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The “big data mindset” is the pursuit of a deeper understanding of customer behavior through data analytics.

big data mindset

The four elements of a big data mindset

How companies of any size can get more from their existing data.


Companies of any size can get more from their existing data through an enterprise-wide commitment to testing and analytics.

When industry observers discuss big data, the focus is typically on the magnitude involved: the huge volumes of data being generated every day or the computing power required to turn information into insight. It’s no wonder that some middle market companies have determined that harnessing big data is well beyond their reach.

As with many emerging business trends, technology is a vital component―but it’s not the only factor. Companies that seek to extract value from their data simply by investing in more computing power will miss the full value of the opportunity. Instead, marketing executives must understand that the obstacles they face in generating more customer insights arise not from the increasing amounts of data but from shortcomings in their approach to data analytics.

Amazon and Facebook are two high-profile companies that have become synonymous with using data to target consumers and track emerging trends. Before the big data era, however, companies such as Reader’s Digest and Capital One developed successful business models by using data analytics to drive effective customer segmentation. All of these companies share the “big data mindset”—essentially, the pursuit of a deeper understanding of customer behavior through data analytics.

The big data mindset encompasses four elements:

  1. Design marketing processes with data in mind. Companies must often reengineer their marketing processes to ensure they have access to relevant information when they need it.
  2. Engage in R&D everywhere. Companies that promote a culture of testing throughout the organization can gain tremendous insight into consumer trends and user behavior.
  3. Use predictive analytics. Businesses are increasingly able to identify customer patterns and generate targeted offers, often before customers are even aware they have a need.
  4. Challenge conventional wisdom. Since data analytics can provide definitive answers, there’s no excuse for using the status quo as a default.

The big data mindset can drive insight whether a company tracks information on tens of millions of customers or has just a few hard drives of data. The common thread is a commitment to using data analytics to gain a better understanding of customers. While imbuing the entire organization with this big data mindset requires a sustained effort, the impact—in the form of stronger customer relationships, increased sales, and a more nimble and responsive enterprise—more than justifies the effort.

Florian Zettelmeyer is the Nancy L. Ertle Professor of Marketing at the Kellogg School of Management. His research focuses on the effects of information technology on the product market behavior of companies.

Copyright © 2013. Florian Zettelmeyer.