The craze, feels a little bit like the first internet bubble,
with companies scrambling to buy each other's data off the market
and out of the hands of competitors. The question is, "then what?"
The only way to safely navigate the new year is to accept a
fundamental truth: Data is only the beginning, not the end.
Complexity doesn't yield truth or insight.
With data pumping from every channel, the biggest issue in 2017
will be how to keep the inevitable complexity at bay. This is going
to be difficult, as the reflexive response is usually to try to
make the complicated look and feel simpler. Data visualization, for
example, has taken off; and then there's the old standby:
The challenge is that dashboards provide little more than a
fleeting sense of comfort … and perhaps the illusion of
accountability. I'm not saying that dashboards (and the data they
house) are no longer relevant, but the industry has sold these
beauties as crucial instruments that help measure advertising
effectiveness and capture changes in consumer decision-making
processes, when in fact the data bits they display are irrelevant
almost as quickly as they can be posted. We mustn't devalue
dashboards altogether. But analyzing only a handful of metrics,
which is what dashboards do, is like attempting to describe a room
inch by inch and hoping the audience knows what the room looks like
when you're done.
A KPI to rule them all? Or a tapestry?
So, what does this mean? Do we just take our ever-increasing
computing power and run analysis after analysis, hoping to find the
one gold nugget that will be our beacon of truth?
A lot of small data vendors think so. A quick survey of
available offerings yielded the following sales pitch: "Give us
your entire media plan and we'll optimize your media on the one KPI
that we know provides the value you're looking for."
Unfortunately, this doesn't work. No single type or handful of
accessible information may be truly worthy of KPI status. After
all, how do we know what we don't know? Are we sure the gold nugget
is even in the data we are sifting through? And what about multiple
gold nuggets? What if one or more of them are in a walled
This diving-into-the-weeds method of data acquisition leads to
analysis paralysis, and misses the forest for the trees. The larger
strategic challenge is that-even though multiple things can now be
counted-not all things are worth being counted. Additionally, just
because we can now count things that we previously uncountable
doesn't mean that human beings make purchase or brand-acquisition
decisions any differently today than they did before the advent of
Instead of painting a picture of the room from the bottom up,
perhaps we start looking at things from the top down. Maybe we need
to weave all data points together into what will ultimately be a
tapestry of advertising effectiveness … with a hole here and there
until we have everything we need.
It's a fact that a great data infrastructure (or marketing plan)
relies on systems thinking, or the belief that everything is
connected. This means that nobody's got it sewn up, because the
nirvana of being able to capture every consumer consideration and
action everywhere all the time in one cohesive way doesn't really
exist. Yet. But, using a systems thinking approach is a great
start. Don't just focus on the data you do have; focus on what you
don't have. Working toward a holistic view will require nothing
short of a fundamental shift in how we think about data and the
role that it should play. There's still far more work to be done if
data (and the volume of data points) is ever going to provide a
true sense of transparency. But, the heavy lifting has begun across
suppliers, channels, publishers and partners. And for most of us,
2017 is a good place to start.
Think about the meaningful metrics that appeared in the past and
focus on iterating them. Understand that they are useful, but
they're only pieces of a much larger puzzle. The excitement in the
coming year will come from real breakthroughs that enable us to
extract intelligence from the 24/7 life of the body politic,
including every messy impression and action out there. The fact
that we're having this conversation-that we know what we have, as
well as what's missing-theoretically means that what we need and
want can happen. Spend less time in 2017 on this metric or that new
measurement, and more time demanding your internal and external
resources help you get closer to a true systems view of your
business. Doing so in the coming year will be time well spent,
particularly because shouting about big-, small- and whatever-sized
data voices are likely to be louder and more anarchic than
Imran Ismail is Senior Partner, Director Business Science
and Analytics, MediaCom USA. This article was written for the 4A's
Blog. Original article can be found here.