I started a Master’s program in information science last year that has been both challenging and deeply rewarding. First of all, I’m a major nerd, so the opportunity to learn coding languages and more about other “computer stuff” has just lit up my brain. The key reason I enrolled, though, was because I have consistently relied on data over the past decade to develop communications and marketing strategies, and I wanted to push myself on how I could use information to drive decision-making for my clients.
According to Bernard Marr, a “BIG name” in the business intelligence world:
The basic idea behind the phrase ‘Big Data’ is that everything we do is increasingly leaving a digital trace (or data), which we (and others) can use and analyse. Big Data therefore refers to that data being collected and our ability to make use of it.
So why have I been obsessed with data, especially “BIG data,” over the years? There are three main reasons:
- Value – databases are increasingly becoming organizations’ most valuable assets (after talent, of course)
- Learning – when someone takes the time to analyze and make sense of data, it opens the door to more successful decision-making
- Storytelling – unpacking accomplishments and even failures shapes narratives organizations can use to build a base of loyal customers and advocates
Here, let me share a bit more.
Value of BIG Data
Big data is not about the data.
— Gary King, Political Scientist, Harvard University
While the above quote sounds a bit like a zen proverb, it’s absolutely true. The value data provides comes from how it is used. Just as trees aren’t commercially valuable until they’re cut down and turned into lumber or cotton until it’s harvested and turned into fabric, data is like any raw resource. Numbers and words need to be refined into something useful, transformed into information. And even then, we have to take one more step and analyze the data to make sense of it. Sixteen numbers are useless until we know that they are a credit card number with an expiration date, zip code, and name (especially if that name is Jeff Bezos!) — with context and additional relevant data, we have a business’s source of revenue. Combine a bunch of credit cards, user profiles, spending patterns, and geographies, and suddenly we have an opportunity to analyze all this data to develop or improve our marketing strategy. The more time and talent you have to uncover what your data means, your BIG data becomes all the more valuable.
Learning from BIG Data
In God we trust. All others must bring data.
— W. Edwards Deming, Visionary Statistician, “The World”
We like to think we know stuff. Grass is green, the sky is blue, the PlayStation 5 will eventually be available for purchase (at market price). But the truth is everything we know is based on data. And lots of it. Our brains rely on BIG data to shape who we are and how we understand the world. Now it’s being used to help companies and organizations understand the world too. As we develop better systems, increase accessibility to big data tools, the possibilities really are limitless. Already, it’s easy to get organizations off really complicated spreadsheets (or, bless my soul, interconnected spreadsheets with nightmarish BASIC-based configurations) and onto databases that help them gain insights about their marketing strategies, product performance, donor-engagement strategies, and the list goes on. One area I probably get most excited about is what we can learn by investing in “smart cities” — I’m thinking what could we achieve if all of our tax dollars were invested in community-building strategies that are proven to work, that build more equitable transportation systems, that grow jobs, and that increase the wealth available to everyone.
Into the woods without regret /
The choice is made, the task is set.
— Stephen Sondheim, Musical Genius, Into the Woods
Data always tells a story. It’s easy to forget that as we think about all the techno-mumbo-jumbo that gets thrown around. But the simple truth is, regardless of a company’s sophistication, data is everywhere, and it often tells a powerful story. And the truth is we don’t need sophisticated algorithms, “deep learning,” or complicated software to tell it. While sales data and social media metrics are great to keep track of, no numbers are more powerful than the stories of your customers’ or clients’ experiences. And that’s data too!
And then there’s what your shop has the ability to do with data. Your company’s or organization’s stories are also captured by the numbers. Did your business pivot to double sales amidst a pandemic? Definitely a story worth capturing and sharing. Did your organization keep a community alive when the odds were stacked against survival with a shoestring budget? Broadcast that to the world. The result? Committed customers thrilled to be ambassadors for your brand and advocates determined to bear the standard of your organization’s cause.
The BIG Closing Thought
Data matters, and it should be at the heart of how we drive revenue, learn, and tell our stories. I started Big Big Box based on that belief, and I’m excited to see where that thinking takes companies and organizations for years to come.