The Nimble Elephant: Big Data and Agile Marketing

On Monday September 9, 2013, the qSample team attended the American Marketing Association “Evening with Experts at 1871: The Age of Agile Marketing.” The speakers were Justin Massa, CEO of Food Genius and Chris Young, Senior Director Global Menu Services at McDonald’s. The presenters showed us how big data can be leveraged to facilitate agile marketing.

What is agile marketing? No, it’s not practicing yoga postures while drafting a marketing plan. According to agilemarketing.net the goals “are to improve the speed, predictability, transparency, and adaptability to change of the marketing function.” Agile marketing is inspired by the values of agile development:

Agile Marketing

Responding to change over following a plan
Rapid iterations over Big-Bang campaigns
Testing and data over opinions and conventions
Numerous small experiments over a few large bets
Individual interactions over target markets
Collaboration over silos and hierarchy i

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Basing marketing decisions on data rather than instinct was the theme of the night. Justin Massa emphasized that Food Genius is, above all, a technology company that extracts insights from an enormous amount of restaurant menu data from numerous sources such as GrubHub and presents them in such a way that a client can understand. Massa works with what is known as big data, which he describes in layman’s terms as data that you can’t download in an Excel file. He referenced the 5 V’s of big data to illustrate its core functions.

The Five V’s of Big Data

Volume: The most obvious of the 5, there’s lots of data!
Velocity: The data grows and changes quickly.
Variety: Data comes in a variety of structures, creating complexity.
Veracity: “Dirty” data may need to be cleaned up.
Value: All that data is only useful if you can extract value.

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Massa implored marketers armed with valuable data to stop asking “why?” and to be satisfied with just the “what.” He argues that identifying the trend is enough. For example, wraps are one of the fasted growing menu items in the United States. You don’t need to know why wraps are so popular. Is it the low carb craze, the gluten-free trend, the salad-sandwich hybrid appeal? Doesn’t matter. Just identify the “what” and forget about the “why.” The “why” he says, will just slow you down and decrease your agility. Of course, this may be because big data alone typically can’t give you the “why,” even if you needed it. Big data plays a very important role in agile marketing, but for most marketers, it will not be the only source of data.

The truth is that there are many segments that simply don’t yet have an accessible data infrastructure, let alone a specialty company like Food Genius tracking and making sense of the data. If you’ve got a niche audience, sometimes the easiest thing to do is ask your exact target the exact questions you need answered, and you can just as easily ask “what” and “why” while you’re at it. For example, if you need a group of gamers to tell you what they think of your new product prototype, big data isn’t going to help.

qSample specializes in sample group acquisition and specialty panel management and recruitment. With 10 specialty panels including Homeowners, Baby Boomers, Campus Universe, Wine Opinions, Voters, Contractors, Gamers, Mobile, Small Biz Opinions and Travelers, plus a suite of survey software you can get the exact insights you need from the exact group you need to reach. The qSample mobile reporting app allows you to see your data in real time in vivid easy-to-understand charts and graphs. With quick turnaround and real-time data, survey research will enhance, not impair, your agility.

Remember agile value #5, “numerous small experiments over a few large bets”? To be an agile marketer, Massa tells us to eat the elephant one bite at a time. His slideshow image of elephant soup got some awws from the audience.

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McDonald’s knows better to bite off more than they can chew. Chris Young, Senior Director Global Menu Services at McDonald’s piggybacked off of Massa’s wrap example and explained that wraps were introduced country by country in European markets before introducing to U.S. restaurants.

In another example, Young pointed out that even McDonald’s didn’t dive headfirst into offering fruit smoothies. The company had big ambitions for their beverage line-up, but started first with perfecting their coffee recipe before moving into Frappes. With growing beverage success, they then introduced fruit smoothies which could be made using the existing Frappe machines. Young also pointed out that it’s often logistically imperative for McDonald’s to make small, market-by-market change simply because of the volume at which the company operates. There simply wouldn’t be enough strawberries on the planet to suddenly begin selling smoothies at every McDonald’s overnight.

Listening to Massa and Young share similar philosophies on agile marketing reinforces the universal value of the concept. Each company has put the principles of agile marketing into practice in different ways, as they each face different challenges. Traditional market researchers have had to become more nimble as well, as online and mobile surveys promising quick results have become the standard. The overall message is to utilize data to make decisions and to move quickly but make small changes, treating each move as an experiment that will guide future growth.

i http://agilemarketing.net/what-is-agile-marketing/

by Stacy Sherwood

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