In a guest post on Econsultancy yesterday, Cognitive Match vice president Jacob Ajwani observed that “most marketers struggle with translating heaps of data into actionable to-dos”.

It’s a problem that isn’t entirely surprising. After all, the ability to collect larger and larger volumes of data doesn’t mean that it’s any easier to figure out what that data means and how it should be used. In fact, the more data available, the harder it can be to figure out what it’s saying and how it should be applied.

Going small

So how will the companies that succeed in taking advantage of big data do it? The answer is actually quite simple: go small.

At the end of the day, businesses survive and thrive by serving their customers, and each interaction or transaction involves a single customer. It’s easy to lose sight of that when thinking about big data.

Put simply, big data, as important as it is and will be, can be a distraction, as it focuses a company’s attention on the big picture. Is having a clearer big picture important? Of course. Understanding of where your business is at is and what macro trends are driving it is important. But that in and of itself probably won’t move the needle.

To move the needle, companies must figure out how to make their big data small. In other words, they must apply their data at the level of an individual customer.

In his post, Ajwani suggests that online retailers, for instance, track global average order value (AOV) and segment customers according to the distance between their AOV and the global AOV. The can then be targeted with products that they’re more likely to be interested in and buy based on their spending history.

Simple? Yes. Powerful? That too.

Big data is as simple or complex as you make it

Similar approaches can be developed outside of the retail market too, of course. What matters less is the complexity of the metrics, or the amount of data points. What matters more is the fact that data, however big, is eventually being related to individual customers.

Without that connection to individual customer relationships, big data will continue to be a conundrum for many companies. That’s why in 2013, businesses should stop worrying about whether they’re collecting enough data and instead, focus on taking the data they’re already collecting and figuring out how to distill it down to the customer.

If enough do, 2013 may be the year that big data becomes more than a big buzz word.