What’s worse than the multitude of start-ups and executives berating the benefits of big data? The even larger masses defaming the world of data-based analysis, and those who believe in it.
Of course, as with any new concept, there are the praisers and the naysayers. Darwin v. the church. Galileo v. the church. The church v. the government.
OK — the church has been involved in a lot of the most well-documented two-sided belief battles. And for good reason, practicing what you preach is a fundamental system not just of the church, but of humanity. We all like to rest our morals on the highest rung, be the first to call Wolf, lovingly pat friends on the back with an understated, “I told you so.” But when it comes to new concepts, especially those backed by science and mathematics, history has proven time and time again that it is wise to trust the numbers.
Then again, big data rubs a lot of people the wrong way. After all, Google Flu Trends was a whooping data failure — and if Google can’t figure it out, how are us laymen supposed to? But that’s just the thing, big data is becoming such a big topic because of this alone: the trial and error period is almost over.
“History has proven time and time again that it is wise to trust the numbers.”
Already, more and more CMOs are looking to big data to make smart marketing decisions based on numbers, not surveys or guesses or easily manipulated spreadsheets. And many of them are doing it without needing a data scientist to show them how, why or in what ways different data points correlate. Because that kind of work is what Google has already figured out.
Google, the search engine, not simply the company, is a big data behemoth. That engine takes your search query, often in English so jumbled it makes crosswords look like short stories, and turns it into hundreds upon thousands of relevant results. It does this via algorithms that Google often manipulates to better serve content, or their own offerings. But at the end of the day, Google does what even it couldn’t do, at least very well, only five years ago: it turns big data (everything searchable on the Internet) into small data (what you have said is relevant to you on the Internet) and makes it actionable for the end user.
And there was certainly a period of trial and error.
Remember when content farms ruled search engine results? Low quality writing at high quantities put websites at the top of Google results — until Google manipulated their algorithms to better understand that high quality writing, even in low quantities, is more useful for the end user. Today, content farms still exist, but they have had to seriously rework their strategies and pull on real writers to up the ante on their overall article quality. And for them it hasn’t been an easy road — but for the end user, the Internet has been made better for it. And the companies providing high quality articles from the get-go were better funded for it, too.
And that’s the point: big data makes the Internet make money — without annoying banner ads, content farms or shady digital business practices that have been so prevalent on the web since it’s early days. The goal is to provide a better customer experience while actually monetizing the one industry that often has to rely on its print counterpart to show up in the green every year: digital media.
“Data-based analysis is becoming the standard in smart, future-oriented digital media companies.”
Whether you are printing your tickets for a concert or baseball game, or reading Fast Company magazine in the grocery store check out line — those ads and sponsorships that live in print provide more money to companies than anything digital could currently hope to do. In 2013, the average American spent only 6% of his or her media diet on print, in relation to 26% of it on the Internet and another 12% on mobile. But, despite the low, and ever decreasing, loyal readership of print products, 23% of media advertising dollars are spent there — compared to 22% on the Internet and only 3% on mobile.
This leaves a $20B+ hole in the marketplace for online and mobile advertising — and it is seriously hurting digital media companies, the ones that have garnered loyal followings all while maintaining low overhead.
Big data will ultimately change this.
It takes the guess work out of where to place ad dollars, and makes a compelling case for the lessening of spending in traditional mediums (specifically print). The goal isn’t to kill print. It is to provide digital media with the resources and money necessary to make both our on and offline lives better — not just while we’re at the game or in the grocery store line, but everywhere we interact with our favorite brands (sports teams included).
No, it isn’t smart business practice to trust the exactitude of big data, just like it wouldn’t have been smart to rest soundly at night with the knowledge that the sun, not the earth, rests at the center of our solar system. We would have never learned of the expansion of our universe, and the lack of a noticeable central point, if we had. This is where training and education comes in, and why it is so important.
Data-based analysis is becoming the standard in smart, future-oriented digital media companies. It will be these companies still around five, ten, 20 years from now — with them training the rest of us on the importance and true relevancy of big data in making big business decisions.
This isn’t a trend. It is smart business. And no, the Darwin’s and Galileo’s of this information revolution won’t stop berating it’s benefits. We just have to wait for the church to calm down and see the true importance in the new way of the world.