On the Twelfth Night

Posted by on Jan 4, 2008 in Uncategorized | No Comments

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So here we are: almost at the end of this little festive blogfest. Just time for one last little meander, this time around the data thing.

First, I think there’s too much data swishing around for us marketing folk to make proper use of: with the recent explosion of computing power and the rise and rise of consumer database technology and skills, we’ve got datablind. We all do too much data analysis – we waste too much time and money crunching rather than thinking, in the hope that “the answer is in the data”. For example, I read one report today – hundreds of pages of data, the product of several human months’ analysis – most of it incredibly well crafted and yet most of it useless. I’m sure you know the kind of thing – it’s the stuff of every cubicle dweller’s daily working life.

We just can’t get enough of data because we’ve got some really silly assumptions about it:

1. that more detailed the data set, the better the description of the behaviour/phenomenon

2. that there’s a straight line correlation between the granularity of the data and the strategy derived from it

3. that if only we have ALL the right information about customers, we’ll know exactly what to do

4. that the answer is in the data (it isn’t)

Let’s be clear: I’m not some data-averse touchy-feely fella, it’s just it’s the thinking that creates the value (and not the data); the thinking that does the heavy lifting (not the numbers themselves); the data user who makes the difference (rather than the data itself or database). Too often data-mania is actually an excuse not to do the thinking; or a distraction from the strain of the thinking. And it tends to go hand-in-hand with a wilful avoidance of articulating or examining our assumptions about what the world the data is supposed to describe is like.

And and datamania is a touch inhumane: it traps folk in the data mines (“abandon hope all who enter…”). Ok, maybe that’s a bit much but you know what I mean if you’ve ever worked in the database.

On another note, JP’s got this fantastic freewheeling post around the subject of who owns customer data, partly prompted by the Scobleizer scraping customer data from Facebook incident).

JP rightly notes how tricky the issue of data ownership in a digital world is and the urgency of the need to sort this stuff out. I like his provocative idea that information about my behaviour and likes is properly mine and not the property of the body that has collected it from me but am not sure that’s quite right, I suspect that it’s also important to get a good firm grasp of the distinction between data and things (I am not my data just as my customers are not the same as the data I use to describe them). It’s this kind of down-to-earth thinking we need here, I think.

JP suggests part of the solution is seeing/using information as a currency between individuals and companies:

“Information is going to be like money. And we’re going to move it around like money. [We already are.] Institutions that hold information are going to be like banks. With a variety of services, and with rights and duties associated with our information, varying according to the service we sign up for.”

More on this to come from smart folk like JP, I’m sure but I wanted to close this post with a cautionary data based on somekind of easy reference to to Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night.

Malvolio – he of the yellow stockings and cross-gartering as played here by Simon Russell Beale, one of modern theatre’s finest – demonstrates one the weaknesses of human thinking: selective perception.

Malvolio sees only what he wants to see: in this case he only sees the data to support the lies that his peers and tormentors have taught him about how things are between him and his mistress. Of course, this leads to his tragicomic downfall but we’d better not laugh to loud. Most of us make the same mistake in looking at business data: we see the data to support our own point of view rather than the full dataset.

So there you are, 3 different aspects of the data thing. A cautionary post to end the holiday season. Go well as you take down the tree tomorrow.