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A business can't survive and thrive without customers, but when it comes to understanding customers, many companies feel like there's a huge gap between what they know and what they need and want to know.

In fact, companies "are desperate to understand more about their customer" according to Yesmail Interactive president Michael Fisher.

Yesmail Interactive and Infogroup Targeting Solutions teamed up recently to survey 700 marketers about how they're planning to rectify the situation in 2013.

\As detailed by CMO.com, the firms found that 68% of marketers are planning to invest more in data this year, and for 56% of the companies surveyed, that investment will be directed to hiring for data-related positions, like data scientists.

Too much data

That more and more companies will be looking to hire employees who can help them make sense of the data they're collecting is not surprising. Motivated in part by all the talk about the virtues of big data, many businesses have been amassing as much data as they can collect.

But now they face a problem: they don't know what any of it means. And more than a few don't even know where to start when it comes to analysis.

The cost of putting the collection of data without a strategy for turning that data into actionable insight is huge: according to Yesmail and Infogroup Targeting Solutions' report, Data-Rich and Insight Poor: Marketers Planning to Turn Information Into Intelligence in 2013, nearly 40% of the marketers it surveyed said their companies "rarely or never customize their messaging based on insights from customer data."

Real-time delusions

If companies follow through with their plans to make big data small in 2013, that number should shrink. But unfortunately not all companies will succeed. One of the biggest risks they face: trying to run before they walk.

Over half of the marketers polled are working on "real-time data" and some 30% said they plan on exploring it in 2013. Obviously, real-time means different things to different people, and the timely use of data is important. But as they begin to figure out what their data means, companies should be realistic. Put simply, focusing on speed over accuracy and efficacy is likely the wrong approach.

Is social data the most valuable data?

When it comes to accuracy and efficacy, companies should also be careful about the data they look at. Nearly half of marketers Yesmail and Infogroup Targeting Solutions surveyed indicated that their own websites were the best source of data, yet 78% said they're planning to make greater use of social media data in 2013.

That data can be notoriously noisy, and coupled with the fact that nearly a quarter of companies were not able to identify when they last cleaned their customer data, social data may be a lot less helpful than it is attractive.

The good news is that this year doesn't need to be about social. A new breed of upstarts like Custora and RJMetrics are helping companies discover that the most valuable data isn't on Facebook or Twitter, and businesses can expect to see more customer analytics companies emerge across numerous verticals in 2013.

Patricio Robles

Published 22 January, 2013 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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