With the dawn of big data upon us, Livelink managing director PK Vaish argues that digital agencies need to change how they package their services – and businesses should review how they buy them.

In recent years, digital has become a recognised and increasingly vital part of the marketing mix. New technologies, big data and the growth in online content have changed the media landscape.

Livelink's PK Vaish

Livelink’s PK Vaish

With the lines between the content creators and content consumers becoming more blurred, our appetite for good content is insatiable and the chatter through inboxes, online and via social media is constant.

And it’s not about fancy websites any more, although good design and simple navigation always counts. Our digital age is a fast-changing one. Digital years are like dog years, as is anything related to technology.

Take Blackberry, for instance. Today the brand and the devices seem so last century, yet they were at the pinnacle of communication only two years ago, as highlighted by the role they played in the riots that swept the UK in the summer of 2011.

It’s all about big data now. It plays a large role in society per se. It is not just of paramount importance in commerce, it affects all sectors, including the public sector, and is making an impact on all business concerns, regardless of size.

The analysis of large sets of data is now primed to underpin growth, innovation and all types of sales, from services to products, business to consumer and businesses selling to businesses. It is happening now and is already driving all manner of growth.

The volume and detail of information that can be captured, fuelled by the rise of multimedia technology and social media, has given our economy a new backdrop to labour under and is putting pressure on every sector to increase productivity.

Big data can generate value across every sector. It can be used in the public sector to effectively reduce expenditure and in the private sector to make a significant impact on operating margins.

Big data in itself isn’t new, of course. Having systems in place and strategies to manage big data have been the preserve of commercial giants such as Tesco and Amazon for some time. What is new is that data is now becoming a factor in every business concern, regardless of size.

It’s a democratisation of technology, and there are systems out there that have been built or are being built that can provide a solution to the fragmentation of data experienced by smaller businesses, gathering all their business intelligence into one location to make it unified and more meaningful.

There is a high value to making information transparent and usable. The quality of information that can be gathered from systems set up to absorb big data is more accurate, detailed and variable. Data collection and analysis allows for more relevant and timely communications. Narrower segmentation means more tailored products and services.

For those who recognise the possibilities in harnessing big data and who are ready to embrace it, it’s got to be an all-or-nothing approach. You need a consultancy with cutting edge software and sophisticated analytical skills that can provide the most interesting and relevant content. None of this can be bought off the peg or in chunks. It has to be valued as an ongoing resource.

Digital services – web sites, social media, content management, e-marketing etc – are still treated as an add-on in a lot of quarters. Advertising, PR and other offline marketing services are purchased by clients whose relationship is established with an agency on a retained basis from the outset and yet digital, arguably the most important part of today’s marketing mix, isn’t.

It doesn’t make sense, especially when you consider the facts.

Research carried out last year, for instance, revealed that almost 90% of consumers turn to search engines when making purchasing decisions. Research released early in 2013 by Cisco found that digital content from the internet is the most powerful influence in buying decisions for the majority of shoppers in all channels.

Its consumer study also revealed that online ratings and reviews are the most influential sources for making purchasing decisions and that shoppers increasingly want access to digital content in-store through a variety of devices.

More companies are now recognising that digital – desktop or mobile – is at the forefront of marketing. The task that lies ahead for digital agencies is to educate clients with regard to big data and, if necessary, take them right back to basics. It may be a case of, if you rebuild it, they will come.

Our job as digital agencies is to provide the joined-up thinking rather than to simply offer a menu of services for the client to pick from. As digital experts and e-commerce specialists, we not only need to offer the right software and services, we also need to develop strategies that will deliver tangible results.

Big data needs big solutions and yes, it is an initial big investment… but then the pay-off is big too.

PK Vaish is the managing director of digital agency Livelink