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Big Data = Big Potential

Marketers turned number crunchers.

No one can talk about the future of marketing without talking about Big Data. With the massive quantities of data now available for analysis (from GPS locations and census information to LinkedIn connections and Facebook “likes”), a “fundamentally different way of knowing is upon us,” says Professor of Marketing Susan Fournier. One of the most exciting aspects of the Big Data trend, she says, is that it will allow marketers to identify significant correlations between seemingly unrelated activities. In fact, it’s already happening: researchers recently crossed TV ratings with grocery sales and revealed that people who watch the Hallmark Channel are more likely than other Americans to buy gravy mix and mayonnaise. (Not an earth-shattering result, but a useful one if you’re McCormick or Hellmann’s.)

Professor of Marketing Shuba Srinivasan predicts the Big Data revolution will lead to dramatic improvement in many classic marketing activities:

Budgeting: By analyzing data on impressions, clicks, conversions, social actions, etc., companies will know just how effective each marketing channel is, leading to better-informed budget allocations.

Market Segmentation: New data streams will allow companies to target their messages in more creative and meaningful ways than simply segmenting by age, gender, and zip code.

Demand Forecasts: The end-of-season sale may become a thing of the past, as more and better data lets retailers predict how many pairs of mini shorts or wedge sandals they’ll sell in a given summer—meaning they won’t have many left to put on the sale rack come fall.

As the field of marketing relies more on data processing, says Professor of Marketing Patrick Kaufmann, marketing professionals will need a new set of skills. Today, most marketers outsource the heavy number crunching to market research firms, he says, “but working directly with the data will be a more central task in the future.” University marketing departments are preparing for this change by adding more technical content to their classes and hiring faculty with backgrounds in computer science. How can companies prepare? “They should minimize any barriers that might exist between marketing and IS functions,” Kaufmann says, “and encourage the free flow of information and skill development between the two.”