Why Big Data Matters to Your Small Business
Big data is making big waves in the business world. As the latest high-tech business buzzword, it has become almost ubiquitous in our society, with countless mentions in newspapers, magazines, blogs, and trade journals. But many small business-owners are still left with one big question: what is big data and how do I use it?
The concept of big data is actually relatively simple: People leave behind clues about who they are and what they like/want/need every time they interact with the world. A cookie in your browser tracks what links you click online, your email address is tied to countless accounts that can often be searched, your Facebook timeline keeps a record of where you've been, what you've liked, and who you've interacted with, and more. Thanks to the technological level we've reached, tracking these activities and collecting a record of them is finally economically feasible. The idea behind big data is that if you collect all of these digital clues, you can begin to turn what once were assumptions about the behaviors and buying habits of your customers into data-driven insights.
What the short explanation leaves out, however, is that big data is nothing new. IBM, for example, has been selling business analytics software to large companies for decades, and those companies have been reaping large benefits. What is new, however, is the access level for big data today. Advances in technology and the ensuing price drops for data storage and processing, as well as data acquisition, have finally opened the rarefied world of big data to small and medium sized businesses everywhere. Products like RapLeaf, Google Analytics, and Radius Intelligence make large-scale data-mining affordable and easy for everyone, from small businesses to global enterprises. Big data isn't just for big business anymore.
That still leaves us with the big question of how small businesses can start using big data. Don't think you can just ignore this question and keep doing business as usual. A report by SAS found that SMBs that manage data efficiently tend to outperform their competitors by a wide margin.
Part one of using big data well is knowing where to get the data. There are a number of data sources available to small businesses, and some quick steps you can take to harness them. First, if you haven't yet moved your business online, you need to do that immediately. A company website is critical to gaining insights into your customers, as is a presence on major social networks. Even a simple website with a form for collecting leads, or a quick catalog of products, can yield great insight. You also need to make sure that you have the right analytics tools in place to capture information. Google Analytics is great for this, because it's free and easy to set up, but powerful once you begin to dig into it.
There are also services that will help you gather intelligence on your customers. The aforementioned RapLeaf, for instance, can process your email list (you do have one of those, right?) and for a small fee (between 0.5 cents and 10 cents per piece of data) can get you names, shopping habits, income levels, and other information.Likester, a social marketing startup, can help you find out what pages and brands are popular and trending on Facebook, and compare your likes to that of friends, as well as seeing how your brand page stacks up. And don't forget public information centres, like city, state, and federal governments.
Now that you have some data, what do you do with it? The first step here is to set goals and stay focused. It's very easy for a harried SMB owner or marketing department to get overwhelmed in the data they collect if they start looking at every number that they have access to. Instead, use concrete business goals as a way of keeping the data manageable. For example, an apparel printing company can try to follow general trends to come up with new designs, and that's a valid strategy. But, they could be much more relevant, and thus valuable, to their customers if they went through their list of Facebook fans and determined what their customers actually prefer and want to see more of. A law firm could monitor their web traffic and see that a blog post they put up about child custody in divorces is getting more traffic and engagement than any of their other posts, and use that as a central part of their next advertising campaign. And once you recognize how much impact big data can have, you can begin designing and running experiments that will use that data to further your business. For instance, the law firm can run A/B tests on their homepage to see if adding a prominent image of a mother and child being separated boosts their leads over an image of a professional lawyer at his desk.
About the Author
Geoff Stewart is a highly experienced and skilled Technology Director at Surety IT. His knowledge is based on years of industry experience having created customised, stable, well performing systems both for multi-national companies in the UK and Australia and Surety IT customers.
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