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Activating Big Data for Big Outcomes

3 minute read | June 2015

In “Back to the Future Part II,” Marty McFly learned that Biff used a sports almanac to place winning bets throughout history. Betting on winners and never losing might sound as fictional as a time-traveling DeLorean, but at Nielsen’s 2015 Consumer 360 conference, Eddie Yoon, principal at the Cambridge Group, hosted a panel to discuss how big data can be the almanac that leads to big business outcomes.

On stage, Michael Fox, SVP, marketing, innovation, R&D at Columbus Foods, Anne Chittum, VP, research and data at CBS Interactive, and Kyle Okimoto, SVP, head of marketing at E*TRADE Financial Corp., talked about how their companies used big data to place the bets that unlocked what Eddie Yoon called “the Five Fs:”

  • Foresight: Know where demand is headed
  • Faster Decisions: Get there first
  • Force: Know when to increase your investment
  • Flexibility: Have the ability to pivot when the market changes
  • Focus: Less firefighting to focus on future

The sheer scale of data can be overwhelming and challenging. Chittum noted that CBS Interactive, like many organizations, faces tremendous data complexity. Okimoto found himself in a position of having rich, but incomplete data. And Fox found that in his role, he started with no data at all.

For Fox, figuring out where to start came down to a choice. “Do I want to scuba dive or do you want to snorkel?” he asked. “On the CPG side of the world, we love going deep. The problem is, when you go to deep, there’s not a lot down there. You zoom past the obvious.”

“At the end of the day, it’s about decisions,” Yoon said. “What are the business decisions you have to make with big data to help you get better and get to big outcomes?”

Chittum agreed, saying, “Ultimately, it’s about making things actionable and operationalizing that data so it’s accessible across the organization.”

When it comes to application, the panelists said they apply the insights their data provided to different areas. Fox opts to use the data as quickly as possible, say that’s the only way to truly gain a competitive advantage. When competitors are working on the same ideas, he said, big data can help you be first to the market. Okimoto said he uses data to put himself in the right position to ask better questions of his customers and learn more from mistakes. Chittum believes in the predictive power that her data has provided.

All three panelists had similar ideas on how to get the most from big data. Instead of trying to do it all, they suggest using data to do a few things great. Develop simple hypotheses that can be validated with basic data and go deeper and narrower from there.

Perhaps most importantly, as Okimoto said, “Make connections with people who can help you understand data.” Fox agreed, “Having access to data isn’t the same as using data. Success still comes down to people’s awareness, acceptance and expertise.”

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