By Morten Strand, chief executive of Cint

Whether it’s being used to better understand business, people, technology or even the evolution of the universe, big data offers incredible opportunities to improve our understanding of the world around us. Providing a wealth of information that the marketing industry has been tasked with making sense of.

Our appetite for smart technology appears to be growing, as consumers slowly move away from desktop machines and towards portable devices that facilitate connections on the go. It’s predicted that as this trend continues so will the quantity of data, giving companies the opportunity to gather this information to drive innovation and development. Aside from privacy concerns is the pressing responsibility to find meaningful ways to leverage data in order to better support and service the people who are providing it.

Both private and public sectors are investing in innovators to explore sophisticated ways to think about how we can best utilise data, and what it can power and achieve. Big data is a two way street; consumers are aware that information is collected and repurposed but they are complicit in this arrangement. There is an unspoken agreement that the data gathered will be put to good to use, i.e. analysed to develop and implement strategies which will improve consumer or user experiences and drive positive change - whether it be better products, services, price points, or efficiencies.

One of the challenges with such huge amounts of data now available is how to determine what information is valuable. It is down to the organisation to interpret the information and whilst a certain amount of speculation is inevitable too many assumptions can cause problems. Gathering the figures and creating graphs and dashboards is one thing, but analysing the cause behind the effect is an important part of moving forward to evolve the processes and campaigns that align with consumer’s current needs and desires.

Combining customer opinion (small data) with transaction information and social media data (big data) will help organisations build a clearer, more holistic picture of who their audience is and what they want. People expect organisations to offer a personal approach to customer service, with rewards and incentives becoming interactive. Supermarkets are beginning to offer shoppers the chance to customise their own promotions. Combining market research findings and big data insights together helps to build an understanding of what consumers want and how they behave. This offers companies the chance to exceed customer expectations and build lasting relationships and brand loyalty.

The importance of small data and the insights it provides can be easily lost amidst the buzz of the ‘big data’ movement. But conducting more niche market research could be the key to unlocking the real potential of the figures generated by social media and mobile phone use. Big data explains what people are doing and where they’re doing it, but investing in market research technologies (such as online panels and questionnaires) could help marketers get to the heart of the motives behind consumer’s decisions and what people really think about their experiences. Evaluating actions and behaviours in correlation to consumer thoughts and opinions is a crucial part of consumer analysis.