Understanding Your Customers through Big Data

By: Jessica Galbraith

Knowing what your customers want, and how they act and react, is at the cornerstone of any truly successful business model. This information can greatly influence everything from the type of marketing campaign a company decides to use to the weekly newsletter they send out to their customers by e-mail.

Traditionally businesses relied on surveys and panel groups to understand a customer’s reaction to certain advertising tactics or to learn more about their buying habits based on different situations and criteria. These types of methods, although effective, were slow, time-delayed, and only allowed small sample groups. With the rise of Big Data, essentially giant collections of data, we can now understand our customers in real-time through incredibly diverse and accurate methods. Here are some of the different ways you can gather information from various sources and zero in on your target audience.
Can Big Data help you find your target customer?

In 2012, online purchases via mobile devices were up 85% over the previous year. (eMarketer) 2013 didn’t disappoint either, and brought the online shopping industry to a whole new level. On Black Friday, for example, purchases on mobile devices were up 187 percent over 2012. Consumers are making it quite clear that they prefer the convenience of shopping through their mobile devices, and that the desktop and laptop will soon be in the minority.

What does this mean for companies? Combining Big Data and mobile devices can be an extremely effective way to collect data, and very useful data it can be. Through Apps, GPS technology, and real-time consumer behavior, companies can get instant access to individual customers.
Mobile devices show real-time data of consumers.

Social Media
Social Media holds an immense amount of information about the daily habits, preferences, hobbies, and personal life of people. Facebook alone has over 1 billion users, each of whom actively throw out data about themselves on a daily basis. What companies and products do they like? Do they have small children? Did they attend University? Have they attended a concert in the past month? All of these little pieces of data paint an extremely real and detailed picture of a specific customer. Companies can use this data in their approach with advertising, offers, and general insight.

For example, you have a woman in her mid-20’s, she graduated from the University of Southern California, is single, and likes Pop Tarts, bad 80’s music, and surf gear. From this information a company can assume many things. She won’t be interested in wedding veils or children’s toys, she is probably active and enjoys playing sports, and likely enjoys going out, spending minimal time cooking in the kitchen. With this data, a company can begin showing this woman advertisements for active wear, the latest beach club opening, and even the newest flavor of Pop Tarts. This is the convergence of social media and Big Data in its simplest form, but has the potential to change everything.

Making the Most of Big Data
There are thousands of different sources for Big Data, but how can a company dig through it all and find the information relevant to them and their customer base? Data integration tools hold the answer. Most of the actual Big Data out there is not organized, hard to sift through, and without the technology to interpret and clean it up, is all but useless. Data integration tools can go through large amounts of data, cleaning them up to be more concise, readable, and accessible.

OpenRefine is a great tool that can clean up data, transform it to new formats, and even link data to your database. Another popular data integration tool is CloverETL, whose main mission is to provide customers with data quickly that is cleaned up and valuable.

Big Data may hold unlimited opportunities for the future of marketing, but companies must be open to exploring new concepts and data integration tools as they come along. Understanding a customer has never been simple, but through technology and new forms of data, we have unlimited resources to tap for the future.


Jessica is a full-time writer and author of the travel blog The Fly Away American. She spends her free-time working on her online reputation through social media and networking.


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