DMA 2012: These are a few of my favourite themes

Big data

“Big data” is the buzz word of the year. But sadly, most companies aren’t doing enough with their “small data” to even think of tackling “big data”. It’s easy to think that big data is just “more data”, but in truth, it will fundamentally change the way we need to look at data, the tools we need and the skillsets we need to hire. We are already facing a huge talent shortage, and this will only continue to grow.

But more than that, the future is not just about big data, but also new data. The proliferation of channels and data streams is not slowing. This data can be actionable, but first, we need to get it all in one place. This is easier said than done!

Focus on action

I would argue that most companies are fairly well sold on the need for, and value of, data. However, in the end, the best data doesn’t necessarily win – the first person to act on it does.

Something that struck me was Chris Anderson’s comment, “Correlation is not causation, but it is something.” He cautioned against getting so bogged down in understanding exactly what caused something. Instead, get comfortable with not knowing, and taking action on what you have. After all, Bayesian statistics tells us to focus on probability, not certainty, as there is no “right”, there is only “right-er.”

Andrew Edwards discussed the data driven organisation. Some of the critical factors setting apart data driven organisations are that they understand and measure against their business goals (rather than measuring what is easy!), are organized around the intelligence they get from the data, know how to say no to what is ineffective, and iteratively analyse and learn from what they do.

The power of the consumer

Historically, what happened if someone was unhappy with a company? They wrote a letter, maybe told their family over dinner. Now, consumers can take to social media and their message can become quickly amplified. Take the customer who called out Papa John’s on Twitter – she only had 30 followers, yet this was quickly picked up and spread by Scott Stratten, who had tens of thousands.

The average customer is reachable on 7+ channels, and has high expectations! Not only are we active on multiple channels, but we expect companies to recognise us as we move between them. This isn’t going away – technology will continue to increase this fragmentation.

Marketing today is not about defining your brand, or pushing out a message. You no longer define your brand – your customer’s perceptions, how they share those with others, truly define you. Now, everything needs to be viewed as marketing, including hiring. Your employees are the ones who represent your brand every day, and they deliver the message about who you are. (Not your expensive ad campaign!)

The reality is, while businesses have the data, consumers now have the power. However, when companies try to seize the upper hand by exploiting data, it leads to trouble … Namely, the privacy debate.


Not surprisingly, privacy was a key topic at this year’s DMA. Bryan Pearson ran a fantastic session, which still has me thinking.

Some sobering stats:

  • Only 42% of consumers trust companies with their personal info.
  • Only 22% of consumers believe they are getting any benefit for sharing personal information.

Privacy is goes hand in hand with trust. Consumers tend to be more concerned about data and privacy with companies that they don’t have an existing relationship with. Pearson recommends working within what he calls the “virtuous cycle”: Get permission, Build trust and Develop relationship. Then repeat. You want more data? Back to Get permission. Giving customers a choice of whether to share or not will actually build trust, and makes that sharing more likely.

“You don’t know me. You know some things about me.”
-Lester Wunderman

The reality is, data use and privacy has been something of a “wild wild west.” There’s a need for governance around this, and if companies can not or will not self- and industry-govern, legislative action is likely. All it takes is one company to be caught doing something unsavoury, and everyone is quickly tarnished. But it doesn’t even take action. Just collecting data with no clear intention of what you’ll use it for, and how that will benefit consumers, is a recipe for disaster. So stop and think – would you stand up in a court of public opinion and be comfortable defending how you use and protect customer data? Are you treating consumer’s data with the reverence that you should?

In the end, “Information can be very powerful, but it’s what we use it for that will define us.”

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