Big Data, Big Data, Big Data, Swing!

I attended an event last night where the panelists included Gary Briggs (CMO of Facebook), Sanjay Dholakia (CMO of Marketo) and Promod Haque (Norwest Venture Partners). The event was sponsored by Kellogg/Northwestern (where all three of them got their MBA’s), but the topic of conversation was Big Data.

Big Data is the overhyped buzzword of the week (Silicon Valley loves overhyped buzzwords). And if you scan job posts you’ll see that practically every company in the Valley is looking to hire a “Data Scientist”.  Whatever that is. 

Promod Haque started the conversation by pointing out that being good at running a business has always included the ability to break down problems into individual drivers. And intuitively seeing patterns in data has always been a very useful skill to have in identifying those drivers. “What bugs me today”, he said, “is that if you ask a CEO what trends he’s seeing in data, he’ll tell you that he’s not sure, but he has a really good data guy on his team. If I asked a CEO about his balance sheet I wouldn’t expect him to say ‘I don’t really understand balance sheets but I have a really good balance sheet guy on my team’. Understanding how to interpret data (and knowing the right questions to ask) is something every CEO today should be able to do.”

Gary Briggs chimed-in and said that he doesn’t like the term “big data” at all, because it’s a supply-side view. It implies that the issue is that you’ve got huge hard drives full of raw data and so you need to find someone who will find value in it. “I prefer a demand-side view”, said Gary, “business has always been about learning as much about your customers as possible. There are powerful new tools today with which one can gain deep insights, but the business driver is that same as it ever was: learn as much as you can about your customers.”

There was lots of other interesting discussion, with the general consensus being that big data is, indeed, a new buzzword for a long-standing core concept. 

“Marketing has always been about telling compelling stories”, said Gary. “My job today is to use the data to tell the story to drive outcomes”. 

And that’s a pretty good summary, I think. All of us should learn to be good at using the data to tell the story in order to drive outcomes.