In recent years, there has been a huge amount of hype around the subject of “Big Data” and its ability to capture and uncover meaningful insights that can be translated into improved ROI on marketing activity. Vendors of big data analysis tools claim that it offers a goldmine of performance-related information to help digital advertisers inform their strategies. For example, advertisers might want to know how the devices used by consumers or the geographic area that they live in correlates to campaign performance, or to compare the conversion rates of one type of offer over another.
With so much to track, organise and analyse, however, it can be difficult to know where to begin. While there is clearly a lot of interest in the subject, the reality for most businesses is that leveraging the potential benefits of Big Data remains a significant challenge.
The biggest revolution in this area in recent years is that new software tools are making it easier and easier to leverage big data, regardless of company size. Five years ago, it would have required considerable investment in in-house hardware and software to even think about capturing, analysing and exploiting big data. Today, there are a range of easily accessible, affordable tools that are available, particularly in cloud environments, allowing small companies the chance to access serious computing power on-demand and pay by the hour.
The game has changed forever for smaller companies, as they now have the genuine opportunity to compete online with their larger rivals on an equal footing. Leveraging big data is now technically and financially viable for smaller companies in a way that it never has been before.
But where to begin?
The affiliate marketing industry has pioneered a number of innovative strategies and technologies for utilising big data in campaign tracking and analysis. Here are a few lessons learned in the performance marketing world that small businesses can apply to their own efforts to exploit the potential of Big Data:
Use Active Tracking Links Where Possible
Advanced tracking technology utilises active tracking links hard coded with information about each specific campaign, including name, creative source, landing page and more. When a user clicks on an ad embedded with an active tracking link, advanced tracking technology accesses up to 30 unique data points, analyses this information in milliseconds, and directs the user to the most appropriate landing page.
To capture a complete picture of digital marketing performance, the ability to track events is critical. Events may include any action that a consumer takes along the journey to a conversion, from clicking on a display ad or using a voucher code, to watching a video, ‘liking’ a Facebook page, or saving an item in an ecommerce shopping cart. Post conversion events such as site logins, app usage and additional purchases are also important, providing marketers with additional metrics that can be used to assess the total lifetime value of customers going forward.
How data is analysed is just as important as what data is analysed. All too often, advertisers tend to evaluate their marketing campaigns in isolation — keeping mobile data separate from display, display separate from email and so on. It’s critical to be able to understand how all of the “moving parts” work together. These nuances are impossible to see when data is locked in silos, demanding a single, integrated view of data across all channels to make sense of the complex relationships between them.
Analyse in Real-time
The shelf life of online data is short, so an ability to capture and analyse information at lightning speed is key. Real-time information about what actions consumers are taking in the moment empowers marketers to adjust and refine campaign strategies even while they are still in progress, making the most of their digital investments.
The performance industry has begun to embrace technology that includes advanced data visualisation capabilities. The best tracking solutions are those that can build immediate and informative visualisations from incoming data, giving decision makers an integrated, at-a-glance view of the most important KPIs.
Online marketing is more complex than ever and advertisers should adapt their analytics strategies to better understand where and when to most profitably invest their resources. Armed with real-time capabilities for tracking, analysing and interpreting all of the rich, multi-channel information on campaign performance at their disposal, marketers can move beyond the hype and transform Big Data into smart advertising.
The lesson for small businesses is that, when it comes to getting to grips with the issue of Big Data, quantity doesn’t matter.
Dave Stewart is the founder and chief technology officer of tracking and attribution software provider CAKE.