What Is Dark Data Doing For Your SMB

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What is dark data? Basically, it’s data you collect but don’t use. You probably already have this in your business. You’ve also probably got dark data in your everyday life, actually.

Case in point: I used to teach. The first day of every school year, I’d pass out note cards and ask students to write down the basics, e.g., their name and age. I’d also ask them for info such as favorite books, movies, sports, teams, and music.

The main reason I collected the note cards was to learn students’ names (I’m terrible with names). The personal details were interesting, but ancillary.

That is, until I realized I had dark data on my hands. Did I have trouble connecting with one student? Check his favorite sport. Did another seem to not like me? Check out her favorite book. Turned out, trivia wasn’t so trivial. I didn’t realize it, but what I was doing was what many businesses can do, too.

So, what is dark data? It’s data you’ve already got, and you can use to your advantage right now. It’s also a valuable resource if you’ve got the right business intelligence software, or third-party vendor. Below, I’ll take a look at some data sources you’ve probably already got, and how you can turn them into opportunities.

What is dark data? A closer look

Dark data is:

  • “The information assets organizations collect, process, and store during regular business activities, but generally fail to use for other purposes,” according to Gartner, which coined the term.
  • It’s also most of the data you’ve got. The term “dark data” is actually a riff on “dark matter,” astronomers’ name for the massive, unknown matter that makes up most of the universe.Dark data is made up of “
  • Dark data is made up of “email communications, web traffic data, network routing information, content streaming data.”
  • Dark data is also simpler stuff. If you know your customers’ genders, for instance, but aren’t using that to target new sales (i.e., are men more likely to buy product X?), that information is dark data.
  • A lot of (but not all) dark data is “unstructured or qualitative,” such as social media posts or audio and video files.

Dark data can be a lot of things. That’s lucky for you because dark data can also be used for a lot of things. For instance…

Dark data can find customers right under your nose

With the right business intelligence software, dark data can become new opportunities.

“There’s a huge amount of value to be found in your data just by looking at it all together,” says Elena Rowell of analytics tool Looker. “A lot of power is gained by simply putting data in the hands of decision-makers, and giving it to people close to the line of business,” Rowell notes, previously unused data becomes a catalyst for growth. “That’s where Looker comes in.”Looker helped travel app HotelTonight expand their customer base. “HotelTonight found that they had all these people who were referring customers to the service, but hadn’t used it themselves,” Rowell said.

With Looker, HotelTonight explored their data and found that many of these referrers were bartenders and flight attendants. Armed with this discovery, HotelTonight reached out to them and offered them a specialized promo code to capitalize on their unique relationship with travelers and encourage more of them to recommend the app.

Business intelligence software, such as Looker, makes these revelations possible. By organizing your company’s data into a single source of truth, simple observations become chances to drive revenue.

“If you just see one data point, that doesn’t give you a full idea of what’s happening,” Rowell notes. Contrarily, “looking at different sources together, say ad spend and transactional data from your e-commerce store, can help give a better understanding of the complete life cycle of different channels.”

A complete picture, especially one organized into a visual dashboard, makes every decision data driven. That’s what mattress company Casper found when working with Looker. “Casper was able to set up dashboards for their daily inventory review. With the right data in front of them, they could quickly check on the status of inventory and make sure they would be covered for all upcoming sales,” regardless what region they were in.

Dark data holds hidden connections

In the same way you find things when you’re cleaning up, you’ll find value when you organize your data. That’s what web analytics firm Tend does for businesses. What differentiates Tend from other analytics software is the ease with which you can find these previously unseen insights.

I spoke with Ryan Evans, co-founder of Tend, about how his company helps businesses bring light to the dark connections between different data sources. For instance, “if people have a log of past transactions, they can push it to Tend through our integration,” and find new connections between those transactions, and other data sources.

For instance, transaction data can be compared with marketing data, to see how one campaign may drive customers to your website.

Tend integrated data such as this for a small software company. “They’d had different pieces of info: Google Analytics, all of their transaction data in another bucket, and a third bucket of email form submissions coming in,” Evans said. “What Tend did for them was connect those three different pieces of data so they could see which marketing tactics drove which people, and then see how much those people paid for their services.” The ability to make connections between formerly disparate sources resulted in new customers.

Evans notes that many SMBs overlook how lucrative webpage data can be. “Just the pure weblog of people hitting their site, that’s the biggest untapped asset in terms of data for SMBs.”

When a customer visits your website, it generates data such as the customer’s IP address, what sort of device they’re using, how long they stay on the page, and which pages they visit. “All that information is valuable, and most SMBs don’t pull it all together in a form that can be analyzed.”

Collecting and connecting that sort of detailed data can help a business understand their customers better. For instance, if a good chunk of IP addresses are in the same area, that might be a good place to target a marketing initiative.

What is dark data? Probably something you’ve got

Do you have any sources of dark data you’ve used to get value for your business? Let me know in the comments below!

Looking for Business Intelligence software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Business Intelligence software solutions.

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About the Author


Geoff Hoppe

Geoff Hoppe is a former Capterra analyst.


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