Four ways big brands use Big Data

Big Data
By Nicola Sinclair, CA Today

16 November 2015

Nicola Sinclair reports on how four of the world’s biggest brands use Big Data and the lessons for accountancy.

Big Data started off as a niche interest for digital evangelists. It was even credited with ‘making maths sexy’, as Silicon Valley cottoned on to the potential it had for modelling online consumer behaviour.

Yet recent years have seen Big Data move from the tech pages to the business pages and even the front pages of our newspapers. Why? Because companies are realising that data in itself can be a headache, but data utilised correctly is a goldmine.

According to one accountancy director quoted in Chartered Accountants Worldwide’s Critical Success Factors report, data is ‘the biggest single-valued good that will be shipped around our economy for the next 20 years.’

So far, so good, but what does all that mean in practice? We look to four big brands for inspiration.

Google: Seize the moment

Google is notoriously secretive about the quantity of data it holds, but it almost certainly has access to more of our personal data than any other company. One fun article on What If? estimates that Google has 15 exabytes of data – that’s 15 million terabytes, or if you were around in the era of punch cards, it’s enough punch cards to stretch for three miles.

What does it do with this data?

It integrates your Google accounts and shares information between services, it personalises online advertising and it uses anonymous data to analyse trends and improve products and services.

The latest evolution of Google’s Big Data strategy is real-time analysis, with Tom Kershaw, director of product management for Google Cloud Platform stating: “We really believe that streaming is the way the world is going. Instead of looking at data from two months or two years ago, the data you really care about is happening right now.”

Take-away for CAs

Real-time data could enable businesses to monitor the success of apps and programmes, piggyback emerging trends and keep abreast of online security threats.

Apple and Starbucks: Location location location

America is known as the land of opportunity, and these two American giants have certainly cottoned on to the opportunity of land. Apple has quietly purchased a 12-person San Francisco start-up called Mapsense, a high speed mapping engine that claims to ‘unlock the value of geotagged data’.

Apple has declined to comment publicly on its motivation for buying the product, but at a reported $25-30 million it clearly sees major applications.

Commentators suggest that this plus a string of other mapping acquisitions will help Apple capitalise on the mass of real-time data captured on its smart phones, which in turn could give it a market advantage in developing new technology, such as self-driving cars and internet-enabled devices.

Meanwhile, Starbucks has its own sophisticated Planning and Development application, which harnesses location-based data, street traffic analysis and demographic information to identify sites for new branches.

So next time you pop in for a pumpkin latte, think about the mammoth Big Data exercise that placed it at your fingertips.

Take-away for CAs

Geo-tagged data will not only refine the smart products of the future but can also help you to identify the best physical locations for new offices premises and advertising. Find out where your market is, then go to it.

Amazon: Building relationships

One of the biggest challenges in harnessing Big Data is to do so without straying into some dystopian nightmare of corporate surveillance.

Yes, Big Data gives businesses valuable insight that can influence marketing decisions and deliver commercial gains, but it should also be used sensitively to avoid leaving clients feeling queasy.

One fascinating article in the NY Times references Target’s uncanny ability to market baby goods to women before they have even announced their pregnancy.

Amazon has a chequered reputation for its use of consumer data, but it has had some successes in an area that is often overlooked by other Big Data businesses: customer services.

As an article in Fast Company points out, even highly influential consultancy McKinsey pays little attention to the customer side of the equation.

Yet Amazon has done what many business have not: it has made huge swathes of its customer data available to people working on the frontline of customer services, avoiding the tiresome, automated process of handing over customer number, name, address, and product that usually start customer enquiries off on the wrong foot.

Take-away for CAs

Social media has turned brands into two-way conversations. Using Big Data wisely to get to know your client will create deeper relationships than a traditional advertising campaign ever could.


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