Cracking the Big Data-Driven Business

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Marketers frequently complain that they're sick of Big Data and it is because they're not leveraging it correctly, claims Russell Glass, head of B2B products at LinkedIn and former CEO of the display ad platform Bizo (acquired by LinkedIn). Companies like Optimizely and Eloqua, though, harnessed Big Data to turn the 2008 Obama campaign into a fundraising juggernaut and reap automated customer insights, respectively.

Marketers frequently complain that they're sick of Big Data and it is because they're not leveraging it correctly, claims Russell Glass, head of B2B products at LinkedIn and former CEO of the display ad platform Bizo (acquired by LinkedIn). Companies like Optimizely and Eloqua, though, harnessed Big Data to turn the 2008 Obama campaign into a fundraising juggernaut and reap automated customer insights, respectively.

Glass and Sean Callahan, senior manager of content marketing at LinkedIn, interviewed executives from these companies and others to uncover lessons on how to effectively integrate data into business strategies. They bundled the strategies into a book, The Big Data-Driven Business: How to Use Big Data to Win Customers, Beat Competitors, and Boost Profits. 1to1 Media spoke with Glass about his new book and role at LinkedIn.

1to1 Media: What spurred you to write a book about such an over-used term like Big Data?

Russell Glass: It's a term that catches everyone's attention, but to your point, Big Data is an overused term, although people often don't fully understand the opportunities that it offers for turning businesses into a more successful enterprise.

What do you mean by not fully understanding the opportunities? Where is the disconnect?

RG: When people hear the term Big Data, they think of computer systems and rows of data that don't necessarily mean anything. But when you look at how enterprises operate today, they're collecting massive amounts of information about their customers: who their customers are, what are their preferences, etc.

And if you look at data about prospects, the same sort of data exhaust is being created. When you combine the two--what you know about your best customers and prospects--you'll have an outsize return on investment and be more competitive than companies that are not leveraging data that way. And that's our thesis, the correct use of your existing customer data, as well as external and prospect data, can change the trajectory of your business. But we don't see many marketers who know how to use data correctly yet.

Where do you see the greatest opportunity to use Big Data?

RG: You can have a much better understanding of your customer to create a better experience and drive faster revenue growth. Mobile is a huge opportunity. I'm predicting that next year will be B2B's mobile moment when more than 50 percent of B2B content will be consumed by mobile devices. It's a huge area of opportunity that businesses need to think about. I think it's important to think about that in a broader context, which is you need to create experiences for your customers wherever they are.

Do B2B companies leverage Big Data differently than B2C companies?

RG: I think they do. If you look at the way a B2B prospect acts, it's totally different from a prospective B2C customer. The sales cycles are much longer, there's higher risk, and it's a more expensive decision. It's important that a B2B company recognizes there are different stages of the buying process and if you can understand where someone is in the buying process, and if that person represents a high lifetime value opportunity, you can be smarter about targeting them.

On the B2C side, it's much more of an impulsive type of decision. If someone looks at a pair of jeans, and you've seen similar customers, go ahead and try to get that person to convert as quickly as possible.

How did you conduct your research for your book and which section was the most difficult to write?

RG: Our research is based on a lot of first-party research; we did about 100 interviews. Some of the people we interviewed were Bizo clients and others were luminaries like Geoffrey Moore [author of Crossing the Chasm] and Lifelock CEO Todd Davis who has done a lot of interesting things in the security and privacy world for consumers. It's a broad swath of people.

The hardest section to write was about all the different systems that are available to marketers today. We were trying to write a story about Big Data that is interesting and light and that's really hard to accomplish when you're writing about marketing systems. Our goal was to create concepts that marketers can take away regardless of the technology. We felt it was important to understand the state of the technology to get a full picture of how people can create effective changes for their companies.

How are you applying the advice in your book to your work at LinkedIn?

RG: Ultimately a big part of the book is this notion of persona marketing. How do you take a rich understanding of your customer and use that to more effectively put relevant messages in front of them to drive success? And that's a big part of my focus at LinkedIn; helping marketers be more effective at getting in front of the right business people at the right time, understanding who they are and what they're trying to accomplish.

Consumer privacy and data protection are huge issues. What advice do you give readers on avoiding privacy blunders?

RG: It was critical for us to lay the issues out in an unbiased way and try to help marketers understand the importance of privacy by design and how important it is that you treat that with the utmost respect. So much of what is being written today about data privacy is biased--you're either a privacy nut who is trying to shut down all use of data or you're trying to make a living off data and arguing that consumer data should be wide open.

We tried to take a neutral approach and talk about both sides and what needs to happen, which is privacy by design, control, and transparency. The user should always have control over how the data is used, transparency into how the data is being used, and we also talk about best practices. One example is LinkedIn has a trust council. It's a group that meets on a monthly basis and talks about issues in the company that involve user data and things like security and trust. I sit on that council at LinkedIn, and I think it's a great best practice for companies to adopt.

Do you have a second book in the works?

RG: It's really hard to write a book and very time-consuming so not right now, no. My wife probably wouldn't allow it.

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