This is a guest post from Vanja Djuric, Director of Analytics, Marketing Analytics and Marketing Research Cross-Media Database Marketing, Digital Marketing The Taylor Institute for Direct Marketing at The University of Akron, and an attendee (and avid Tweeter!) of NCDM13: Where Marketing Meets Big Data.

Thus far, 2013 has been an exciting year for the data driven marketing industry. Research on the future of the #BigData buzzword has continued to expand; yet, it still remains a developing topic with many areas of uncertainty. Over the past few years, I have seen Big Data defined in many different ways, thus creating a lot of misperception as to what the best practices are for strategies that connect data, analytics and marketing intelligence, providing actionable results.

Last week I had the privilege of participating in the DMA event, NCDM13: Where Marketing Meets Big Data.  The conference was attended by industry thought leaders and marketing rock stars who were there to embrace the “phenomena” of Big Data.

As a university with an extremely distinguished Direct/Interactive Marketing educational program, The Taylor Institute for Direct Marketing at The University of Akron was above all interested in attending the NCDM13 to stay well-informed of what’s new in the ever-so-evolving data-driven direct marketing field. But also, to continue the improvement of our data-driven marketing curriculum for the undergraduate Direct/Interactive Marketing concentration as well as the MBA graduate concentration.

“Don’t get caught up in the hype of Big Data”

From the very first panel discussion of NCDM13 we wrestled with the idea of Big Data and how it can provide actionable marketing results to transform businesses. As our world becomes more competitive and global – customers have more control, barriers to entry are minimal – defining our destiny by using an opinion/gut feeling is long gone. It is not a matter of should we or could we, but we must use the power of data and analytics. Yes, the buzzword “Big Data” can be very intimidating, as to how do we manage it or create a strategy around it. The key is to look at Big Data as an opportunity to experiment a lot, fail fast and move on. With this being said, many questions came up, experimenting is great but where do we start? This takes us to one of the key takeaways from NCDM13, initially said by George Corugedo, RedPoint Global, “do not get caught up in the hype of Big Data, but focus on the fundamentals of analytics.” What I heard was that the traditional way of looking at analytics is the key, and the most important point here is how you frame the question. Capturing everything when you can and questioning everything allows you to experiment a lot, fail fast and move further on.

“Shift the conversation from big data to the right data”

I was pleased to hear the consistency of the importance of not only Big Data, but the right data throughout the three-day panel discussions and presentations. With so much hype around Big Data, we get captivated capturing as much information as we can, but don’t spend nearly as much time analyzing and creating a unique experience customized to our customers’ needs as we should. At the end of the roller-coaster as Jeff Berry, LoyaltyOne said, “it is not the size of your dataset; it’s what you do with it that counts.” The right data is essential to communication and engagement with consumers. Having Big Data on hand, we have a lot more opportunities to make those conversations and customer engagement more personal.

So now the question is how does a leading university best prepare the future data-driven industry rock stars?

  1. Data isn’t a silo – embrace Big Data! In order to stay in the game we need to think in a more comprehensive way than a simple transactional dataset. Big Data is not going anywhere, it is simply getting bigger, the sooner an organization catches up the better off within the competitive environment it is.
  2. Develop students in the right “Big Data mindset” – developing students who are able to find those right data points that correlate directly to driving results of the organization is the key.
  3. Provide many experiments to students – allow students to experiment with numerous datasets, with a significant component aiming at forming the right questions. “Think big, start small, scale fast.”
  4. Allow for failure – permit students to fail within their experiments, providing- that they come back with significant takeaways. Sometimes, it is not necessarily a question of determining a specific or right answer, but more so about learning the methodology.

My key takeaways from the NCDM13 are contributed by the presentations of the industry thought leaders and NCDM13 speakers: George Corugedo, G.B. Heidarsson, Jeff Berry, Thad Kahlow, Todd Cullen, Linda Woolley, James Niehaus, Greg Holzwarth, John Bartold, Stephanie Miller, Noel Ang, Rachel Thomas, JoAnne Dunn, John Balla, Liz Miller, Marcelo Prado, Khoi Truong, Emmett Cox.

If you are interested in finding out more about how you and/or your organization can get involved with the Marketing Analytics Lab at Taylor Institute for Direct Marketing, please feel free to contact me at or follow us @TaylorInst.

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