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Scaling Marketing’s Big Rocks: Human Data

Jed MoleJuly 24, 2014

Does all data exist to serve humans? In some way, shape or form, I tend to think it just might! The problem is we marketers can be quick to forget it! Let’s put that right.

As far as we know, we’re the only sentient beings on the plant, we’re the only ones who could give a flying whatever about whatever is flying about in the universe, us included!

So, from astronomy to medicine, from traffic and urban planning to crime, and from weather forecasting to commercial marketing, is it possible all data is human data? I think so.

That’s a bit of a stretch you might claim, to say the masses of big data associated with plotting the stars and the expanding mass resulting from the big bang are human data but, why bother if it’s not? Do cows care? Do the trees care? No! But we do care. It may just be to serve our inherent curiosity or to find new ways to harness the universe to our ends- but we care.

So if data around astronomy is human data, then I suppose it’s not too much of a stretch to understand that data used in and around medicine matters a lot to us humans when we don’t feel so good, that data used to ease traffic congestion and build better cities matters to us and our families, that data used the right way in law and order keeps us safe, and that while the weather boasts arguably more ‘big data’ than any other area it is still joyfully imprecise. It’s still human data that matters to us as we plan weekend breaks to managing crops to sporting outcomes.

Given our world of data, growing in ever expanding and fragmenting ways similar to the big bang effect astronomers are trying to study, is almost by default ‘human data’, then we marketers need to be wary of a worrying tendency to think of just data.

As marketers, we believe the customer is everything. We agree they should be at the heart of all we do. However, common sense is not always common practice. And, in a recent blog I wrote of a seminar about big data and marketing where the word ‘customer’ was mentioned just three times across as many hours; I counted – it was shameful! I believe that by not getting lost in the potential that technology, software and data offers us, but by staying human-centric, we can step-change the quality and performance of our marketing.

Data, software and technology are great enablers, but we fall short of our best every time we forget that a profile is not a profile; a profile is a picture of a customer for us to deliver a better customer or prospect experience. Similarly, a segment is not a segment per se, but a group of similar individuals. And, while there are many more examples, a campaign is not something to be done unto people to generate the best ‘hit rate’, but an opportunity to understand individuals better than the competition and to engage them in a personalised way that impresses them so much they’ll spend their hard earned money with our brands. Obvious? Perhaps, but in reality, this marketer has witnessed too many examples of the human factor being merely adjacent and not deeply central to data-driven marketing.

This is not to say marketers don’t care about humans and putting people at the centre of their efforts, it’s to say it’s all too easy to lose focus on the human aspects of data-driven marketing. 1s and 0s may be very binary and precise, but as we know from weather forecasting or predicting the outcomes of sporting events, there is still art to accompany the science. The art in the world of marketing comes from being champions of the consumer and using data, along with other capabilities, to exceed expectations, to surprise and delight them, whether they’re ‘logged-in’, well-known customers or transient and relatively unknown prospects.

Regardless of the data, the real magic happens when there are connections; we know that discoveries of great significance are made when we’re able to ‘connect the dots.’ In so many ways today, those dots are data. And, the connections are made 1) because the data can be connected and 2) because someone has the expertise to connect the dots, or data, in a certain way and then go on to derive insight from that connection. That’s exactly what Acxiom does. That’s what we’ve been doing for five decades, keeping pace with that ‘big bang’ of ever ‘bigger data’ as it grows out and fragments, connecting data in innovative yet ethical ways, and crucially at scale, to enable human data to deliver human value.

Whether you feel indignant as a passionate human-centric marketer, or refreshed having spent too long thinking of technology, platforms and digits, as an industry, let’s really show that ethical, data-driven marketing can really deliver exceptional experiences and value to consumers.