Every movement begins with a moment.

The Big Data Buzz at SXSW

Posted 18 March 2015 4:30 PM by Rania Renno

“Big Data Made Actionable,” “Humanizing Big Data” and “Predictive Is Here” — these are just a few of the sessions that I attended this year at SXSW. And at each one, the rooms were packed with participants sitting on the edge of their seats, anxious for insights that might shed some light on their ever-present big data questions. It’s clear that the ascent of big data is raising some serious concerns for marketers. And everyone was talking about it. I couldn’t walk three steps at SXSW without hearing someone utter the words.

Not surprisingly, this year’s biggest question was how to use big data to better serve one’s consumers — whether that’s through a brand’s onsite experience or at its brick and mortar stores. One session after the next, we all sat there waiting for the data gods to descend from the heavens and tell us how to magically corral data and become experts at personalized marketing. But the moment never came. Don’t get me wrong — we all gained some serious and invaluable knowledge about big data. But we also learned this: Big data is even more complicated than we thought. And we’ve yet to crack the code on 1:1 personalized marketing across all channels and touchpoints.

And while no singular revelation revealed itself, there were some common themes that emerged. The most interesting to me: The ability to use social to break through one of the largest issues that marketers face when trying to connect data on a particular type of consumer — one who uses multiple devices.

Over and over, I heard the statistic that Americans on average have four devices that they regularly use to access on-site experiences. So now the question becomes, “How do we identify a user across various devices and browsers?” I was excited to see social as a possible answer to this question. Here’s how Social Code’s Laura O’Shaughnessy explained it: Because social has become such an important part of our daily lives, it is likely that a user will log in to one of his/her social accounts and connect on a daily basis. Because of this notion of habit, marketers can leverage consumer habits to capture an email address upon log in on various devices and, in this way, begin to connect that consumer’s habits and behaviors across both his/her personal and work devices.

And while I was interested to hear about social’s potential to be at the core of cross-channel consumer identification, here’s another supposition that surprised me — and it’s one comfortably shared by the vast majority of the marketers who spoke at SXSW: Machine learning is going to replace human decision making. I’ve always thought that, due to the moral nature of the issue, that marketers were still in the conservative camp regarding this topic. Philosophical discussions typically revolve around the idea that algorithms and machine learning should only supplement decisions, not replace them. However, studies indicate that, because machines are not hindered by the messiness of emotions, egos and feelings, they make smarter, more cost-effective decisions than their human counterparts. Pretty much every time. Even when said humans are literally given the answer to the question before it’s asked.

Throughout my time at SXSW, I learned that everyone is trying to figure out how to use big data to build a competitive advantage. My takeaway: Accept the big data revolution and start listening to people who have figured out some tricks to crack the issues it’s generating — in the moment and in the future.


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  • Shawn McGahee said:
    3/18/2015 9:32 PM

    Awesome read! I think everyone is looking for THE person with THE answer when it comes to Big Data and we have to realize that, like with every other discipline, marketers must use it for what is best suited for their business and goals.




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