Digital marketers seeking new ways to gain a competitive edge should look at capital markets firms for inspiration. Financial traders’ rapid embrace of real time analytics and data visualization holds many lessons for tackling the data challenges that now hamstring the effectiveness of online marketing.
The Vanishing Luxury of Time
Capital markets experienced a technological transformation towards real time analytics following the last market crash. Pre-crash, there wasn’t an urgent need for real time data analysis for things like understanding risk exposure and portfolio structures because latency was built into the system. Traders had the luxury of time. They could wait days to read reports and other market data before evaluating and modifying their positions.
But then the market bubble burst and those firms that were heavily invested in subprime derivatives were catastrophically, if not mortally, wounded. Those who survived the crash knew they had to take latency out of the equation. They had to quickly adopt new technologies that would let them evaluate their portfolio and risk profiles literally as they were changing.
A similar phenomenon is now overtaking marketing. Before the Internet and the ubiquity of mobile connectivity, the industry was heavily weighted on print; latency was built into the marketing plan. Companies could kick back and observe trends over a month’s or quarter’s time and adjust their marketing programs accordingly to address the results.
With the emerging dominance of online marketing -- especially where key younger demographics are concerned -- latency is becoming a debilitating condition. There can no longer be any delays between the time a potential customer decides to purchase or engage with a company and the time a marketer sees it happening. If marketers cannot capture that consumer’s mindshare the moment it is forming, they face the same fate as pre-crash capital markets.
The Big Data Challenge
But as financial traders learned, real-time analysis is a complicated big data challenge. The ability to analyze consumer activity in aggregate across an entire market involves high volumes and varieties of data points. Even more challenging is the velocity of that data. Marketers need new tools for making sense of data “in motion” in real time.
Capital market firms learned that traditional data warehouses and business intelligence systems don’t cut it because they require capturing, transforming and loading the data into a database that can then be queried after the fact. In the rough and tumble marketplace of online retailing, even delays of a few seconds puts marketers at a competitive disadvantage.
Marketers need up-to-the-second visibility into who their website customers are, what call-to-actions or content they engage with, and what ads and incentives will trigger them to convert. They also need to assess how their affiliate networks are driving traffic, as well as pulling in more qualitative unstructured data from social media, mobile applications, Amazon reviews and the like. Wait too long to sort out all these data points and competitors will step in and steal customers away.