by Allyson Hugley
July 29th, 2014

Lately it’s been impossible to ignore the barrage of articles and magazine covers touting the importance of big data, and the provocative questions that come out of it, like, “Is data the new god?”. We spoke with Allyson Hugley, executive vice president of analytics, Weber Shandwick to cut through the hype and find out.

Myth #1: Everybody is using “big data”

The accessibility of information and the lower cost of accessing this information have created the illusion that everyone is “doing” big data – but as Allyson explained, “Big data is what we talk about, but analytics is what we really care about.” Allyson also said there’s a huge disconnect between understanding the importance of big data and doing it well. In fact, according to a recent Bain & Company survey, only four percent of companies are really good at analytics.

Myth #2: Leaders succeed with tools and tech

If an organization jumps in without first creating the appropriate culture and infrastructure to support big data, it will most likely slip and fall into the 96 percent of companies that are not getting the most out of big data (Bain & Company). Big data needs to have a seat at the table and be infused throughout the organizational culture – from the top down. “If you don’t have the buy-in of the CEO and create a culture that breaks down silos in order to integrate multiple data sets from across the company – and use that data to inform decisions – then having a lot of data isn’t going to make your company successful,” Allyson said.

Myth #3: Big data is new

“We’ve always used data to inform our decisions, but now there is so much more data available – and at lower costs. It’s more of an evolution than a revolution that now requires specialized roles and technical infrastructure to support. It also comes with the added responsibility of managing data that must be kept secure,” Allyson explained.

Myth #4: Getting a data scientist gets you in the data game

“A data scientist operating in isolation can become consumed by the data and be inefficient,” Allyson said. “Succeeding with big data requires a cast of people – including a data scientist – but also a business analyst to identify and prioritize the business problem and determine the relevance of the data. Technical specialists are also needed to provide the right hardware and software to mine and store massive quantities of data.”

Myth #5: Get in the game with a market research partner

The market research industry may be struggling the most to get a handle on big data. “Market research firms have been trusted partners when working with data for years – yet they are used to working with smaller, more structured sets of data, with an already defined question they are looking to answer,” Allyson explained. “Big data is a much different animal. It’s sloppy and you are forced to align multiple data sets.” Nearing the end of the conversation, we asked Allyson, “Why should marketers or communicators care about big data?” and we were at first taken aback by her response.  She said, “They shouldn’t care about big data… it’s just a buzz word, a trend.” But, she explained, “Companies should care about being data-driven, and that means having the right staff, agency and/or partner to make sense of the data.” She then gave the example of how Netflix was able to leverage data to optimize their original programming to resonate with target audiences. For the original series “House of Cards,” Netflix analyzed data on the director (David Fincher), actor (Kevin Spacey) and British version of the series to create a winning original series. And therein lies the real gem beneath the big data hype that we should all pay heed to… the ability to pull meaningful insights from data that help an organization better understand its customers so it develops the right products or services, and communicates to them in a way that resonates.

Allyson Hugley, executive vice president of analytics, Weber Shandwick

To receive our updates: