Shedding Light on Dark Data

May 12, 2016 | blog | By Mike Sullivan


The digital realm provides all the intelligence you need to connect your product with consumers, but if you’re not reviewing all of your data, key insights could be hidden in the shadows.

What’s Dark Data?
IT big dog Gartner defines dark data as the information assets companies collect, process, and store through regular business activities, but generally fail to use for other purposes. Gartner compares the term to physics, so I’ll summarize it down to this: Dark data are insights that you have, but aren’t leveraging. 

What a missed opportunity—maybe even a billion missed opportunities, and I’m not even talking about all the big brother, big data stuff that creeps some people out. Let’s discuss, and remember dark data is simply customer intelligence you’re ignoring.

A now legendary example of dark data brought to light is how Target used buying behavior to figure out a teen was pregnant even before her father knew. Obviously, Target is working with more than a challenger brand’s budget, but with a good data analyst and a willingness to keep an open mind, you can leverage dark data, challenger-brand style.

Dark Data Opportunities You May Be Missing
You don’t necessarily need an algorithm to do some surface-level exploring to learn more about your shoppers. Some of the dark data is readily provided—it’s only dark because you’re not using it.

Examples include:

  • Birthdays
  • Changes of address
  • Marital status
  • Purchase frequency
  • Shopping cart abandonment
  • Power users and brand champions
  • Products often purchased together
  • The frequency of routine product purchases

You might also be missing opportunities if you don’t have a data analyst working for or with you. Data mining is no part-time job, so don’t expect your marketing manager to squeeze this in with his/her regular responsibilities. Find the right person or agency who loves sorting through numbers and spreadsheets—maybe while wearing headphones and a hoodie—and treat them well. Someone skilled in the profession can make customer connections you’d never uncover otherwise.


Ways to Leverage Customer Insights
The first step is to keep an open mind, let the data speak, and pivot accordingly.

  • Take advantage of new consumer segments. You may be missing a chance to connect with consumers who make up a small but significant segment of your shoppers.
  • Make product recommendations. As you examine buying patterns, you can better predict purchases and help customers discover new products.
  • Customize promotions. A simple example is to send customers an offer on their birthday.
  • Creating new products and services. Consumer behavior can also help you identify gaps in your offerings and lead your R&D.
  • Retarget with offers. Bring consumers back by reminding them of a product they looked at but didn’t buy.
  • Compare social media insights with website analytics. All the data is there; simply merge and compare.
  • Notice peaks and valleys. Mining your customer data can reveal activity spikes, dips, and trends that you never considered before.
  • Put your content to the test. Great content should keep customers engaged. Your data may indicate a need to shift your messaging or approach.

Consumer data is ever-evolving, so monitor regularly to keep your products and content relevant to your customers, and you’ll never miss what you just aren’t seeing.

digital marketingdigital media

Mike Sullivan

President at LOOMIS, the country’s leading challenger brand advertising agency


We challenge underdog brands to think differently. We help them find their voice, and urge them to blaze new trails to make sure they stand out from the pack. Whether you need an agency of record or support on a project, we are here to help you win.