The latest advances in information and communications technologies have brought significant improvements for the processing and storage of digital information. Nowadays, users can easily access multiple sources of data readily available from websites, social media networks as well as from mobile devices. These developments have inevitably led to endless opportunities for marketers to leverage themselves by using big data analytics.

Big data has expanded in recent years, dwarfing analogue content and growing at an exponential rate. This data is being collected and stored in massive amounts by search engines and eCommerce conglomerates. In addition, more information is being gathered through social media networks.

All individuals leave a digital trail of data as they move about in the virtual and physical worlds. This phenomenon is called data exhaust. Initially, this term was used to describe how Amazon.com used predictive analytics in order to suggest items for customers – anticipating human behaviour. This is based on large amounts of current and past indicative data collected from multiple sources. At the moment, however, such analytics cannot determine when and why individuals may change their preferences for certain brands.

Another new addition to big data is called preventative analytics. This is aimed at reducing the likelihood of contingent situations, risk and uncertainty. It may be particularly relevant in the fields of healthcare, public services and law enforcement.

Data is the new currency for connecting people, ideas and products. Today, digital information is being gathered in innovative ways that have dramatically changed and improved consumers’ experience. For instance, online businesses are commonly utilising browser cookies to track websites visited by internet users. Once individual users leave these sites, some of the products or services they viewed will be shown to them again and again in native advertisements across different websites. Therefore, businesses are using browsing session data, combined with the consumers’ purchase history to deliver ‘suitable’ items for consumers. Many brands are becoming quite proficient in personalising their offerings as they collect, classify and use large data volumes on consumers’ behaviours.

Big data has expanded in recent years, dwarfing analogue content

This year, more brands shall be using mobile devices and networks to acquire sensory data. More customers are increasingly carrying smartphones with them and are (or may be) getting used to receiving compelling offers that pop up on their mobile devices. This type of geo-based marketing message is delivered at the right time and the right place.

Of course, firms will need more than transaction history and loyalty schemes to be effective at this. They will inevitably require socio-demographic and geo-data that other businesses are not capturing. Moreover, anonymous cookieless data-capture methods are connecting consumer data with matching geo-location-based data.

These methods are empowering marketers to hyper-target consumers with real-time mobile ad campaigns before, during and after in-store activity. Geo-location capabilities are not only enabling advertisers to capitalise on leads, in real time, but they can also offer valuable insights on shopping habits and consumer behaviour. This information is valuable to brands as they seek to acquire relevant information on their consumers’ digital behaviours and physical movements.

Notwithstanding, businesses have become even more interactive through the proliferation of near-field communication (NFC). Basically, NFCs are embedded chips situated inside smart devices. These chips exchange data with retailers’ items possessing NFC tags. It is envisaged that mobile wallet transactions using this NFC technology are expected to reach $110 billion by 2017 (CNBC, 2013). The latest Apple, Android and Microsoft smartphones already include these NFC capabilities. Indeed, these technological developments can enable businesses to provide a deeper personalisation of content as well as bespoken offers to individuals.

Consumers also use apps that may involuntarily indicate their geo-location to third parties. As a result, data collection has greatly benefited from geo-data services like satellites, near-field communication and global positioning systems. These systems track users’ movements that measure traffic and other real-time phenomena. Arguably, the emergence of such data-driven, digital technologies is adding value to customer-centric marketing endeavours. Unsurprisingly, sensor analytics, geo-location and social data-capture were some of the big trends that were recently announced during the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show.

Big data is fundamentally shifting how marketers collect, analyse and utilise data to reach out to customers. It is helping companies to get new insights into how consumers behave. The challenge for marketers is not to become dependent on big data and analytics to drive business strategies, but rather to recognise its value as a tool for customer satisfaction. Therefore, big data should inform, not consume marketing efforts.

Perhaps new marketing decision-making ought to harness big data for increased targeting and re-targeting of individuals and online communities. Every customer contact with a brand is a moment of truth, in real-time. Businesses who are not responding with seamless externally-facing solutions will risk losing their loyal customers to rivals.

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