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Are you being swindled by Big Data?

Uberflip's COO Randy Frisch and CEO Yoav Schwartz. A new set of statistics from the Toronto-based digital publishing specialists makes it clear that most marketers simply have no idea what they’re looking at when it comes to applying research data to effective marketing.

Uberflip’s COO Randy Frisch and CEO Yoav Schwartz. A new set of statistics from the Toronto-based digital publishing specialists makes it clear that most marketers simply have no idea what they’re looking at when it comes to applying research data to effective marketing.Big Data. Search retargeting. Native advertising. Insight marketing. Social media. SEO. FBI. NBA. You’re excited, right? Listening to assertive sounding terms in a language you can’t understand can be strangely hypnotic and interesting. Like listening to Jessica Paré sing “Zou Bisou Bisou”.

Big Data is the new black. Everyone knows it. There’s a new book out called Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform the Way We Live, Work and Think and the term has been inescapable for anyone who follows technology. And as Big Data begins to transform marketing and advertising, with accompanying pleas from the shepherds of data to think of market research not as a cost but as an investment, one has the sense that a starting pistol has been fired, everyone is running as fast as they can in different directions, and no one knows where they are racing or why.

Some certainly do have at least a handle on the impact of Big Data, or at least on the idea that it’s something worth paying attention to. But a new set of statistics from Toronto-based digital publishing specialists Uberflip makes it clear that most marketers simply have no idea what they’re looking at when it comes to applying research data to effective marketing.

Facebook led the way in 2012 in terms of global ad revenue for social platforms, with $4.3 billion, miles ahead of second place LinkedIn with $972 million. Shockingly, this figure represents revenues posted before the December partnership with Chango, the Toronto search retargeting firm who uses Facebook’s FBX Ad Exchange to increase the precision of tailor-served social media advertising. If the figure is that high before the use of Facebook’s data stockpile to effectively target its users, one can only imagine how that figure might jump when they actually get precise about it.

Uberflip’s most shocking and yet least surprising statistic is that even though 75% of brands have now created a space for social media advertising within their marketing budgets, 62% of advertisers and 70% of agencies don’t know how to measure return on social media advertising investment. That’s not a typo. Agencies, whose job it is to extract maximum return for clients based on superior knowledge of the market, don’t know what they’re looking at even more than the people placing the ads. It’s like being taught to gamble by someone whose main advice is, “What does your gut tell you?”

Marketers are aware of the possibility of a backlash against the use of search retargeting, however. HootSuite CEO Ryan Holmes, writing for Forbes, while noting that spending on social media native advertising is forecast to triple from $1.5 billion now to $3.9 billion in 2016, also worries that “as Promoted Tweets and other forms of native ads become more prevalent, users may come to resent the intrusion on their personal streams and news feeds.”

If Andrew Sullivan’s entertaining feud with Buzzfeed over that company’s failure to distinguish between articles and advertising is anything to go by, the backlash is in at least mid-swing. Holmes, concerned that native social advertising is headed for the same fate as banner ads, which went from being the only game in town in the year 2000 to irrelevance as “viewers learned to simply tune them out,” states the case as a scenario of inflicting the least pain: “Native ads seem to have done the impossible: make the experience of advertising – so grating to consumers, so costly to companies – just a little more bearable.”

Reading Holmes further, it becomes clear that native social media advertising offers a whole new dynamic for the need for companies to meaningfully engage with consumers without seeming like stalkers peering in to people’s seemingly private online lives. Or at least making it bearable.

If all this is true, then these are the final days of glory in advertising for people who cherish the old Hollywood chestnut, “Nobody knows anything.” As long as the illusion can be maintained that your guess is as good as mine, advertising agencies will turn a healthy profit feasting on the bodies of the living. But that is becoming an increasingly hard trick to maintain as an obvious gap opens up between those who can harness the benefits of Big Data and those who can only parrot the buzzwords accompanying its rise.

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