Tim Youngman: Big Data – an opportunity to transform or hoard?

Tesco were pioneers of big data

Tesco were pioneers of big data - Credit: PA

YOU may already have the creeping realisation that everything we do is being tracked and somebody somewhere is creating databases of our actions.

If you have Sky TV they know who you are, where you live, how old you are, what you like watching and so a behavioural view of your likes and dislikes which is of course extremely powerful.

If you go online regularly you will know of online cookie-driven behavioural advertising where ads from a site you visited once seem to miraculously follow you around the world wide web as you visit other sites. Most sites drop cookies, little bits of code, on your computer as you visit them that then follow where you go and allow ad servers to deliver more targeted advertising to you.

I, for example, am currently faced with pie dish ads from John Lewis or Debenhams wherever I browse. Guess what I have bought recently! The way to stop this BTW is to regularly delete your cookie cache via your browser settings.

The ability for brands to collect more and more data will only continue. The Nike Fuelband, which sports enthusiast wear on their wrists to track movement, is just one of a range of new portable computers. The much heralded Apple Watch and announced “me too” competitors from Google and Samsung continue this trend.

The pinnacle of this is Google Glass the glasses with the onboard computer that allows you to search and share wherever you are while wearing the glasses-like headpiece, set for release this year. Google it if you want to be amazed.

If done properly this is a massive opportunity that will radically transform businesses but it’s nothing new. I have already mentioned Sky but the best example of all time is Tesco and its Clubcard.

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They have arguably pioneered the use of data and clearly shown what can be done if you track user behaviour and use it to better target consumers with things they like. Everything from recommendations and offers, to an online shopping system pre-filled with your usual purchases, all checked through your clubcard and all possible because of clever use of big data.

I am not even going to touch on the privacy issues that will invariably happen when people actually start to realise what is being collected and who can access the data. Privacy aside however, the biggest issue has always been what companies and brands are actually going to do with all this stuff. It is all well and good collecting vast databases of customer data and behaviours but unless you use that to deliver better products or services or more targeted, less wasteful advertising it’s a big waste of server storage.

The trend for collecting more and more data will continue and I believe that like social media, the far reaching consequences will only be understood by a few at first. Quickly followed by others setting themselves up to “help” companies build data strategies to manage and benefit from this new opportunity. One thing that is certain is that in a few years time, companies and marketing teams will have a greater proportion of data analysts and clever mathematical genii than ever before. With the potential huge rewards of proper use of well gathered data, that is not a bad thing.

Tim Youngman is director of marketing for Archant - Twitter @timyoungman