The mobile phone is, in general, everyone’s constant companion, catapulting the medium into the reign of the most personal mass media and first advertising medium in the pocket.

The mobile web, applications and text messaging are changing the way consumers search, shop, and interact with one another. Since mobile advertising is becoming increasingly location and context-aware, consumers are able to conveniently find nearby points of interest, locate coupons and special offers, and employ their mobile browsers to enhance their shopping experience.

Having mobile portals up their sleeve, smartphones offer marketers a new generation of promotional environments that makes their brand a constant consumer companion by reaching users personally, anytime, and anywhere.

All this sounds like a veritable love fest, but …

As digital technology enters more and more into our lives, we are consequently producing more data. Computers and cell phones continue to pervade our daily activities and as millions of networked sensors are being embedded in these devices, the amount of data available for analysis is exploding, which is of course attractive to marketers, customer service and product development teams, as the proliferation of data has always been part of the impact of information and communications technology.

The scale and scope of the changes, however, that the collection of data is bringing about has reached an inflection point. Companies capture trillions of bytes of information about customers, suppliers, and operations and are starting to make people suspicious considering the amount of data accumulated on every aspect of their lives. They feel uncomfortable and their privacy intruded upon.

Big data is the next frontier

Discussing this issue and its implications has been an interesting conversation with Arun Kumar, Head of Digital Asia Pacific of Mediabrands, who believes that collecting, storing, and mining big data is the next frontier for innovation, competition, and productivity.

Arun is dealing on a daily basis with digital data by researching and studying how large data sets can create value for marketers, consumers, organizations, or policy makers and what could be the implications to fully capture big data’s potential. Not to mention misaligned incentives around issues such as privacy and security, access to data, and technology deployment.

Kumar is aware of the fact that big data sets, accessible at the right time, could unlock a great deal of value such as more accurate and detailed information. Consequently, it is influencing performance by enabling marketers to tailor their products and services precisely to meet customer needs, as well as supporting sophisticated analytics that can substantially minimize risks and unearth valuable insights that would otherwise remain hidden.

According to Arun, the emergence of real-time location data has created a new set of location-based mobile services that should be watched closely - from navigation to people tracking. At the same time it raises the question of what is actually being done with the increasing digital accumulation of data today and how is it used?

Most data still resides in inaccessible log files, but why?

Mediabrands Head of Digital believes that most information still resides in inaccessible log files, although the technology for collating it is actually already achievable and affordable. He is further convinced that companies, organizations and governments are still considering how to make use of their collected data without infringing privacy.

He gives even more food for thought when looking back at the Web development progress: from the Web 1.0, that was about documents and e-commerce, to the Web 2.0, which was about social community and user-generated content, to the future Web 3.0 that revolves around the web itself, called the Semantic Web. This term was actually coined by Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, who defines it as "a web of data that can be processed directly and indirectly by machines”.

What will the future bring?

In the future, machines will understand the semantics or meaning of information on the World Wide Web, due to the fact that the network of hyperlinked human-readable web pages is extended by inserting machine-readable metadata about pages and how they are related to each other, enabling automated agents to access the Web more intelligently and perform tasks on behalf of users.

Expect systems that enables machines to understand and respond to complex human requests based on their meaning. Arun believes that it could be possible if enough data from different sources comes together one fine day.

Hasn't Google, supposedly, already tweaked its PageRank algorithms to boost the rankings of semantically marked-up content over non-semantic content? In general, remarkable insights can be provided with today’s social web analytics services, particularly those that move beyond keyword analysis and that try to overlay a semantic interpretation of the content they discover.

Yet this connection that is typically dependent on algorithms developed from a field of computer science and linguistics known as natural language processing, does not achieve the analytical or computational power of a natively semantic Web.

You can, however, imagine that the first marketer that manages to connect the data records appropriately in each database relating to the same stakeholder has a chance to reap the fruits of such tedious analytical work.

Mobile phone omnipresence is vital for data collection

The mobile industry is, due to the omnipresence of the medium, in a good position to win the race. The mobile phone, which is both a media to promote messages and an interactive channel to sell and transact, is simply predestined to collect consumer data by engaging with nearly everyone who carries an end device, enabling marketers to start a dialog with their target group through interactive attempts and ensure that the audience is dealing with their brand.

We are talking about vital requirements which are needed especially in times of increasing resistance to advertising. If a real added value is offered on top, the impact of advertising can be increased significantly. In addition to developing a one-to-one relationship with consumers, mobile advertising builds brand awareness, extends special offers and coupons, increases sales and in-store traffic, acquires and retains customers, enhances multichannel campaign efforts, or stimulates word-of-mouth and social media engagements.

If you’re excited by your analytics gained through data, be assured that you most probably just scratched the surface, as with more and more data produced, deeper insights into the brain of consumers will be provided, starting a trend that will certainly continue to tap its full potential in the future.

So far, so good! Still there remains the question, how to cope with privacy concerns - but that’s a different story.

By Daniela La Marca