It seems that the EU and the UK Government are once again at loggerheads, this time in terms of their approach to data. As the EU instructs Google that people have the right to be forgotten, the UK Government is instead looking to rush through legislation which means it will be able to access consumer’s communication data up to 24 months after calls, emails and texts were made and sent.

Many consumers, who are only familiar with the term big data from reading alarmist articles in the press about these developments, are getting a little tetchy about exactly what big data is, what it is capable of and what it means for them. Yet marketers know to call a spade a spade. Big data is really just more data. Some in the industry approach big data from the wrong end, seeking to immediately understand how to filter vast quantities of data into something more manageable and useful.

In my experience it is best to first understand the ‘small’ data and build up from there. Small data might be names, addresses or purchase frequency. Using such small data as building blocks can lead to big data insights. It is about building data though which it is possible to better understand your propositions to customers. Having more data to analyse enables companies to pinpoint who to sell to, identify which product a customer is most likely to buy, and discover the best time to initiate contact with them. Yet many companies still are not benefiting from the substantial rise in consumer data which has become available to them over the last few years.

Those with foresight, or who have experience of fuelling their propositions with the power of data, are harnessing this insight to great advantage, with cogent data strategies firmly in place to ensure they better understand and respond to their client base. However recent research found that 70 per cent of companies are concerned with the amount of data coming their way. This suggests that far from using data to their advantage, a majority of businesses are feeling overwhelmed by the scale of data available to them. It is a needless state of affairs. Businesses must put their shoulder to the wheel and use their data to gain valuable insight, not only into their customers but also about their business. Marketers, R&D departments and the salesforce are then empowered to engage with consumers with high value propositions that are a better fit with what the consumer wants. For all the kerfuffle with snoopers and the right to be forgotten – data analysis can be profoundly valuable to a business, especially if certain basic rules are adhered to.

Focus on quality

Consumers are increasingly savvy and they do not want to be interrupted or bothered with irrelevant marketing messages. Equally, businesses in the 21st century should not be wasting money trying to engage with consumers who are never going to buy. Sending “2-4-1 on roast chicken” vouchers to a vegan is clearly a futile waste of time, effort and money. Marketers might not have access to their customers’ dietary requirements, yet they can at least eliminate more basic waste, such as trying to reach customers at email addresses which are no longer in use, or trying to reach people who have moved house or left the country.

Data should be part of a two-way relationship

Consumers are sharing more data than ever before. However, they are starting to get spooked by the way some companies are gathering data. They respect honesty, as shown by the 30 per cent jump in approval rating for companies who are ‘honest’ with their data since the introduction of the EU ePrivacy Directive in 2012. People want to be treated as individuals, not as part of some arbitrary group. Granting them access to how they are being targeted – such as Amazon’s ‘why recommended?’ function – and even enabling them to help marketers hone the relevancy of the products being marketed to them can go an awfully long way to encouraging a more open, positive relationship with individual consumers. Transparent use of data is a must.

Know what you want from data

From the marketing execs all the way up to the upper echelons of a company, there must be a sense of what it is the company’s investment in data is trying to achieve. The fact that big data is a topic for discussion in increasing numbers of boardrooms is positive news indeed, as it demonstrates that its business potential is being taken seriously. Whether it is eliminating waste, boosting sales, or getting better business insight, there must be an end goal. Keeping a high quality, streamlined database is one thing, but knowing what to do with the data is another thing entirely. Marketers must not feel inhibited if there are aspects of data they cannot quite get their head around. It is time that marketers asked themselves whether data is at the forefront of their marketing activity given it’s phenomenal potential to boost the bottom line. If it is not, they should ask themselves why.

Ultimately, harnessing the power of any data – big or small – involves breaking it down into manageable, lineated chunks and conducting forensic analysis to better understand the who, what, when, where and why of your customers. This might involve using the data a company has amassed themselves, or acquiring up-to-date accurate data from an expert to fill any gaps in understanding. Companies which have the creativity and flair to look beyond the basic segmentation of – say – the age or gender of users on their websites and instead examine who their most loyal customers are can begin to reach them with more targeted, personalised messages. Marketers are then enabled to engage with consumers at the right time and the right way. Many people I speak to are still wasting money trying to reach consumers who have not engaged with their company in years and may well have changed email address. It is such a waste. We have reached a crossroads where the best way to cut that waste is to invest in the development of a well-articulated data strategy. The present, however, is much clearer. Big data can now provide answers to questions that have been previously unanswerable. Yet only to companies that have the courage of their convictions to be open, honest and transparent with their customers and to ensure that their infrastructure allows them to take advantage of this new nirvana of boosted revenues.