Data Unpredictability

What you get with data is just data. And data just isn’t enough.

“Data is taking over marketing.”

How many times have you read an article of a similar flavour?

Data, analytics and stats is part of everyday business. More and more data is produced which means more and more time is spent analysing it.

It won’t take over, though.

In 2002, Major League Baseball team Oakland Athletics introduced a new approach to recruiting players.

Instead of relying on scouts and managers, they adopted an approach focussed on data.

Data measuring in-game activity such as stolen bases, runs batted in and batting averages.

They were able to find undervalued players and free agents that others couldn’t. Players, according to the data, that could accumulate more points than their values suggest.

This is an approach considered highly successful; the Oakland Athletics went on a 20-game unbeaten streak that season.

Before this unbeaten run, though, they went on a losing streak similar.

What they didn’t consider at first were factors that you can’t measure or see on paper. Something had to change to turn this data-driven built team of rejects into a success.

And it wasn’t the data. It was their manager Billy Beane.

Our problem is that once we see data, we make snap judgements that this data represents something that we aren’t doing that we should be doing.

Then our marketing becomes spontaneous. And mostly unsuccessful because what data provides is a limited solution.

You get numerical descriptions rather than detailed narratives. Forgetting about the human. Forgetting about the market. In marketing, this is bad.

Unpredictability, in my opinion, is where opportunities lie. (Not so much in the data.)

An unpredictable idea.

Just as sports itself is unpredictable. It’s a little random. And it’s the same within marketing.

Without marketers and strategists to piece together the pieces – real creative people – data is just numbers and graphs and charts on a piece of paper.

A shoe manufacturer sent two salesmen to Africa.

Their task being a simple one: investigate the market and report back on potential avenues for growth.

The first salesman reported back, “There’s no potential here – nobody wears shoes.”

The second salesman reported back, “There’s massive potential here – nobody wears shoes.”

So was there potential?

Well, there isn’t an absolute answer. Neither was right. Just as neither was wrong.

Why would African people want shoes having never known them? Is there actually a need? Do they have money to pay for them? We don’t know.

All this tells us is that there’s some form of opportunity.

Because even with all the data and the research and the intelligence, you can never be sure if a market has potential.

You never really know if data is right. It can always be misinterpreted.

After the marketing budgets are spent, we just can’t understand why our campaigns failed. The data didn’t tell us that they would.

But the big problem is that it didn’t tell us our campaigns would succeed either.

Oakland Athletics was the first team in Baseball to use data to its advantage. An unpredictable idea, if you wish. But it could only do so by turning things around with people.

Even then, they didn’t win the World Series.

Because data always looks at the past, not the present. It’s a half-truth. No more.

They brought in older players prone to injury who needed support from coaches and physios. They needed someone to motivate players and develop the skills of others. They needed people who could lift other players lacking confidence.

They needed their unpredictable manager Billy Beane.

To create a “team” out of the data.

Otherwise it’s all just meaningless data.

Otherwise you just get a team of losers and failed campaigns.

So favour a creative approach rather than an analytical one. Because data doesn’t tell you what can happen or why something happened, only what has happened.

And we can’t afford to think like that.

What do you think?

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