This is a guest post by market research expert Jenny Larner Brown

Startups and emerging businesses — without million-dollar budgets for marketing, market research and analysis … and the fancy software to aggregate it all — can enjoy the rewards of big data just as well as the large enterprises. To get started, these businesses will need basic familiarity with data-related concepts and some reliable sources for accessing information about your customers.

I recommend this white paper Big Data Marketing Hero for folks who need to get up to speed on the basics of big data analytics. If you don’t have time to read the full document, here’s a three-step process for getting started with big data.

Step 1: Define your business problem

Before you can even begin to gather the most relevant information to reach and influence your target customers or otherwise improve your profitability, you need to know what’s stopping you from succeeding now. What do you need to know about your market, your customers or your company to improve your business?

Here are five business objectives that the smart use of data may be able to help you address:

· Accurate budget analysis for integrated programs companywide

· On-time adjustments to digital communication campaigns

· Predictive analysis to anticipate and plan strategic initiatives

· Cohesive self-service marketing at geographically dispersed locations

· Contact optimization that reaches customers appropriately

Talk with your internal team and make sure you understand what information gaps are hurting your profitability. Then develop a go-forward plan that outlines the steps you’ll take when you fill the gap and have the answers you need. This planning process can help you avoid getting distracted by irrelevant information that doesn’t directly address your business needs and thereby wastes your resources.

Editor’s note: Our upcoming DataBeat/Data Science Summit, Dec. 4-Dec. 5 in Redwood City, will focus on the most compelling opportunities for businesses in the area of big data analytics and data science. Register today!

Step 2: Know your ideal type (of data)

Unless you’ve conducted market research at some point, you may not know that there are two types of consumer data:

· Primary Data: This is original custom data that’s generated for a specific purpose through surveys, observation or another collection platform. It’s considered the most expensive kind of customer data because it typically requires a robust data-collection process, storage and processing capacity and skilled analysts to interpret and report the relevant findings. Investing in primary data is most prudent when a business has exhausted all existing sources of information and still requires data to move forward or maximize a specific business initiative.

· Secondary Data: This is information that already exists (within your company or from other groups or organizations) and was collected for some purpose that probably doesn’t relate to your company. Some secondary data is freely available; accessing other types may require a relativelysmall subscription fee (compared with the cost of procuring new data). In exchange for the cost savings, secondary data may not answer all your questions regarding specific aspects of your product or business and customers. The timeliness, format and accuracy of the data may also be problematic.

The good news is that small businesses can benefit from the very aspects of big data that confound so many people trying to harness its power. That is, by tapping into the massive amount of reliable real-time consumer data that’s available in so many different forms, entrepreneurs and business leaders can generate data-driven strategies without investing life-threatening amounts of resources in data collection and analysis.

Step 3: Explore existing information

One of the least expensive ways to access and apply big data analytics is to convert existing consumer data into actionable insights you can use. Secondary data is often available for free or for a relatively small subscription fee and can give you valuable insights into target consumer groups.

Here are three secondary data sources for information you’re probably already collecting as part of other business functions:

· Sales data, including the product purchased, total value of the transaction, date of sale, method of payment and so forth

· Financial records such as profitability metrics and opportunity costs of pursuing certain leads

· Web traffic behavior, including the number of visitors to certain pages, the source of traffic, content that triggers departures and shopping cart conversions

In addition, here are five small-budget external sources of secondary data that can help your small businesses tap into big data:

· Voting records

· Corporate annual reports

· Credit scores

· Census statistics

· Global Market Information Database 

Step 4: Sift and succeed

“The least expensive way to access and analyze a secondary data set is to hire an intern with computer skills to sift through the information you collect and pull out the relevant information,” says Gary Schwebach, a founding principal of market research firm G&S Research.

He points out, “Analyzing data is often the hardest part of the data processing process, but if you’ve done your work on targeting information to meet your business needs, then you should only have data that addresses your issues. The trick is knowing what you need and why.”

Jenny Larner Brown has been writing about corporate marketing, market research and content strategy development for nearly 20 years. Most recently, she worked as an editor for the global For Dummies brand of reference books. She’s ghostwritten a book on social media marketing, and her content has been published by the American Marketing Association, the Marketing Research Association, Quirks Marketing Research Review, Medical Marketing and Media, Genetic Engineering News and other leading publications.

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