Rip it up and start again – Turn makes a success of big data

Posted on Friday 25th May 2012 9:00

Like most technological innovations, big data is almost always discussed in the future tense, with analysts widely predicting businesses won’t be able to make much practical use of big data analytics until at least 2015. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t companies out there who have been nimble and far-sighted enough to stay ahead of the curve though, and Turn is one of them.

Turn, a US-based market digital advertising firm which was profiled in entrepreneur magazine Inc, this week, is a fascinating example of a company whose canny decision to invest early in a big data platform has reaped huge dividends. Faced in 2009 with the seemingly insurmountable problem of Google eating the company’s lunch, dinner and the following day’s breakfast too, its CEO, Bill Demas, took a tough call. He decided to rip up the company’s existing search marketing and display ad-based business model, which was in decline, and start again, building a new Turn that put data analytics at the heart of the enterprise.

The result was a business based on two new platforms. The first is an audience platform that acts as self-serve business analytics and enables marketers to upload their own data and match it with demographic and psychographic data to create audience profiles. The second part is a media platform that allows Inc’s customers to get leverage from their data by using it to create and deliver marketing campaigns. And so far it’s proven to be a huge success, with Turn’s revenues growing to $100 million in the last financial year.

In terms of what Turn’s success can teach other companies about taking the huge challenges inherent in big data and turning them into viable businesses, I think there are three key lessons to be learned here.

1. Commitment, Commitment, Commitment – Turn recognised that big data was its big opportunity to exit a declining business and build something new. It was a bold strategic move, and one that must have taken some nerve to follow through.

2. Timing is All – Turn took the decision to remodel its business when big data analytics were at the bleeding edge of innovation. This early investment means that it’s been able to offer a full service to customers at a point in time when many of its competitors aren’t even out the starting blocks.

3. Get the Right Platform for the Job – Without the right analytics in place, big data is just records sitting on a hard drive somewhere. Turn worked hard to develop a platform that it knew would enable it to make sense of big data sets, that could accommodate data from many different sources and could, in the end, produce something its customers would pay for.

It’s well worth reading Inc’s piece on Turn as it goes into far more detail than we can here on the organisational challenges it faced when turning the business around. A great case study that shows a way forward for data-driven businesses and suggests big data really does have the capability to deliver on its huge promise.