"Not everything that can be counted counts and not everything that counts can be counted"
A lot has been promised by Big Data. Mega things. Most of it seems like over excited over claim, but probably, sooner or later, it might deliver.
There are examples today of how it can be good. The US House of Cards reboot is thanks to the number of people liking Kevin Spacey content also liking political drama.
But Big Data is also responsible for online retailers stalking me with re-targeted ads of things I have already bought. It's meant that when I buy stuff for my wife and kids, I can't move for ads selling me more of the same.
When any idiot human could intuit that I really don't want an avalanche of offers for women'srunning gear, Zara shoes or Star Wars Lego (okay, I'll give you Star Wars Lego).
Of course there is a great example of a US supermarket that got publicly roasted by a father, furious that his teenage daughter had been sent stuff for maternity, only for the father to apologise when he found she actually WAS pregnant and was too scared to tell him.
it can right, yet horribly wrong.
On the subject of supermarkets, big data has been around for a while, Tesco is the pioneer with its Clubcard, the value of knowing intimate shopping habits was priceless for them.
But Tesco in the last few years, if you excuse the expression, is fucked. It forget to look at what customers were really bothered about, what they cared about. In post recession UK, shoppers want a lot more simplicity, less hassle and it's uncool to waste things. The avalanche of short term offers, multi-buys and the like turned shoppers off looking for a trusted price, looking for great quality in less stuff, rather than pointless choice and fleeting discounts.
All the while, we started shopping for little and often. Many started looking for intimacy and the feeling of real care and attention, in some things anyway. While in others, they just wanted simple no-frills functionality. You could say that Tesco, with all its data, got squeezed between people wanting more stuff from a good butcher AND the simplicity of a discount grocer like Aldi.
Yet you can't move in marketing circles, and business in general, for data scientists. Like the web developers before them, or the social media gurus of today- and the brand consultants that still manage to sell snow to eskimos, these folks are the latest thing.
But let's not be too harsh. The central premise of data is still sound. It makes sellers wiser when selling to potential buyers and, when done right, adds value to buyers buy not wasting their time with things they have no interest in.
Now I know the arguments from Byron Sharpe about light buyers and targeting the whole market. Even today, ignore the arguments that mass broadcast media doesn't work, even with young folks. It does if it is done well.
But big organisations are still very dumb when it comes to their customers. They are numbers, not names. Perversely, the web has created the death of the human and the personal.
There is lots of talk of 'personalisation' but that is not the same as intimacy.
Old fashioned shopkeepers, who are now in vogue to some degree, were the pioneers of big data. They remembered what their customers liked, they recognised them when they came in. The fishmonger in Leeds market always kept mackeral aside for my Grandmother on a Thursday morning. Today, my local butcher knows when I walk in the door that I buy a mountain of his thick sausages and gets them out without asking. He knows a BBQ in summer and talks to me about new marinade ideas and stuff I haven't tried.
Some of this emotional intimacy can be delivered by the power of great brand building. Nike feels different to Adidas, it just does.That's why I sometimes don't believe the data about people not being able to say why a brand is different, it's like trying to do a questionnaire about why you love your children, it's a smudgy feeling that you can't always express.You remember how the brand feels when you're in buying mode, yes it comes to mind, but so does the emotional resonance.
But we can do better than that. Brands should be able to understand its customers better. Much of the personal, CIM marketing is a waste of time of course, working with heavy buyers who would buy anyway, but data should help us work out ripples of behaviour on a much larger scale.
A sports brand should know that loads of it's football buyers also love not just comedy, but what kind of comedy, what comedians. They could then set up a multi-platform football comedy show where their favoured comedians banter around footie.
An FMCG salad dressing company should know that people who like the brand but don't buy often also love a grilled chicken and do recipe campaigns with their favourite celebrities for using the dressing with chicken too.
Because ads in Facebook trying to sell me slippers are really not good enough.
But data is only a tool. I cannot replace imagination, emotional intelligence and intuition. It cannot produce the consistent ideas that recombine old ones.
It would tell Steve Jobs not to launch the Iphone.
It would tell Henry Ford people preferred horse.
Put another way, numbers can help us make sense of the world but, today at least, they cannot replace wisdom.