Conversations about big data are taking place in practically every boardroom as companies hear stories like this one about Gilt Groupe, which within one minute at noon every day sends more than 3,000 versions of an email to its customers.

moneyball_baseball scoreboardWhile big data has quickly become a buzzword, it’s based on the same promise that Monetate has delivered for five years now: Giving marketers insights from customer data in order to put the right experiences in front of the right person at the right time.

Many vendors are trying to sell big data infrastructure, which will undoubtedly lead to a lot of questions. Questions around what to do with the data, how to manage it, and whether or not it’s worth the investment. This represents a paradigm shift in how marketers must think about their business and their customers.

When I think about what marketers face today, I’m reminded of the story about Billy Beane and the Oakland A’s from “Moneyball.” And with spring training finally here, why not use a good baseball analogy?

Just like you, baseball’s general managers and field managers are tasked with beating the competition and winning. They need to find the best players, stay within a budget, and shoot for the ultimate prize: a World Series ring.

Beane succeeded by turning data into action. He did it by taking a quantitative approach to running the team after owners slashed payroll, and superstars left for bigger paydays. Beane and his assistant, Paul DePodesta, focused on players’ on-base percentage and their defensive skills, aspects often overlooked or ignored altogether.

Thanks to Beane and DePodesta using a data-driven strategy, the A’s went on to win 20 games in a row one season, setting an American League record, and eventually reached the playoffs in consecutive years—with one of the lowest payrolls in baseball.

But Beane was successful working within a closed system, a defined baseball season that had a beginning and an end. While baseball has constructs to work within, you don’t. You don’t have the advantage of following specific rules during a 162-game season, and then starting fresh once the first signs of spring appear.

The timing and structure of a baseball season brings a focus on actions and outcomes. But to address big data challenges, consumer brands must think long term, which leads to a tremendous amount of complexity with far less structure than Beane had to work with.

To bring the structure of a baseball season to your business, you must think about the outcome first. But without a Paul DePodesta to guide you, where do you start?

First, forget about infrastructure or servers. Instead, take a customer-centric view that puts your customer at the top of the batting order followed by the rest of your business.

Your customers demand relevant experiences, and want to be surprised and delighted. Put their needs and wants at the center of your business and you will find success. Moving the customer ahead of everything else will help influence what you want to achieve with your data.

Next, figure out what your data strategy is and how it’s relevant to the unique goals of your business and your customers. You’ll likely see that there’s a lot more structure than you expected. For instance, you may find out that you need to influence sales or grow in key areas versus competitors, and soon you will know where to use data to help influence those outcomes.

You definitely will have other questions to ask—and will get some answers—but to bring some structure to your business, you have to figure out what your data strategy is and how it’s relevant to the unique goals of your business and your customers.

Know that everyday you can influence how you interact with your customers. You have every reason to be excited about the opportunity to create the interactions that turn your customers into your biggest fans, filling the stadium, and raving about how well you know them and respond to their needs. And you don’t have to wait for a new season to start to capitalize on what you can do.

Play ball!

Old-Fashioned Scoreboard image courtesy of Shutterstock.