, Big Opportunity
Accenture calls the impact of big data on customer engagement the "holy grail" for marketers. "A comprehensive view of the customer requires understanding of all aspects of their purchasing journey to serve them with the right messages and offers in the right channels at the right time. This integrated view needs strong analytics, insights and feedback loops so that customer data can be continually refined and results improved."18
By thinking as big as your data and focusing your initial steps where they’ll have the most impact, you can quickly begin making big data a strong competitive advantage.
At Blue Flame Thinking, we help clients transform data into insight and insight into more powerful marketing every day. Let’s start a conversation.
 Stepping up to the challenge: CMO insights from the Global C-suite Study, IBM Institute for Business Value, 2014, pages 3 and 8.
 Ibid., page 3.
 David Court, "Putting Big Data and advanced analytics to work," Big Data, Analytics, and the Future of Marketing & Sales, McKinsey Chief Marketing & Sales Officer Forum, 2013, page 16.
 Ibid., page 13.
 Bridging the Digital Divide: How CMOs Can Rise to Meet 5 Expanding Expectations, Deloitte and Salesforce ExactTarget Marketing Cloud, 2014, page 8.
 Ibid., page 3.
 Ibid., pages 5–6.
 Ibid., page 4.
 Ibid., page 9.
 The CMO-CIO disconnect: Bridging the gap to seize the digital opportunity, Accenture Interactive, 2013, page 2. Also see, Chris Murphy, "Will CMOs Outspend CIOs? Wrong Question," informationweek.com, posted Oct. 22, 2012, retrieved April 4, 2014.
 CMO-CIO disconnect, page 10.
 Stepping up to the challenge, page 1.
 CMO-CIO disconnect, page 12.
 CMO-CIO disconnect, page 4.
 CMO-CIO disconnect, page 12.
 CMO-CIO disconnect, page 19.
 Kate Crawford, "When Big Data Becomes Stalking, Scientific American," scientificamerican.com, posted Jan. 28, 2014, retrieved April 4, 2014.
 CMO-CIO disconnect, page 12.