Photo credit: Football Schedule

Mention the word “football,” and most people think of tackling, touchdowns and stadiums full of cheering fans. It may not come as a big surprise to those of you who know me well, but this season, I’m thinking of all those things, plus one more: big data.

Honestly, it’s not too much of a stretch. Over the past few years, big data analytics have begun to infiltrate virtually all college and professional sports. From the strategic methodology Billy Beane used to catapult the Oakland Athletics to three American League West Division titles (celebrated in the film Moneyball) to the detailed expense analyses colleges and universities are now required to report annually, big data calculations are now part of the conversation in the owner’s box, in the locker room and on the field.

In fact, a recent article in The New York Times reveals that at least some football coaches are questioning the value of punting on small-yardage fourth downs. Why? Because a statistical analysis of punting in the NFL from 1998 to 2004 showed that punting rarely pays off, if your team is facing fourth-and-four yards or less.

Could big data insights like this one change the conventional football playbook? Interestingly enough, the coaches and other experts interviewed in the article have their doubts. Long-standing tradition and the (unsubstantiated) belief that disregarding a punt would be too risky seem to be keeping teams from adopting new, beneficial “no punt” game plans.

Unfortunately, I often find that same kind of misguided mindset among marketers.

These days, everyone in the marketing industry is buzzing about big data. But big data by itself isn’t going to take you anywhere. You need big data analytics to provide the actionable insights. And, then once you have the actionable insights . . . well, you have to use them to actually do something.

For example, you can put big data analytics to work to help you:

  • Develop a data-driven culture
  • Optimize digital marketing
  • Enhance the customer experience
  • Understand the big analytic ecosystem
  • Identify the right data-driven products and services
  • Shift the economics of your data

Or, in other words, you no longer have to guess. You no longer have to rely exclusively on experience or past performance. You no longer have to punt. Today’s analytics can guide you to make data-driven actions, the moves that will keep you driving down the field so you can score.