Analysts predict that within a few years, the CMO will have a larger IT budget than the CIO. Why is that? It’s because marketing is increasingly becoming a data-driven exercise and the organizations that can best understand and act on information will win the hearts and minds of customers.

Now the CMO is charged with leveraging the huge troves of new forms of data that pour into an organization every second through the website, the call center, their stores and over social channels including YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest and who knows what else tomorrow.

There has been an exponential surge in behavioral, social and customer content and it's richer than ever before -- video, high-res photos and even audio. But regardless of the volume, variety and velocity of the data glut, marketers are expected to be able to handle it, not just to track conversations and engage with customers, but to identify new marketing opportunities and audiences and even influence product development.

Data Needs Context 

But it’s challenging stuff. For example, companies with more generic names like Tide, Shell and even Apple have to filter out an awful lot of unrelated noise to get to the heart of the conversation around their brands. Even at HP, where I work, we have to get past chatter about Harry Potter and the Huffington Post which are often abbreviated “HP,” to really see patterns about our brand.

How does a CMO succeed? Basic analytic tools are quickly overwhelmed, and keyword monitoring and Boolean queries miss the meaning. The answer is to leverage a marketing solution that actually understands the context of what is being said, that can cut across slang, multiple languages and various media types and formats. Once you actually understand what is being said, you can automate action.

For example, a major auto manufacturer who was watching for trends and insights across its industry was able to hone in on a conversation about its in-vehicle communications and entertainment system. The company noted that people were talking about watching pollen counts, monitoring heart rates through the steering wheel, and even using the system to set reminders for taking medicines. All of a sudden, a new marketing opportunity arose -- using the car’s system to help manage one’s health.

This was undiscovered country. There were no pre-defined searches set up to look for discussions about health. It was only by using monitoring tools that allow the data itself to express the "unknown unknowns" through clustering that enabled the company to pinpoint a theme and ultimately identify a new way to engage with its customers.

In another example, a major movie studio keeping an eye on social media noted various complaints about kids beings scared enough to have to leave the theater during one of the studio’s children’s movies. Curious, the company dug deeper and found that that particular theater had been queuing up the wrong preview reel and was showing rated R movie previews with intense action and characters inappropriate for small children. This experience helped the studio better engage with the film distributor and network of theaters to help manage things that are normally out of the studio’s control and provide a better overall experience to moviegoers.

Look Beyond the Social

And it’s not just analysis of social conversations. A flower and gift company with a large call center and online business struggled to align the two channels. Through conceptual analytics of the call center conversations, they found that some customers were unhappy with recent on-line purchases. The customers felt that the image on the website did not accurately reflect what was showing up on the doorsteps of their loved ones. By understanding this and sharing it across channels, the company was able to quickly change the online image and avoid possibly further damage.

In another example, a major brick-and-mortar retailer uses media-based marketing solutions to compare sensor data with photos of its store shelves to see in real-time what products are selling best. The retailer then uses this information to analyze how to create the most effective promotions for specific customer segments, and to inform decisions on pricing, promotions and shelf allocation.

If marketers truly want to gain insight that they can act upon, they need to set aside point solutions and legacy approaches that don’t address the variety, volume and velocity of data. They need to embrace solutions that help identify themes by letting the data express the idea and can derive actual meaning from the noise.

The spotlight is on the CMO, and it’s time to perform.

Editor's Note: This is just one article from this month's Turning Data into Marketing Action theme.