Big Data is an emerging trend in the marketing world. Every way you turn, companies are capturing data about consumer preferences and buying habits. Terabytes of data flow in each day from sources around the world. Where marketers once relied on surveys and focus groups to learn about shoppers, they now can gather vast amounts of data from myriad sources, such as shopper loyalty programs and social media.

A recent BMO Capital Markets study says marketers are spending $50 billion on Big Data and advanced analytics in hope of improving the impact of their marketing efforts. With all the data being collected, Thomas Ordahl, chief strategy officer of Landor Associates, says the challenge is to provide effective analysis that derives insights to help marketers better understand their customers.

It’s all new territory, Ordahl says. In the past, research surveys and focus groups served as a proxy for a universe of consumers. The responses of a few hundred people were projected to represent millions of people. Now, companies don’t need that proxy because they can literally view all customers and process that information on a much greater scale. Information from social media can be combined with data from retailers, in-house sales and other data sets to form a more complete view of the product’s journey.

“Simply put, there is a lot of data being collected in the world, much of which is lying there unexamined,” Ordahl says. “That data must be transformed into information or insights that we can act on from a marketing or customer service standpoint.”

If Big Data can be used effectively, companies should realize two major benefits. First and foremost, Ordahl says, is the ability  to extract insights about the customer that may have been overlooked, especially unexpected insights that don’t become apparent  until data are combined. Secondly, companies  can mitigate their risks when introducing new products or packaging through testing and observing much larger audiences. 


Because analysis of all these emerging sources is still quite new, companies that effectively use Big Data are creating value throughout the brand-building process and, in turn, creating a competitive advantage. Already, many marketers are seeing the benefits of Big Data and its analysis. The American Marketing Association says to some of these benefits include the ability to:

  • Create a more accurate profile of target consumers;
  • Predict consumer reaction to marketing messages and product offerings;
  • Personalize marketing messages and product offerings;
  • Optimize production and distribution strategy;
  • Create and use more accurate assessment measures;
  • Perfect digital marketing and campaign-based strategies;
  • Retain more customers less expensively;
  • Obtain product insights.

According to a report by Walker Smith of Kantar Futures, a futures consultancy, deriving these benefits goes beyond obtaining the data itself and depends on the ways in which data are analyzed. “What the Big Data revolution has stirred up is less about amount (of data) and more about analytics, but this is not something that comes naturally to most brand marketers.”

This is not to suggest that more data won’t make marketing better, Smith continues, it is just to caution that when processed unscientifically, more data can be worse than less data.

Much of what’s being touted about Big Data emphasizes the amount of data available rather than the need for scientific rigor and precision. By giving marketers an excuse for continuing to be unscientific, brands are put at risk. Big Data requires smarter not cruder analytics, Smith insists.

Will Big Data be the end of creativity? Ordahl claims there is more to marketing than knowing “every whim and desire of customers and then trying to fit that into a mathematical formula.” There has never been a more interesting time to build brands, he says, with all these new platforms delivering better insights that allow companies to engage customers and build a greater degree of customization that builds brand loyalty. Packaging is a form of innovation that helps brands deliver on the unique needs of individuals.


The unexpected insights uncovered by analysis of Big Data can be a great source of innovation in packaging, Ordahl says. He points to inspiring campaigns that derive from social media. Temptations cat treats took notice that cat owners enjoyed posting photos and videos of destroyed packets of cat treats on social media. Based on those observations, Temptations’ agency incorporated those images into the brand’s advertising to create more compelling and engaging marketing.

New technologies also are allowing packaging to contribute to capture of Big Data. Some of these include:


Allows brands to embed information onto packaging that can  be read by smart phones or other devices. Active packaging  allows customers to gain additional information about the product through bar or QR codes. Customers use these codes to engage with brands to monitor freshness, nutritional value, recipes, etc.


This is extended protection through engineered materials and substrates. For example, products that change color when exposed to changes in temperature or moisture or atmosphere. Interactive packaging can also improve product safety and security by detecting counterfeit products.


Intelligent packaging can leverage IoT and Big Data to establish a dynamic interaction with sensors on packaging such as RFID (radio-frequency identification), NFC (near-field communication), Bluetooth, and smart labels. Companies use these technologies to track and trace packages connected to a network, thereby helping companies to make educated decisions on-the-fly.

Ritika Puri, a blogger for IBM, writes that innovation in the CPG industry is critical. Market fragmentation is on the rise, which means that established companies need to create a competitive edge by building new business lines, making informed product decisions and adapting to meet consumers’ expectations. She says Big Data and analytics play a crucial role in three areas:


Purchase paths are becoming increasingly complex, consumer feedback remains a top priority. It’s not enough to simply know what consumers think about their purchases after the fact, but CPG leaders need to reinvest this information into future product development, and Big Data can help with this objective.


CPGs should engage with consumers on a regular basis. In addition to conducting market research and opinion studies, organizations can use social media data for real-time feedback, uncovering what shoppers are thinking and feeling in the moment. It’s this type of sentiment analysis that can inform decisions about new products and incremental improvements.


Brands can also use real-time feedback to identify the products and features that shoppers value most and bring those concepts to market faster. This approach to continuous innovation can expedite the research and development process.