Do your smart data practices include throwing data in the trash? Do you understand how to convert so-called Big Data into smart, actionable data?

Marketing and online advertising today is experiencing a creative and scientific overhaul, the joining of the best of both worlds, the convergence of data and technology. In my opinion, this movement is reinventing and reinvigorating leading organizations’ approaches to how marketing is done.

As marketers, we’re experts in persuasion, communications, and strategic thinking. As the digital landscape continues to evolve, the best and brightest marketers are adding new tools to their tool kit. They’re adding new words to the tip of their tongues. They’re becoming familiar with the language of science and math (algorithms, analytics), recognizing that these new approaches and tools are changing the way they approach their work. This is a good thing.

In today’s blog I’d like to weigh in on the great conversation that’s occurring within marketing about the relationship of science and art or data and marketing. I’d like to summarize three key ways that smart data can strengthen your current approach to online advertising.

1 | Smart Data Can Create Brilliant Advertising

First, let’s talk about the term “Big Data.” If you’re like me, you’re tired of it, but it’s out there. It’s in common use. There’s no turning back, there’s only moving forward. In “Advertising’s Big Data Debate,” James Denton Clark, managing director of Karmarama, argues,

“Big data is a rubbish name. It sounds like Big Brother and the inference … is that extreme measurement and identification stifle creativity. So, let’s call it smart data. As we emerge into a more confident economy (from a culture of fear), having reassurance in the effectiveness of what they do will give brand owners the confidence to test, learn and innovate more. And that’s what we’re all about. So why should data be at the heart of everything we do? Because it will unleash the creative industry, not hurt it.”

I, like Clark, agree with the general distaste for the term Big Data. I, too, prefer the term smart data or actionable data, or simply, action data. I believe that as marketers grow increasingly comfortable and more familiar with the technological tools available today, coming out of the “culture of fear” (due to both the economy and the rapid development and utilization of new technology), leading organizations and their followers will only succeed in getting closer to the customer and more creative in our marketing approaches.

2 | Algorithms Can Strengthen Your Persuasive Skills

So, what is an algorithm and why should marketers care? Most of us can’t explain what algorithms are, let alone use them intelligently to guide the daily and grand scheme decisions required in creative advertising.

An algorithm is “a process or set of rules to be followed in calculations or other problem-solving operations, especially by a computer.”

Christian Madsbjerg and Mikkel B. Rasmussen in Harvard Business Review (HBR) brilliantly state, “An algorithm can never truly master the art of persuasion.” But algorithms can make sophisticated decisions about the value of ad placements and predict the outcomes of campaigns to achieve goals. Just as anything else in the universe, algorithms can be used as fuel for creative campaign management. So where do marketers go with algorithms and incoming data as their new 21st century tools? HBR continues:

“Only our fellow humans will ever really understand what we care about. Our care — our deeply felt investment in the world — is always context dependent. What is the role of Big Data in the future of advertising? Data analytics plays a part in informing a successful marketing strategy.”

Data must never be separated from context or contextual cues. And similarly, algorithms need context or guidance to deliver a meaningful outcome. Human minds, imagination, and creativity are still essential skills for marketers to employ. Don’t let the math and science behind the data scare you. If used properly, algorithms can strengthen your persuasive skills.

3 | Throwing Data in the Trash Can Clarify Your Marketing Approach

In my house, throwing out the trash seems to have stages. First, it goes to the top of the stairs, then down the stairs, and finally out to the can. This is similar to how we should be managing our incoming data. We must get more efficient at keeping the good and tossing the irrelevant.

At the heart of creating meaning out of your piles and files of data is a process called “dynamic trending” or what you might refer to as “throwing data in the trash.” Without this necessary step, your marketing strategies remain messier than they need to be.

Experian’s report, “Harnessing Big Data For Cross-Channel Success,” explains that this process includes

“A never-ending cycle of capturing lots of varied, rapidly evolving … data then processing it (through a combination of … analytics and marketing instinct and expertise) to interpret, predict and confirm (or debunk) new brand marketing realities.”

Just as you empty your house trash, you must get rid of data or it will rot, fester, and stink. Emptying the “trash” literally clears the way for new incoming data to be read, interpreted, and intelligently acted upon.

Dynamic trending occurs rapidly and frequently. Cleaning your data house is a necessary part of making your marketing strategy cleaner, clearer, and more effective. Experian continues:

“Understand that most of what constitutes Big Data has an increasingly short shelf life; its relevance to the brand is driven either by rapidly changing customer behavior or the brand’s incorporation of that data into larger engagement strategies. Either way, much, if not most, of that data can and eventually should be tossed.”

Don’t hold on to data like fine wine or aged cheese. For the most part, actionable, smart data does not get better with age—it just gets old. Plan accordingly. Appoint someone within your team who understands this fact and is diligent in keeping the most relevant and timely data at your fingertips as you’re planning campaigns, making real-time bids, and performing the everyday tasks of the 21st century marketer. If you do this, rest assured, your marketing approach will only get more brilliant with time.


Follow me on Twitter. I’ve been using the hashtag #actiondata to replace that word (Big Data) none of us like anymore. Join the conversation.