What Big Data is Doing to Digital Marketing

Big data is transforming all aspects of business, and digital marketing is no exception. With the vast volumes of data available today on customer behavior and preferences, big data enables marketers to gain unprecedented insights to optimize their online marketing efforts. In this comprehensive guide, we‘ll explore the growing role of big data in digital marketing and how savvy marketers are leveraging data analytics to connect with customers.

Understanding Big Data

Before diving into the marketing applications, let‘s quickly define what we mean by "big data." Big data refers to extremely large and complex datasets that traditional data processing software cannot easily analyze. The dimensions that characterize big data include:

  • Volume – the vast amount of data generated every second
  • Variety – different structured and unstructured types of data
  • Velocity – the speed at which new data is generated and moves
  • Veracity – concerns over data accuracy and quality

In the digital marketing context, big data encompasses all the information companies can access about their website visitors, leads, customers, competitors, social media followers, online transactions, and more. Analyzing behavioral data is key for gaining customer insights.

Some sources contributing to the big data boom in digital marketing include:

Social Media Activity

The content users create and engage with on social platforms represents a data goldmine. Marketers can analyze sentiment, track influencer mentions, identify new audiences, and more.

Web Traffic and Analytics

Clickstream data showing how visitors navigate a website and analytics tools tracking key metrics like conversions provide a wealth of user behavioral data.

Transaction Data

Every purchase, both online and offline, generates data that offers insights into customer preferences.

Mobile Data

How users interact with mobile sites and apps offers useful contextual data for digital marketers. Location data further allows for geo-targeting.

Connected Devices Data

The growth of IoT devices will unleash new data streams for marketers to tap into regarding how consumers interact with smart products.

Key Applications of Big Data in Digital Marketing

Now that hopefully you have a handle on what constitutes big data, let‘s explore some of the key applications in digital marketing and how data analytics can optimize efforts.

Understanding the Customer Journey

One of the most vital uses of big data analysis is identifying customer journeys across devices and channels. Marketers gain clarity on the touchpoints influencing people during the awareness, consideration, and decision stages. This allows tailoring messaging and offers to where individuals are in their journeys.

Personalizing Experiences

Consumer data derived from multiple sources provides the custom inputs needed to deliver personalized digital experiences. Website algorithms dynamically serve up content based on individual interests and preferences. Email and social ads target subsets of audiences.

Predictive Analytics

Sophisticated machine learning algorithms help uncover patterns in data to make predictions about future customer behavior. Predictive analytics in digital marketing might forecast the likelihood of a lead converting or a customer churning.

Optimizing Marketing Spend

Crunching numbers on past campaign performance aids determining an optimal marketing budget allocation across channels. Data indicates where to increase or decrease spend.

Gaining Competitive Intelligence

Monitoring the digital activity of rival brands allows benchmarking against competitors‘ strategies and messaging. Big data aids reversing engineering what works in a given market.

Testing and Personalization

The insights derived from big data allow marketers to test digital experiences and personalize them. Algorithms serve up customized CTAs, product recommendations, on-site notifications, etc.

Big Data Enables Smarter Digital Marketing

Now that we‘ve covered some major applications let‘s look at a few powerful examples of brands leveraging big data analytics to improve digital marketing performance and connect with customers:


The streaming giant analyzes viewership data to understand the types of content users engage with. This allows personalizing the rows of suggested new shows and movies displayed per individual. Data also optimizes their content marketing.


The music app tracks users‘ listening behavior and preferences to create personalized playlists and podcast recommendations likely to delight each subscriber. Data aids serving up the right audio at the right time.


The ecommerce leader uses algorithms to display past purchases and related products on category pages. The item suggestions and on-site notifications aim to encourage additional sales based on data analytics.

As you can see, leveraging big data has become pivotal for major digital brands. But accessing, processing, analyzing, and acting on large datasets can seem daunting for marketers. Next we‘ll unpack some tools and methodologies helping marketers reap big benefits from big data.

Tools and Techniques for Marketing with Big Data

Hadoop and NoSQL Database Systems

Scalable database management frameworks like Hadoop and NoSQL allow cost effective storage and processing for high volume, high velocity big data. These open systems provide the core infrastructure.

Data Lakes and Warehouses

Consolidating analytics data into a single repository aids joining data from disparate sources to uncover patterns. Marketers can build data lakes themselves or use cloud-based services.

Machine Learning and AI

Advanced ML algorithms uncover meaningful patterns to provide predictive insights from complex data. NLP helps process unstructured text data from social media, reviews, forums, and blogs.

Visualization and Reporting

Transforming big data into interactive visualizations, KPI dashboards, and performance reports makes the analytics understandable and actionable for digital marketing teams.

Tag Management and Attribution

Using tracking tags and analytics tools helps properly attribute marketing success metrics to different campaigns across channels and map customer journeys.

Mastering marketing attribution remains an ongoing challenge in the age of big data, but properly tagging digital elements helps marketers more fairly allocate credit.

Overcoming Big Data Marketing Challenges

For all its promise, Big Data poses challenges. Marketers aiming to utilize data analytics should be aware of a few pitfalls:

  • Data Overload – Simply having more data does not automatically yield better insights. The key is asking the right questions.
  • Dirty Data – There can be major data quality and accuracy issues that skew analytics.
  • Irrelevant Metrics – Marketers may focus measurement on the wrong KPIs that don’t align to strategic goals.
  • Data Privacy – With data vulnerabilities and regulation, maintaining consumer trust while still leveraging data presents a major balancing act.

The key is not just amassing data but also having the talent, business processes and infrastructure to utilize it effectively towards actionable decisions.

Tips for Leveraging Big Data in Digital Marketing

For marketers aiming to make the most of big data to guide digital marketing, keep these tips in mind:

  • Identify key questions then collect relevant data to answer them.
  • Focus analysis on data most likely to drive decisions.
  • Don’t rely solely on third-party data. Collect first-party website/app data.
  • Perfect data accuracy and quality through careful vetting and cleansing.
  • Analyze competitor data for benchmarking.
  • Make insights easy to digest through compelling data visualization.
  • Translate analytics into clear recommendations for optimization.
  • Continually test new metrics for usefulness and relevance.

Following these guidelines will help marketers extract maximum value from big data analytics while avoiding common mistakes.

The Future of Big Data in Digital Marketing

Looking ahead, big data will only grow bigger, yet also more manageable and actionable through better analytics tools. Expect to see machine learning drive more automated, predictive capabilities. And innovations like virtual reality may unlock new targeting opportunities.

Marketers should stay on top of emerging techniques and solutions to leverage big data most effectively while respecting consumer privacy. Done right, data-driven digital marketing stands to become even smarter and hyper-personalized in the coming years.

The bottom line is mega-data calls for mega-analytics if digital marketers hope to spend each marketing dollar wiselyreaching the right online audiences. Mastering the science (and art) of big data will separate the marketing winners from the losers.