Even the technologically challenged among us will be aware that we are now living in an information age. If the 20th century began this explosion in the creation and collection of information, the 21st will see it grow beyond virtually our collective comprehension.
All around us are the signs of exponential growth in information and data. The number of text messages sent every day exceeds the number of people on the planet. 600 tweets are sent every second. By 2020, it is predicted that there will be 75 billion devices connected to the Internet. Between 2012 and 2013, the human race produced 2.7 zettabtytes of data; 500 times more than throughout the rest of human history! And this figure is expected to increase three-fold to over 8 exabytes by 2015.
BIG DATA AND THE CLOUD
Amplifying this trend is the growth of cloud computing, and an attendant phenomenon which is already offering businesses opportunities that were hitherto unimaginable. Big Data has already become a buzz term, and the phrase essentially refers to any dataset which is too large to be stored, catalogue or analysed via traditional methods.
However, cloud computing is making it feasible to analyse such vast datasets. It certainly poses challenges for businesses, but also particularly provides an opportunity to get to know their customers more intimately in a way that was never thought possible previously.
In such a climate, it is not at all surprising that we see trends which reflect this. In the US, 77% of marketers have increased data collection over the past year. For marketers, this data enables them to better understand their customers. According to eMarketer, companies collect not only data about location or demographics, but also psychological and social information, enabling them to establish a better impression of the behaviour of their ideal customer.
BETTER UNDERSTANDING THE CONSUMER
The gathered data enables marketers to build customer profiles and better achieve segmentation. Among US marketers, 57% declare that they increase data collection in order to get a better understanding of consumers. Getting enough data to obtain a full profile of consumers is an important goal for marketers, although collecting relevant data remains a challenge for them.
While marketers are using different tools to collect information, they still struggle to combine data to build qualitative profiles of consumers. One of the challenges of Big Data, as has been widely acknowledged, is knowing precisely how to deal with it. Although tools now exist to make this process plausible, dealing with data that is more than geometric in scope has not yet been fully mastered.
RIGHT TO BE FORGOTTEN
However, while Big Data offers potential opportunities to business, it also poses ethical questions. The marketing trend of vast data collection is in opposition to previous data initiatives, and to government legislation passed on the subject. The EU is regulating the collection of personal data and has implemented the “right to be forgotten” concept. This issue is a particularly prickly one given the recent NSA-related revelations unveiled by Edward Snowden. If privacy wasn't a big issue already, it certainly is now.
Therefore opportunities exist for businesses to take advantage of this data protection trend. The social media site Snapchat is recruiting users who particularly possess this asset; Snapchat posts are destroyed within the 10 seconds following their publication. Personal data protection is also an important topic for academia. A team of MIT researchers has recently developed openPDS; a platform which enables users to choose what specific kinds of data they are willing to share with websites and apps.
THE DATA PARADOX
Consumers are paradoxical. On the one hand, they would like to use apps and websites which are personalised and relevant to their needs, without having to register or re-enter their information every time they visit the app or the website. On the other hand, they would like to master their data, keep their personal information private, and ensure that it will not be sold for commercial purposes. This paradox should be considered by marketers when collecting data. All marketers and businesses should have a clear policy about which data they collect, for what purpose, and make it available to customers. Transparency is and always will be appreciated by consumers.
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