Email marketing and Big DataHave you heard of the phrase ‘Big Data’? Like so many tech terms, it gets bandied about a fair bit, but it seems that those referencing it often forget to let the uninitiated (i.e. most people) know what it actually means.

Here’s IBM’s definition: “[Big Data is] broadly defined as the capture, management, and analysis of data that goes beyond typical structured data, which can be queried by relational database management systems’.

Doesn’t help, does it?

A more meaningful definition for you and I is that Big Data is simply a collection of customer information which is so large that traditional database management tools are of little use when it comes to accessing and sorting it. Big Data is typically unstructured, but contains an absolute wealth of information. Harnessing it can be absolute gold dust for marketers.

Sticking with the customer database theory (because that’s what’s relevant to email marketing), Big Data is a best described as a collection of statistics and numbers which haven’t previously being tracked. You know your customers’ names and addresses, but, unbeknownst to you, you may also have access to the following:

  • Smartphone and tablet usage
  • Email response rates
  • Social media behaviour
  • Website browsing activity

This is the reason Big Data can be relevant to marketers – such information is out there and accessible. It’s just so big, and for that reason, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Big Data is solely useful for the big boys such as Tescos, Amazon and high street banks. Not so.

But, how can Big Data help us email marketers?

Big Data helps you get personal

Many marketing experts believe that email is the most personal form of advertising. We already know that, by personalising emails, you’ll gradually build a positive relationship with subscribers, but that doesn’t have to extend simply to their name in the subject line. Big Data has the ability to offer us tenfold the information we had access to ten years ago. Using it (for example, birth dates, social media habits, etc), enables us to become more targeted with our campaigns and, crucially, we can start sending the most relevant of information to our subscribers.

Big Data isn’t expensive

Supercomputers are, largely, a thing of the past, although there’s no getting away from the fact that large organisations still have pretty big server farms in order to process their own Big Data. However, it doesn’t have to be like that. Big Data can actually be incredibly cost effective. Firstly, the tools required to mine it are becoming more and more affordable and lightweight – you don’t need anything more than a good desktop computer to start finding out more about your customers. Secondly, once you’re in there, the sheer volume of information will help you become far quicker and more flexible in responding to the patterns and trends Big Data can reveal. Quicker means cheaper.

Big Data picks up abandoned baskets

If your business is ecommerce-based, you’ll know how frustrating abandoned shopping baskets can be. This is when customers get as far as adding items to a virtual basket, but never proceed to the checkout. It happens an awful lot (73% of baskets are left idle, according to some reports). Email marketing is a great way to encourage people to revisit their baskets, but you need to know who has abandoned them in the first place. Big Data can help here, giving you an almost singular overview of each customer. You’ll know what they do on your website and exactly when they abandon their basket. Once you know that, you can hit them with an email which is relevant to them and which may just convince them to pick the basket up and continue.

Big Data loves social media

They were made for each other. Just consider for a moment how much information some of your friends on Facebook willingly enter into what is, essentially, just a very big database, on a daily basis. There are, of course, some ethical issues here, but when done correctly, you can mine such data and use it to your advantage. What are your subscribers interested in? What are they talking about regularly? Knowing this, once again, will enable you to segment your lists and send more relevant information their way – they’ll love you for it.

In conclusion…

Apparently, 89% of marketers are not using data effectively enough to create and optimise their email campaigns. Do you think you’re among that number? Big Data isn’t as scary as it might sound – I recommend doing a little bit more research on the topic when you get time. It’ll help you make the most of the wealth of information under your nose.


Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici /


Mark is one of mailingmanager's email experts. His contributions to this blog openly share the tricks, tips and best practices he's learned while running multiple e-marketing campaigns.

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