It’s not often that you get to listen to the revolutionaries in the morning and then hear from the establishment in the evening. That was my experience last week - at Field.work, the first “festival of data” staged by Havas Helia, I got to see what the digital marketing community thinks big data is capable of, then later at the IDM Annual Lecture, sponsored by Acxiom, it was time to hear what HSBC is actually doing. (That the second event was held at Google HQ we’ll consider a bridge between the two worlds...)
Here are some thoughts on what the contrast revealed:
Beware of marketers unaware of BAU
It is fair to warn established businesses that agile digital start-ups might eat their lunch - a good example given during the festival is Airbnb, which first leveraged a big data API from Craig’s List to populate its service and then took over its market (and now rivals other hotel booking sites).
But that does not mean all established businesses will be displaced in the same way, especially if they provide services that are complex, regulated and demand a high degree of trust. You won’t find a digital start-up moving into the B2B banking space any time soon, but you will find new digital services being supplied by established players like HSBC.
It takes more than a data feed, an app and a novelty-seeking user base to displace global business interests on that scale. That means Uber may find success at turning booking a taxi into a social experience, but believing its hype about becoming a global transportation hub is an over-reach.
Marketers are not ready to change their mindset
Amanda Rendle, HSBC’s global head of marketing for commercial and global banking and markets told the IDM audience that big data will not revolutionise marketing as we know it. “We have always understood data as a marketer - now we just have a lot more of it,” she said.
That is only partly true. Many marketers have never understood - and still do not understand - data or even why they should bother with it. At the Havas Helia event, a panel debate on whether data is stiffling creativity assumed the two things are distinct and separate activities, as if a brilliant model or data technique are not creative, simply because they are not expressions. Think of how Twitter decided to use the hashtag to organise tweets and you can see a great idea being used to tackle a complex data management problem in a simple, creative way that can truly be said to have cut-through.
Big data is not just bigger data
If I get shown another slide about how much data has been created in the last two years/two minutes and the distance it would cover or how it overshadows everything humanity has done before, I might stage a revolution of my own. Volume is the least interesting and relevant aspect of big data - any presentation which uses this as a proof point has failed to make its case.
Data is not an end in itself. As Adam Bly, CEO of Seed Scientific, which was behind the algorithms that drive Beats Music, said, “no one data point is determinate.” Instead, it is the combinations and correlations across huge data volumes that make the experience of that streaming service “like magic”. To do that requires a blend of big data, data science and human interpretation, all combining for the same purpose. That is a very different approach from the world of classic data.
It is positive to have a festival-style event celebrating what data is bringing to marketing and how it is changing what can be done. It is also positive to hear how a global bank is exploring the possibilities of data-driven marketing in order to discover where the value is to be found. The negative is any assumption that these are binary activities or that only the new will prosper. Data is big enough to feed the established as well as the start-up.
(If you are interested in learning how data might transform your organisation and hear real accounts of how organisations have translated strategy into tactical action then you should consider visiting the DataIQ Summit in June 2015 - You can find out more here)