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So You’ve Got a Lot of Data…Now What?

By Samantha Beavers

2.5 quintillion. That’s the average number of data bytes generated by individuals in a single day. As cards are swiped, apps are opened and sites are clicked, thousands upon thousands upon thousands of bytes of data are created.

Data that, when understood, tells a story.

“All these things we do with our cards, phones and computers say something about who we are as consumers,” says Basiru Usman, teaching assistant professor for Poole College of Management’s department of business management. 

Supporting innovation, problem solving and strategic decision-making, data clears the way for better, more effective marketing. And according to Usman, businesses of every kind and size can tap into its power through analytics.

Thinking big and starting small

Before anything else, Usman says, businesses must outline the questions they want to answer and the goals they want to achieve – whether that’s understanding who their target customer is or seeing how a social media campaign affected their sales.

“Marketing analytics isn’t just for huge companies with massive teams of data analysts. As long as you know what you want to learn and what you’re trying to do, anyone can get started,” Usman says.

A good place to begin, he says, is with data visualization. By creating data visuals – such as graphs, maps and dashboards – businesses can make sense of the data by recognizing various patterns and then use these insights to make informed decisions.

“There are several popular software programs that make creating these visuals quite easy. You just need to know what you’re looking for and then point and select. But you can also use something as simple as Microsoft Excel or Apple Numbers to create them,” Usman says.

Using Tableau software, for example, many state governments generated dashboards of COVID-19 data to help restaurants, schools, businesses and individuals understand the data in real time. With these graphs and charts, organizations were able to observe any trends or spikes in cases – and then plan accordingly. 

Likewise, businesses can create dashboards to analyze their market performance and make important business decisions.

And the sheer amount of data available, Usman says, shouldn’t intimidate businesses from starting somewhere.

“It’s good to think big, but it’s important not to let that keep you from starting with what you have. You don’t need to use a zillion data points to improve your business. Perhaps it’s more manageable to analyze the data in chunks,” Usman explains.

“Maybe you’ll ask, ‘From January to March, what did I sell most? What were my best-selling products? Which of my customers purchased them?’ Simply start slowly and observe the data. Then, as you grow, you can utilize more sophisticated data analytics tools to dive deeper and gain additional insight,” he continues.

Mining for gold

Beyond data visualization, businesses can mine data – and lots of it – using machine learning algorithms. 

To experiment with some of these machine learning capabilities, businesses can connect their data to cloud computing platforms that several companies – including IBM, Google and Amazon – offer to help businesses turn datasets into actionable insights.

“These cloud services essentially hold users’ hands and make it easier for them to extract meaningful insights they can use to improve their marketing efforts,” Usman says.

And to really leverage the power of machine learning, Usman recommends that businesses seek to understand customers’ purchasing behavior and classify customers into groups according to their particular needs.

To do this, businesses can conduct a market basket analysis – which involves looking at the products customers purchase, when they typically purchase them and which products they purchase together. Then, classifying customers into different groups according to these particular needs, businesses can improve their marketing efforts, including more relevant advertisements, better retail product placement and more timely promotions and email campaigns.

Usman shares a tip on how businesses can use machine learning techniques like basket analysis to improve customer experiences.

“Sorting customers into groups also allows businesses to make specific product recommendations when they see some overlap. For example, if a customer purchases a computer, they might recommend a protective case that another customer bought with that same computer,” he continues.

Classifying customers according to their purchasing patterns may also help businesses pinpoint problems that need to be addressed.

“Let’s say the data shows that a lot of your customers are buying computer cases from a different store. Using that information, you can start to examine why you’re losing that portion of the market,” Usman explains.

“Maybe your product isn’t up to date. Maybe the quality of the product is not where it should be. Maybe you do not have enough variety and your customer is looking at a store with more options. Or perhaps you’re losing a portion of the market because your supply is low and this product is always going out of stock. A commitment to data analytics can help you make important improvements to your business and capture more customers,” he continues.

Data-driven growth

Steering their marketing efforts with powerful analytics tools, businesses can gain valuable insight into their customers’ behaviors and needs – allowing them to make timely decisions, build customer loyalty and generate more revenue.

And while any business with a question and a goal can get started with marketing analytics, Usman notes that Poole College’s Master of Management, Marketing Analytics concentration is focused on providing a robust foundation of big data analytics skills – especially as the abundance of data and the accessibility of data analytics tools continues to increase.

“Companies that are leveraging data analytics to make strategic decisions are consistently outperforming their peers – and what’s interesting is that 90% of the data that we have nowadays was generated in the last two years. So you can imagine how much data we’ll have in the next five,” Usman explains. “With big data on the rise, our focus is equipping graduates with a deep understanding of the latest, most efficient data analytics solutions available in order to gain unique insights and convert these insights into action.”

Interested in a career in marketing analytics? Click here to learn more about the Master of Management, Marketing Analytics (MMA) program at NC State’s Poole College of Management.