A recent article from the tech gurus at Wired magazine yanks on that oh-so-common thread of big data. Oh, how tech journalists love to talk about BIG DATA. Ok, I guess we might be guilty of bringing it up once or twice, too...
So what revelation do they have for us today? Big data is useless, of course! Wait, wait. That can't be right. Useless? So we just sign out of Google Analytics forever? And throw our computers in the trash can? That really doesn't seem like something Wired would say!
Hold on, let me read the rest of the article...
Wait! Hold on! Get your laptop out of the garbage!
What they actually mean is your data is useless unless you "bring it into the real world."
But what does that even mean?
Essentially, they mean that the data you have on your customers is not going to get you very far if you don't have any real world context for it. When we put it that way it doesn't sound nearly so crazy, does it?
Know Your Customers
The fact is that Wired isn't telling us anything we don't already know. All the numbers in the world don't mean anything if you don't actually know who your customers are. You might know exactly what they're clicking on, through your analytics, but if you don't know why, that information is... well... useless.
One way ManoByte and many inbound marketers get to know their customers better is through the use of buyer personas. These fictional profiles help us (and they can help you) to determine why your customers make the choices they make. The act of creating a buyer profile delves us deeper than just the usual demographics and job titles, and it's also a perfect way to add context to your data.
(For more information on buyer personas, be sure to keep an eye out for our upcoming ebook on the fundamentals of inbound marketing, where we explain the tactic in a little more depth.)
How to Use Your Data
Once you've harvested your data, it will be the most useful to you if you are realistic about what it's telling you. Looking at data without context can still have useful data applications. For instance, if you know how often site visitors are clicking a certain button (or not) you can use that to make changes to your site design or copy choices. A/B testing is another good way to determine what about your site is compelling.
The added layer of context that you can get from buyer personas lets you add a "why" to the "what" of your site data, helping you to make bigger picture marketing strategy changes that may not be possible to test in a meaningful way.
Just because your "big data" is not the "end all be all" of your research needs does not make it useless. Instead, what we need to do is get back to some of the most key fundamentals of marketing. Our access to these hard numbers can make it tempting to look at charts and graphs to give us the whole picture, but they will never be able to do that. It is only through research and real-world applications and context that we can continue to improve our strategies both on and offline.
No matter what the specific descriptions of our customer base is, we are all marketing to human beings and that's what our data can never completely reflect.