As Big Data Grows Bigger, The World Remains Analogue


Alastair Dryburgh, Contributor

September 25, 2015

When  you see a bandwagon that is really starting to roll, you have two choices. You can follow the crowd and run after it. Or you can turn around through one hundred and eighty degrees and look for the opportunities that everyone else is missing. Big data is certainly one of those bandwagons. It is attracting a lot of attention. What is it attracting attention away from? Here are some ideas.

Firstly, fuzzy landscapes. Or, if you prefer, analogue situations. To understand what this means, consider the difference between an online shop and a real world shop. The online shop is a very simple, digital environment. It presents information in a very precise way, with no scope for nuance. The choices are very limited. Click ten times in the same place, and the same thing will happen. In the real world store, talking to ten different customers in the same way will produce ten different reactions. On a website, the customer has a finite range of choices. In the real world, they have an infinite range – where they go, how fast they move, where they look…Now, to listen to many technologists talking, all this subtle, hard to define and classify, nuanced behavior is no more than noise, to be eliminated. But it’s really the opposite. It’s a whole extra level of information waiting to be exploited.

Notice that data-rich environments don’t have to ignore the subjective. I know someone who has a very successful and rapidly growing business doing manual analysis of twitter streams. His clients want to find out what their customers think, so he reads through thousands of tweets to find out. What is exciting is that he doesn’t just answer the questions his clients give him, he finds entirely new themes.

Secondly, look for large, one-off sales situations where persuasion is needed. Data-driven sales approaches work by presenting the right offer to the right person at the right time, but there is a limit to how much they can do to persuade people to buy. That needs another human. In the small sale, it isn’t cost-effective to invest too much in assessing the customer as an individual, which is why it makes sense to use data on their behaviour to put them into some category (or stereotype). In the large sale, you need to treat the customer as an individual, using the full range of verbal and non-verbal clues. Again, there is no inherent conflict between the analogue and the digital approach; any data you can gather on past purchases or preferences is useful, provided you remember that it is only a starting point.

Even as the quantity of available data grows exponentially, most of the world remains analogue. And that analogue part of the world may not be receiving the attention it merits. And that is where your opportunity lies.

This article was written by Alastair Dryburgh from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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