What to do with Big Data? CDOs May Have the Answer

One of the biggest challenges digital executives face today is figuring out what to do with it all the data. There is so much data collected today about shopping habits, travel patterns or even activities logged, that being able to effectively track and leverage this data to improve an aspect of the consumer experience or predict a certain market outcome is essential to a company’s growth.

Many brands have budgets set aside for big data solutions, yet not many know what to purchase and how they’ll use it. At SXSW in Austin this past week, one of the panels I attended focused on brand consistency and voice using big data. The question: “How do you take all of this data and find meaningful ways to leverage it as metrics, social data or other strategic implementations that will better engage with your audience?”

In many companies, Chief Digital Officers are tasked with finding the answer, yet each has different responsibilities in doing so. McGraw-Hill’s Chief Digital Officer Stephen Laster has his sights set on finding better ways to drive technology-enabled learning in both the classroom and at home, while the CDO from Starbucks is responsible for merging mobile, social and digital marketing to enable better commerce experiences for consumers.

Chantal Restivo-Alessi at HarperCollins is using big data to help better understand readers, hone in on how business can improve, and figure out how to pivot from a traditional publishing company to more of a digitally-driven tech brand.

“There have been a few ‘aha moments,’ where the data has explained performance,” she told Fast Company. “You start combining the pricing strategies and marketing strategies, with the findings on consumer insight, and that explains why brand x, book x, or series y was not successful, for example.”

Not all Chief Digital Officers are using big data at a broad, analytical level like Restivo-Alessi but are focusing on small data. Although it isn’t as glamorous, small data consists of being able to look at what was collected, tracked and analyzed from big data and focus on a particular way to turn them into actionable items.

Harvard’s Chief Digital Officer is using small data from social media to help better represent the university’s global voice by taking all of the social data and finding the unique, personalized stories that will resonate well with the targeted audience.

“Our belief is that individual voices can resonate more than institutional ones — even and perhaps especially for organizations with global reach,” she told Forbes. “Social is an ideal way to share these individual voices, and we use platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube EDU to ‘show, don’t tell.’”

Yet the question remains the same. What do you do with all of this data? Do you try to focus on the larger picture and make better predictive decisions for the brand based on trends, analytics and engagement? Or do you focus on a few interesting points, like social media, and find ways to pull out a few details that will be a part of a larger digital strategy?

At this year’s CDO Summit, the premier event for digital leaders and executives held on April 22-23 2014 at Time Warner in NYC, I’m hoping that the speakers will have answers to these questions. From the CDO of Warner Brothers to the CDO of the State of New York, some of the most powerful digital thought leaders of our time will discuss what they’re doing in these emerging roles. And what they’re doing with all of this data.

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