Mine big data. Then do what big data can’t.

This article originally appeared on Bader Rutter's blog.

As big data matures, it will fast become a commodity. When that happens, brands won’t be able to differentiate themselves through data analysis because doing so will become table stakes, not a competitive advantage.

The impact then comes in putting resources behind what a computer can’t do. Marketing initiatives like a creative campaign that connects emotionally and strikes a nuanced tone unique to just your audience. A completely mapped out user experience where everything just works. A social presence with the personality and wit of human beings, not talking logos.

The true opportunity
The simple breakthrough of big data is that it solves human inefficiency.

Be it SaaS (software as a service), PaaS (platform as a service) or IaaS (infrastructure as a service), big data excels and disrupts industries when it automates what used to be manual. Think of Uber. The company has replaced dispatchers with software that tracks the GPS of both the taxi and the passenger’s smartphone. And both Google and Uber have plans to replace the driver with self-driving taxis.

Marketers need to understand that this pattern is well underway in our world and not just restricted to cabs and hotels. Take content. The Associated Press partnered with data firm Automated Insights to automate what used to be a tedious task for writers covering the financial industry: quarterly earnings reports. The result? Mass layoffs? Dry, robot-speak prose? So far, none of the above:

“Computers are not taking journalists’ jobs — not yet, at any rate. Instead, they’re freeing up writers to think more critically about the bigger picture. ‘One of the things we really wanted reporters to be able to do was when earnings came out to not have to focus on the initial numbers … that’s the goal, to write smarter pieces and more interesting stories.'”

Rather than feel threatened, refusing to adapt and slowly become irrelevant, companies have a true opportunity with big data. It involves embracing what big data is great at and supplementing it with value that big data is incapable of, and humans excel at: social cognition. Things such as context, emotion and creativity.

Focus on high-impact
Think about your company’s marketing efforts. What can be automated or made much more efficient?

  • Still scraping by with free online monitoring tools such as Hootsuite and Google Alerts? Do you pay for premium monitoring tools but have no central platform to house and report on the data?
  • Yet to embrace an automated marketing platform such as Marketo or Eloqua?
  • When it comes to data exporting, are you in the trenches of a CSV Excel file when an API feed could be automating the whole thing?

You likely don’t need everything that the geniuses at IBM are building software for. Big data can be used to break down mind-blowingly complicated issues. But the examples above are a good starting point when looking at how to embrace big data and execute a few disciplines more efficiently.

The question then becomes how can you shift the time and cost savings from embracing big data into things that that are more labor intensive but make a much higher impact? As our Executive Creative Director Mike Fredrick notes, don’t overlook the importance of creativity in everything you do.  How many great creative campaign ideas, user-experience maps, social storytelling initiatives or mobile gaming app proposals were left on the cutting room floor of last year’s marketing budget?

When thinking of big data, think of the simple and monotonous tasks that can be automated. Implement big data where it makes sense. Then reap the savings of efficiency and think of the work that relies on social cognition. That is the path to true differentiation.

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