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Big data is touted as good medicine for business ills – something that can diagnose problems and lead to miraculous cures. At its best, big data can produce critical insights that impel improved business strategies.

But big data has significant disadvantages. It’s expensive and time consuming to obtain and analyze. It requires substantial data storage capacity, advanced artificial intelligence, and teams of skilled data scientists. Despite advances in machine learning, benefits remain out of reach for most small and medium businesses – and even some big businesses that lack an analytic culture or skills. In addition, those potential miraculous results aren’t guaranteed, as big data projects often involve large groups of people with different agendas and complicated processes.

Especially in marketing and PR, small data can offer a better solution. Small data may lack glamour, but it’s accessible, more affordable to analyze, and more likely to produce beneficial, actionable recommendations.

Join the Fun

Another benefit: Small data projects are fun, say Thomas C. Redman, president of Data Quality Solutions, and Roger W. Hoerl, associate professor of statistics at Union College in Schenectady, NY.

“People revel in understanding the numbers, what they mean, and the detective work to sort out what is really going on,” the data experts write in Harvard Business Review. “They love working on teams and seeing the results of their labor improve their work and their company’s performance.”

PR and marketing professionals can obtain small data through their social media listening service, website analytics, email platform, customer relation management system and other corporate-controlled sources – without complex systems or machines. Small business as well as larger companies can access and analyze small data themselves through software-as-a-service (SaaS) platforms.

“It has such potential because it too often goes underutilized — but has gems of marketing strategy wisdom,” says Neil Michel, chief strategy officer at Wire Stone, a digital marketing agency that’s part of Accenture Interactive, in Chief Marketer.

How to Obtain and Analyze Small Data

These are some main steps that experts recommend to help marketing and PR professionals become more proficient in small data analytics.

Get people involved. Leaders who steer data initiatives themselves gain credibility and set a good example. “Encourage your people to join your data initiative and empower them to put small data to work in their own unique ways,” urge Redman and Hoerl.

Follow a disciplined process. Redman and Hoerl recommend: define the business problem, gather the needed data, analyze the data, make improvements, lock in the gains, identify the next opportunity, and repeat the cycle.

Get clean data. Inaccurate or corrupted data – “dirty data” — can lead to wildly incorrect conclusions. To ensure clean data, audit data, use advanced search queries, establish standard terminology. Use an established media monitoring and measurement service and reputable vendors for other services.

Seek a comprehensive view. Seek a single view of customer behavior from a business intelligence tool like Tableau or Power BI, Michel recommends. Data aggregator tools can compile data from disparate sources, such as social media monitoring, customer service and sales, for a more complete view of customers.

Schedule quality time. Communications teams may be too busy or not inclined to study their data deeply. After all, most PR and other communications specialists are “word” people, not “number” people. Allocate definite time periods to review the data, reflect on their meaning, and how you can improve marketing and PR practices in response to data insights.

Analyze selectively. Track all data but pay attention to the data that matters most to your business, says Caroline Japick, chief marketing officer at Pramata, in a Forbes article. Not all businesses should pay attention to the same data. Likewise, gather only meaningful data. Many communications teams report practically everything, and end up confusing themselves and executives who may only care about increased sales or ROI.

A manageable project employing small marketing and PR data can often produce outsized results. Sometimes, the hardest part is just to get it started.

Bottom Line: Instead of chasing miraculous big data cures, marketing and PR personnel can more easily gather and analyze small data. Companies can access and analyze small data without massive data storage or expensive data scientists. In addition, they may have already obtained the data through their social media listening, web analytics and CRM systems.