We’ve already looked at some of the report’s findings in previous posts, including how internal structure can be the highest obstacle to success, why technology matters and the top seven challenges to integrated marketing.

Data ranked among those challenges and one reason is that many organizations are still in the process of building foundational capabilities around data.

The chart below tracks the responses of companies with marketing budgets over $5MM, and looks at whether they have a current or planned capability across several data skill sets.

We’ve taken to calling this “the iceberg” chart because only a small percentage of companies currently have the listed capabilities, meaning that for most, data still lies under the murky waters of good intentions and future plans.

Findings suggest that even among companies spending more than $5MM per year on marketing, only about 20% have baseline data skills. They describe themselves as having the “current capability” in real time and integrated data, as well as having a single customer view.

This relatively small group of top performers narrows further when it comes to the more enigmatic skills of managing “big” and “unstructured” data; only 13% and 12% describe themselves as having these capabilities today.

In this study, we defined “big” data not by volume, but by variety, asking organizations whether they have the ability to use disparate data sources to gain insight. An example might be merging weather, traffic and demographic data to optimize radio and OOH advertising.

By definition, integrated marketing involves learning from many types of data. It’s certainly possible to be successful without the capability of analyzing them using “big data” techniques, but they offer a short-cut to efficiencies and more importantly, to the non-intuitive.

Unstructured data is exactly that, the words, records, ideas, images and other human creations that are churned out by civilization. They don’t fit neatly into a database, at least not in their raw form.

Unstructured data leapt from the page to the processor with the first computers, but it really exploded with the advent of the internet, and eventually our ability to document food in word and photo. An un-provable but plausible rule of thumb is that 80% of all business data is unstructured (backed up by a more specific study of medical records conducted by IBM.)

The Twitter “firehose” is a good example of why unstructured data is in such abundance, and why it can be valuable to businesses.

Companies are using those estimated 36m bits per second to look for customer service issues, product ideas and sentiment as well as making sophisticated adjustments to supply chain processes, delivery schedules and human resources planning.

The implications for integrated marketing are just starting to coalesce, but the logic is clear. Marketing increasingly relies on the participation and feedback of its target audience, most of which is inherently unstructured.

Learning from that data, optimizing against it, and ultimately responding to it appears to be an inevitable priority, for consumer marketers today and no doubt for B2B marketers in the not so distant future.

The State of Internet Marketing Report is available at all levels of Econsultancy subscription.