Do you feel like you hear the word “data” thrown around a lot lately? You’re not crazy.
Once the exclusive purview of geeks, big name brands and small startups alike are pushing the concept of data into the mainstream. Obviously, data has always played a major role in our daily lives. But the Internet has increased both the amount of data being produced and our ability to access it. As a result, our relationship to data has slowly edged its way into the public conscious.
And businesses are trying to cash in on it. Google recently jumped into the data clean up space with its “Refine” project. High-profile startup Qwiki is promising to change the way we experience data. And IBM used data as the driver of its branding campaign.
Data is at a tipping point, on the cusp of being thoroughly mainstreamed. The more we talk about data, the more it changes the way we work. Here are three emerging trends that are changing the game for business.
Marketing – Less Art, More Science
When Suaad Sait first entered the marketing in the mid 90’s, he felt like a loner. An engineer by training he was “talking to people who didn’t understand my language,” Suaad told me.
That’s because Suaad, now chairman of ReachForce and co-founder of Workstreamer, was trying to apply measurable data to the black art of marketing. The idea of implementing a lead management process tied to quantifiable metrics was unheard of, much less measuring marketing success by its contribution to topline revenue. “The common adage in marketing is ‘I know half of my marketing dollars are critical, I just don’t know what half,’” he said.
But the ability to track and measure the success of everything from online ads to how many people open your email campaign is sparking a sparking a revolution in the marketing industry. Data, Suaad said, is ushering in a new era of accountability among marketing teams. Particularly in tech companies, the effectiveness of marketing is determined by examining its impact on revenue growth, not merely brand awareness. (At Eloqua we call this movement Revenue Performance Management.)
Still, Suaad said, this revolution is in its infancy. “The whole concept of applying marketing attribution to top line revenue has still not happened” he said. “Ad dollars and event dollars still haven’t migrated in the fully” quantifiable models yet. But unprecendented ability to collect and analyze data is making it harder for marketing teams to justify the old methods of measuring success.
Writing – Someone Call An Engineer!
If a blog post drops in a forest of blogs, does it make a sound?
All cheekiness aside, the ubiquity of publishing platforms has made finding an audience for your ruminations more difficult than ever. The quality of your writing is not enough to get noticed anymore, said Rand Schulman, Principal at Schulman + Thorogood. In a media environment where everything is searchable, not to mention rankable, writers will need to learn additional skill sets on top of the traditional qualities like style, voice and structure.
“Content without conversion equals zero,” Schulman said. A writer whose writing is not read has failed in his view. And so Schulman is pioneering the concept of “Content Engineers.” A Content Engineer is someone whose content curation training goes beyond the ABCs of good writing to incorporate more data-driven techniques.
“How do you take the creative writer and enable them to create relevant and findable?” Schulman asked me. “When you create content you have to be very conscious that there is a business consequence to that content, and you have to measure that content. Ultimately, if you’re a content engineer you are writing content and SEO-ing it at the same time.”
The problem is that so much content is produced and readily available now that we need filters to help us choose what we want to consume. Search engines and our social networks have become our default filters. Publishers across industries – bloggers, advertisers, academics, journalists and marketers – who want to succeed will need to be taught the science of data analysis along with the art of writing.
As Schulman put it: “You have to write for both the human, the eyeball and the search engine.”
Branded Metrics – My Klout Is Bigger Than Yours
Social status is tricky and vague. For evidence of this visit any junior high school. A kid’s social stature is based on a lot of superficial and ill-defined values. And what junior high giveth, high school taketh away.
But in the online media ether social status is measurable and public. Likes, followers, thumbs, re-tweets, viewers, such is the currency of social media. Accordingly, companies are trying to leverage the measuring of popularity for profitability, said Josh Jones-Dilworth, CEO of PR firm Jones-Dilworth Inc.
“What you start to get is branded measures and metrics,” Josh said. Many of these metrics happen organically (think how people used to brag about how many friends they had on MySpace). But now companies are emerging that track the movements of your social media sway and they are taking steps to brand those metrics, Jones said. Businesses like Klout and PeerIndex measure how influential you are among a cadre of Twitter users, while Mention Map provides a visualization of your sphere of influence. People are addicted to collecting badges and winning mayoral races through geosocial sites like Foursquare. And businesses are deploying their workforce to try and out-expert each other on Q&A sites like Focus and Quora.
Branded metrics are nothing new, Josh explained. (Disclosure: Josh works with Klout.) Nielsen ratings became a household name by sampling household television viewing. The only difference is the metrics are becoming more sophisticated and there are more consumption platforms to measure.
But executives and supervisors need to beware and be savvy, Josh said. Despite better tracking, people can still practice selective sampling, reporting data that makes them look good but not necessarily the data that enables the company to make wiser decisions and drive revenue performance.
“People will use data to tell whatever truth they want to tell their boss or their CEO,” Josh said. “You can use this stuff and you can bend it to your state of mind.” In short, we need filters to understand the constant stream of data reaching us every day, but we also need to understand the filters we choose.
What do you think of all this data talk? How do you see data changing your industry or business? Comment below.