I started blogging in 2005, and started checking out Twitter and Facebook in 2007. While these tools have been popular topics for individuals for a while now, companies really didn’t begin to take an interest in social media as a pseudo-business tool till around 2008 or so. So for five years, social media has been the next ‘it’ thing.
But eventually, we’ll all move on to talking and obsessing about something else. Even now, some people are beginning to say that social media’s bubble is about to burst. So when social media is officially no longer the ‘cool kid’ in school, what will take it’s place?
One idea that’s been gaining traction in the last year or so is that of Big Data. In simplified terms, it’s collecting massive amounts of data about a sample (such as your customer base), and then analyzing that data in order to spot trends and characteristics about the customers that you might otherwise miss. Currently, there are few software packages that can sufficiently analyze data on a massive enough scale to qualify as ‘big data’. Putting that bottleneck aside, there are huge potential privacy concerns over the role of Big Data, GigaOm recently had a nice piece that outlines some of the possible negative scenarios.
But beyond those concerns, what strikes me about the Big Data discussion is that marketers are still trapped in a world where they are trying to understand the activities that customers engage in instead of focusing on what motivates them to engage in that behavior.
It’s not about understanding what behaviors your customers exhibit, it’s about understanding your customers.
Marketers don’t need to focus on Big Data, they need to focus on Big Understanding. It’s one thing for Wal-Mart to understand that customers that shop from 8am-10am on Saturday spend 21% more than customer that shop from 10am-noon on the same day. It’s quite another for the retailer to understand why this shift in behavior takes place. Do the people that show earlier on Saturday simply have more money to spend? Do they enjoy coming earlier before the crowds arrive so they can relax and spend more time shopping (and more money)? It’s almost impossible to tell from just looking at numbers.
This is part of the reason why I posted yesterday that brands need to start committing to talking directly to their customers. To me, this is one of the great and mostly untapped benefits of social media. These tools give brands a way to talk directly with their customers for really the first time ever. Brands need to commit to having more direct interactions with their customers.
Because interactions lead to understanding and understanding leads to trust. And trust leads to advocacy.
It’s not about the tools and the technologies, it’s about what they allow us to do. Don’t focus on the tools, focus on the connections that the tools help facilitate.