The $4 billion Utah Data Center will eventually turn Bluffdale, Utah, and surrounding communities into boom towns. It's not the only place it will happen either. Government isn't the only player in big data.
Everybody wants an inside scoop on how individuals, groups, and mass populations operate for predictive and manipulative reasons. They want to uncover the non-existent philosopher's stone of human behavior so they can tell when someone who scratches their nose has malicious intent. They want to guess the direction of the public like they might plot the expected path of migrating geese. And they, marketers in particular, want to know which 140-character combination will not only get attention but also drive sales or, at least, pick up a follower that might buy a product within the next 100 tweets.
Some people will read that paragraph and feel spooked out. Some people will read it and salivate. It seems to me either might be an overreaction, but sometimes it's hard to tell. What is easy to tell is that big data will eventually lead to more blind spots than spoilers.
Analysts are too busy tracking online activity without concrete outcomes.
Part of the problem, especially for marketers, is that they measure the wrong information. Forrester, ISTMA, and VisionEdge Marketing recently conducted a study that demonstrated precisely that.
What they found was that marketing performance management is operationally proficient but strategically stalled. The problem is exactly what you might think it is. Marketers are measuring marketing activity and not business outcomes, message effectiveness or predictive insights.
What does that mean? Marketers are too busy trying to prove performance to justify their efforts. They point to CRM and marketing automation to create dashboard reports that show how many people visited, shared and traveled down the sales funnel. They make decisions based on those measures too, and most of them revolve around the numbers they think matter, tying it to things like platform popularity.
It's not enough and I'm not the only one saying it. According to the analysts, only nine percent of CEOs and six percent of CFOs rely on marketing data to make decisions. In other words, most marketers have online clout and not the real stuff.
Big data will be rendered useless unless marketers measure on multiple levels.
Less face facts. Although online sentiment can be useful, it's doesn't tell the whole story no matter how much money you throw at it. If it did, BP would not have survived the Gulf oil spill. If it did, JC Penney wouldn't be desperate after being right. In both cases, big data was off the mark.
Data needs to happen across every public, not just the public. Data needs to be discovered with multiple methods, not just one method. Even some of the most visible social media crisis events have been largely forgotten. Others were online loud, but many people never heard they happened.
You might find something different when you talk with people as opposed to react with them.
• Interviews. With the right interviewer, nothing beats a series of interviews. It's how some of our major clients have tapped my firm to write white papers. They work in other ways too. Once I interviewed 40 employees at a company that believed nobody saw the company like they did. I found out that they all saw the company the same way despite that belief.
• Focus Groups. Brainstorming sessions and focus groups made up of trusted stakeholders or select demographics can transform reaction captures into think tanks. For example, when I conduct core and strategic sessions, the first 50 responses are often the least important. Once a group hits closer to 100, they start thinking about vision instead of what's expected.
• Vetted Surveys. Instead of self-selected surveys, sometimes slanted with leading questions, try objective surveys (and control groups) with people who are solicited based upon belonging to a specific public or stakeholder group. Find out what they think of an organization, industry, and what's missing from the equation — not only what they expect but what they never thought to expect.
• Big Data. As I mentioned before, big data has a place. Just remember that sometimes you have to distinguish between the public and customers. One example that comes to mind was the initial launch of the iPhone without physical buttons. The quieter majority of customers didn't care. They didn't seem to care that the USB port was left off their iPads either. Never-customers cared much more.
After you're done, don't forget that inside out is just as important as what's being said outside.
• Stakeholders. When working with the National Emergency Number Association (9-1-1), I was privy to some very intelligent ideas on improving emergency communication because the association's stakeholders included several dozen thought-leadership companies that had glimpses of future tech. Do you need another reason to talk to vendors, partners, shareholders, etc.?
• Customers. There is plenty that can be tracked when it comes to customers and there is much more to consider than a single click. The value of the lifetime customer is more. It's one of the reasons most major companies jumped at affiliate programs. Their marketing jumps in after one buy.
• The Public. Looking at the public makes sense, but with obvious limitations. Listening to the public en masse can sometimes be a good thing because it often serves as a commonsense barometer. Other times, it isn't nearly as good because it can be manipulated by catfish or implied wrongdoing.
Doing all this work takes more time, which means you can't turn on a dime with every decision. But then again, if an organization could turn on a dime then its brand relationship must be pretty thin. Or maybe the better way to say it is: isn't it commonsense to talk to people if you want to understand them?