Thinking small with ‘big data’: How to use data to grow your business







“Before God we are all equally wise – and equally foolish.”
-Albert Einstein




Constant Contact, Partner Contributor Dec 10, 2013, 8:07am EST

By Jesse Harriott, Chief Analytics Officer, Constant Contact

If you ask a business about how it defines “Big Data,” you’ll likely hear everything from transactional data, to technologies that address data volume, to new data sets like social media and mobile. But while the definitions vary, one thing remains consistent across businesses today – 76 percent describe Big Data as an opportunity for their organization.

The problem is most businesses think Big Data analysis is reserved for the big companies with large budgets and tons of resources. This mindset prevents many from jumping into any data-focused initiative, but I’m here to tell you that doesn’t have to be the case!

Businesses have access to tons of information right at their fingertips. From sales receipts, to Facebook Insights, to Google Analytics, and much more, organizations of all sizes can learn so much from the data they already have. And if that isn’t enough, businesses today have access to true Big Data through the organizations with which they work.

Here are a few ways to help you make the most of the data you have either in-house or from the companies with which you work:

What to do with all that in-house data?

When looking at how to best use the data you already have in-house, start by asking yourself a few questions. The most critical step is unfortunately the one most often overlooked. Many businesses jump right into analyzing data. I caution you, take a step back! You have to kick off your project by coming up with a specific question that you want to answer.

The question that businesses want answered will vary for every organization. To ask a question close to our heart here at Constant Contact, you may want to figure out the best time of day to send your email newsletter to maximize open rates. Or, you may ask which of your Facebook posts garner the most engagement. Think about a goal you want to accomplish in your business and the questions you want answered to help you accomplish that goal.

The next question you should ask is what data you need to answer your question. No matter the size of your business, it’s likely that you have tons of data you could analyze. So once you have figured out your question, think about what types of data will help answer that question.

Let’s revisit the first example we had: If you are trying to figure out the best day or time to send your next email newsletter, then your open rate reports are a perfect place to start. Take a look at the days that you receive the most email opens. Every organization is different, so while some businesses will see more opens on a Monday, others may find out that later in the week is best.

What if your question was about increasing engagement on Facebook? Try taking a look at the types of posts on your Facebook page that receive the most likes or comments. Do images receive the most engagement? How about posts specifically about things going on in your business at that very moment? Simply taking a look at likes, comments, and shares can help you answer these types of questions.

The last step to your in-house data project is asking yourself what actions you should take from your analysis. If your data told you that you receive the most email opens on a Monday, then try sending your next few email marketing campaigns on a Monday to see if your open rates stay high. If you found that visual content received more engagement on Facebook, then try posting more images on your Facebook page to see if you continue to receive a high number of likes, comments, and shares.

It’s important to note that the actions you decide to take from the data you’ve analyzed might not work as well as you hope on the first go around. Don’t panic! If you didn’t receive the results you were hoping for, then go back to the data that you have and try a different action. It could take a few times to get the desired result, but the answers you are hoping for are in the data. You’ll get there.

A little help with Big Data

But what about all this buzz you’re hearing about Big Data? As a small business, is it really possible get true Big Data insights? The answer is yes – by seeking out the big companies that are committed to small business success.

For example, let’s say one of your goals is similar to what we discussed earlier – you want to know the best time to send out your email marketing campaign to make sure you receive the most opens. At Constant Contact, we send more than 45 billion emails every year on behalf of our customers. That’s the kind of volume that can produce real, tangible insights into what works, whether that’s the best time to send an email, or what call to action will get the best click-through rates.

Of course, Constant Contact is just one example, the one I happen to know best as its chief analytics officer. There are plenty of other big companies delivering real insights to small businesses. Take Google, for instance. WithBigQuery, Google provides businesses with massive amounts of data to help them make informed business decisions in real-time.

If you seek out the businesses focused on small businesses, they can often provide you with insights you need to drive even more business success. All you have to do is put those insights to work for you.

Businesses of all sizes are starting to think about Big Data, but 2014 is the year when small businesses can expect to benefit from the Big Data craze. We’ll see more and more organizations of all sizes gain a new understanding on how Big Data can help their business, much like they did with mobile two years ago and social media five years ago. Whether you want to start a data project in-house, or you’re looking for a little help from your Big Data friends, you have access to information that will help grow your business.

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