With the growth of Big Data, and the accompanying scramble by techs to capitalize on the trend, a few companies are better positioned to effectively utilize this market than others.
Toronto-based Chango, for instance, was recently made an official partner in Facebook’s Ad Exchange (FBX), churning through huge quantities of search-related data which they then use to help marketers target individual Facebook users.
Vancouver’s Vision Critical is not only well positioned, with a history of researching consumer behaviour going back to 2000, but you could also say that their knack for knowledge extraction goes back to the old school, or more precisely that it’s in the company bloodline. Founder Andrew Reid is the son of Angus, of Angus Reid polling firm fame, which itself has been folded under the umbrella of the new enterprise, billing itself as “a Vision Critical practice”.
While his father’s firm is renowned for questionnaires, surveys and quizzing people directly, the generational shift is all about studying consumer behaviour as it plays out online. In an interview with the Washington Times, Andrew Reid describes the challenge of extracting information from the swarm of data in the following way, “There will be no questionnaires if we can really understand unstructured data. You get the best responses when it’s natural and not a forced series of questions.”
If the word “understand” seems overwhelming to the owner of a small or medium-sized business, who only want to know how to most effectively engage with consumer behaviour, the task ahead for the merchants of Big Data really is a bit like standing in the middle of a blizzard, looking for patterns in the snow. After all, a merchant only needs the data necessary to convert a wandering consumer into a repeat customer. The problem is not having enough data; it’s how to use the data effectively. This is what statistician Nate Silver calls “the Signal”.
In the meantime, Vision Critical has been making moves to consolidate their mastery of the Big Data domain, poaching ex-IBM CFO Donna de Winter, taking a $20 million dollar investment from OMERS, and now acquiring text analytics company DiscoverText.
Research firm Gartner predicts that 4.4 million Big Data jobs worldwide will require filling by 2015.
While marketers may wince watching titans both old and new like Vision Critical and Chango eating up enormous slices of the Big Data marketing pie, the good news is that the pie is getting bigger year after year. The International Data Corporation published a forecast in December of 2012 that sees the Big Data market growing 31.7% annually, reaching $23.8 billion in 2016. At least one analyst pegs it at twice that size if you account for analytics software, Saas, and “the cloud” providers, because all this generated data needs to be hosted.