Why you should be paying more attention to dark data

CMO of WP Engine reveals how dark data utilisation has lifted onsite engagement and can help brands improve elsewhere too


There is no shortage of marketplaces to satisfy the appetites of the most data-hungry organisations. But for some, their efforts might be better directed at utilising the data they already have right under their noses.

The 2016 Veritas Global Databerg Survey estimated as much as 85 per cent of the data generated in the world is actually ‘dark data’, which is not being utilised for deriving insights or decision-making. Other studies have suggested up to 90 per cent of data could be dark.

According to chief marketing officer at WordPress’ digital experience platform WP Engine, Mary Ellen Dugan, that means many marketers are failing to maximise the value of data assets they already own.

“With the right tools to analyse this information, you can get a far better understanding of client preferences, improve client relationships and increase revenue,” she tells CMO.

Dark data often comes in the form of logs and telemetry, and records information such as system activity or sensor input. Its uses are numerous, and in come cases are no longer uncommon, such as for analysing customer call records to better understand sentiment or preference, or understanding mobile geolocation data to serve up localised content.

Dugan says her own company is benefitting from more advanced uses cases, such as using browser usage information to engage in behavioural targeting, and performing comprehensive spend analysis by pulling data from financial and CRM systems to better understand key metrics like customer acquisition costs.

Dugan says data can become dark for many reasons, but primarily it occurs simply due to the volume of data organisations collect and the inefficiencies of technologies and systems for reading, filing and accessing it.

“It could be because the storage reservoir hasn’t marked the metadata labels appropriately, or because the data is in a format that the integrated tools can’t read and therefore cannot be retrieved by a query,” she says. “This kind of irretrievable data is commonly seen with imaging, audio and video files.

“What’s clear is as organisations’ ability to collect data exceeds their ability to analyse it, dark data will continue to explode.”

Dugan says the situation has been exacerbated by the need to often have humans manually extract and label metadata so it can be stored appropriately.

“This is an expensive, slow and unreliable process, but with the developing sophistication of deep learning technologies, dark data extraction can now be completed much faster and with a greater degree of accuracy,” she continues.

WP Engine has made use of dark data using the techniques described above to radically redesign its website, leading to an increase of 60 per cent year-on-year increase in traffic and a fourfold growth in its Agency Partner Program. The next step is seeing more of WP Engine’s clients take advantage of their hidden data assets, in line with the company’s value of being ‘customer inspired’.

Related: In depth: The art of dealing with Generation Z

“We are fundamentally interested in anything that can help businesses of all sizes to better understand their customers and grow their business online,” Dugan says. “I am a firm believer organisations can gain an immense value from learning who their customers really are, particularly for a marketing function, and any improvement in data analysis that shapes this understanding could be game-changing.”

And while harnessing dark data today might provide benefits to help propel a company beyond the performance of its peers, Dugan says in the future its utilisation may not be optional.

“As deep learning technologies advance, the ease and cost-effectiveness of analysing dark data will do so too,” she says. “At the moment, being able to harness this kind of untapped data resource stands as a competitive advantage, but it will quickly become the norm or companies will obsolesce.

“This is a data-hungry age, and it won’t be long before ignoring dark datasets will be a crippling competitive disadvantage.”

Follow CMO on Twitter: @CMOAustralia, take part in the CMO conversation on LinkedIn: CMO ANZ, join us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CMOAustralia, or check us out on Google+:google.com/+CmoAu  

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