May 15, 2018

by Nigel Hollis

A while back I wrote about the need to break out of the comfort zone in order to create brand growth. The scary thing is that data can be one of the things that helps create the comfort zone. Our data becomes the lens through which we see the world and the real opportunities lie outside our view.

I was reminded on my original post by this article in The Drum written by Alistair Beattie. In the article he warns against brands being pebbles on the shore of the sea of indifference and proposes that the solution is to focus on human insights not just data. He warns against viewing people as averages and states,

“Data are useful, meaningful and often illuminating but not a silver bullet. It is a fallacy to think that humans are reducible to what we can measure.”

Unfortunately, I think Beattie is entirely right when he warns of reducing people to what we can easily measure. People vary dramatically in their needs, values and desires and when people interact with the world around them differences in context produce apparently chaotic behavior. For all the freely available data and powerful analytic tools available to us today the problem remains that people’s behavior is the product of far more than is reflected in their digital exhaust.

But the real problem is bigger than just missing data. The question is will the data readily available to us ever do more than reflect the world as it exists now? I suspect Jeff Bezos might answer that question as follows:

“You, the product or service owner, must understand the customer, have a vision, and love the offering. Then, beta testing and research can help you find your blind spots.”

Blind spots exist because we either do not have the data to start with or because we simply choose not to think about what the data might not be telling us. When you see the same data week in and week out telling you that this is your market share, this is your distribution, this is the way people think of your brand, then this becomes to defining view of the brand. Your viewpoint becomes anchored to the way that things are now not what they could be.

In this way, research data often supports staying in that comfort zone and makes it easier to focus on optimization rather than trying something completely new and different. This is not the fault of data – it’s how the data is analyzed interpreted and applied to decision making. To make data truly useful we need to engage with it, envisage what might be and transform our understanding.


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