The big news at this year’s South by Southwest, Austin’s annual music and digital media marketing festival, was Big Data. The term deals with the collection of data sets so large and complex that it eludes our current tools of collection and analysis. Digital Media Marketing gurus, analysts and eggheads discussed the implications of this burgeoning data revolution. Keynoter, Nat Silver, observed that it took 330 years for the printing press to change the overall standard of living, and that we shouldn’t place too much trust in the transformative possibilities of big data. Take, for example, the human brain. It is a wondrous analytical instrument but limited. It can only process so much information at a time. Even Google Maps only goes so far.
But Stephen Wolfram, the scientist behind the data-driven Wolfram Alpha computational search engine takes a different point of view. He told a SXSW audience that “in the modern world, everyone should learn data science,” to be able to mine large databases that will determine the nature of consumerism in this new millennium.
During a panel discussion, Jen Lowe, a scholar at Columbia University, and Molly Steenson, assistant digital media professor at University of Wisconsin-Madison, debated the effects of a data-driven world on the next generation. Their premise was this: today, a child coming into the world can expect to be shaped from the beginning to the end by Big Data. Right now, big box giant Target is currently utilizing Big Data to pinpoint future customers while they are still in the womb.
“We knew that if we could identify them in their second trimester, there’s a good chance we could capture them for years,” explains Andrew Pole, a Target statistician. “As soon as we get them buying diapers from us, they’re going to start buying everything else too.”
Big Data is also creating a social divide between the haves and have-nots. In the banking industry, JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America, Citigroup and Wells Fargo are all moving beyond traditional gauges of creditworthiness, considering things like how often consumers eat out to whether they shop mostly at upscale department stores or discount emporiums.
Using Big Data to understand a prospects habits and lifestyle is fraught with opportunity, upsides and dilemmas––the biggest one being the invasion of privacy. Do we really want Target and Bank of America knowing our business?
Our credit cards and mobile devices rat us out. They know where we are. What we spend. And where we live. This kind of data is a goldmine for marketing people and their online marketing agencies. So what are you waiting for? Start mining.