Recently I ran across an absolute gem; a new way of thinking about the trend of big data. This revelation came from Bernadette Jiwa author of The Story of Telling Blog. She says in essence, the big online retailers invented big data because they had to.
Unlike a local café, a retail storefront or even an association they don’t have the ability to personally connect with their customers. They can’t watch customer’s or member’s behavior with their eyes. They do not have the ability to start a meaningful conversations in the moment. They can not decern their buyers worldview. It started with web analytics, somewhat similar to mass retailers decades old measurement of POS data, and now it is so advanced and complex we call it big data.
There is a lot of media hype around big data. Partly because of the underlaying technology that is just becoming available: things like inexpensive data storage, sensors and more robust analytics. There’s also a lot of hype around big data’s promise. The promise is that you can anticipate your customers wants to better serve them. Perhaps you will even know what they want before they do. The fulfillment of that promise however is still elusive.
Millions are being spent on big data but it has not been solved yet
Amazon sees that I bought a robotics kit and then continuously suggests products that a scientifically-minded 13-year old boy might like even though it was only a one-time purchase for me. After my husband binge watches movies on Netflix they recommend a bunch of sci-fi titles I would never watch. What big data does not yet provide is context.
The drawback of big data is that it is not contextual
What is contextual information? It is knowing that my husband watched those sci-fi movies and not me and that my Amazon purchase was for a birthday party. For associations it is about knowing what lifecycle your members at, what their career goals are, and what their biggest challenges are. Contextual information is knowing not only that sales are up but also why they are up. It is the contextual information that will help us attract members and engage members not just systems data itself.
Big data will evolve
Netflix understands the limitations of big data. Wired magazine recently covered how Netflix is improving recommendations (by specific household member’s preference). Amazon has teams of people refining their algorithms. As does Google. Disney’s magic wrist bands, still relatively new, are likely helping them add more context to their guest traffic data. Until the big guys solve big data’s big problem we association marketers still need contextual information.
Get the information you need now
How do you figure out what your members problems are? How do you understand their worldview? How do you learn about their goals? Here are three ways to get started:
- Watch – watch member behavior at events.
- Talk – have conversations with members or formalize the process and conduct qualitative member research
- Observe – ghost shop, shadow and lurk in communities
Don’t wait for big data. You can get answers to your biggest member questions right now.