Of Data & Dylan

  • Companies using machine learning are stealing market share and being great disruptors
  • Rise of data analytics is putting science into the “gut feel” of seasoned marketers


Imagine if you didn’t use 70% of the raw materials you bought, or 70% of the staff you hired did no work. It would be an unforgiveable crime!

Of Data & DylanTHE lights went up, the audience stretched its legs, another pitch had come to its suspense-filled end.  As I shook hands with the chief marketing officer, he remarked, “I can see you are passionate about data!”

I consider myself generally factual and grounded, being more the deadpan sort rather than the passionate, hyperbolic sort. In fact, the ebullient Khailee Ng once described my voice as a monotone, and I weirdly regarded that as a compliment.

So did I really sound passionate about data? I realised later that I was not conveying passion, but sheer shock and awe. Shock at the fact that so many marketers don’t use data, and are not even conversant with the basic terms. And awe at the fact that in today’s hyper-connected age, people can still get away with a data-blind approach, that their bosses don’t ask or don’t care.

Statistics, those pesky hard-to-ignore things, from Forrester no less, state that between 60% and 73% of all data within an enterprise goes unused for analytics. And that's despite the fact that more companies are talking about big data and using technology to capture ever more data than before.

Imagine if you didn’t use 70% of the raw materials you bought, or 70% of the staff you hired did no work. It would be an unforgiveable crime!

I am old enough for this blindness to remind me of another revolution: the internet. When I first started working 21 years ago, “online advertising” was a quaint novelty, Google wasn’t born yet, and Jack Ma was still hadn’t launched Alibaba.

Getting clients to advertise online was a titanic struggle, and we would wander around thanklessly like prophets in the wilderness, unheeded voices touting the power of ridiculously limited, unappetising banner ads.

We’ve come a long way since then, and digital is as important as breathing for most savvy marketers. The challenge with adopting “digital” was that it required other people to have internet-connected devices too, so that you could profit from the network effect and sell them products and services. And that took time, as incomes, perceived usefulness, computing power and connectivity improved.

With big data, on the other hand, the technology exists and only you need to have it, and use it. You don’t need all your customers to have it. 

That’s the single most important reason why I feel big data won’t take 20 years to become mainstream.

There are at least three more reasons why data and analytics is an urgent matter for C level execs.

1 - Machine Learning is making every device and interaction smarter

By applying complex mathematical algorithms to data, and evolving instead of just following rules, machines can now do a lot more, faster and smarter. Google’s self-driving car is an example of it, so is Facebook’s uncanny knack of showing you something you were just thinking about. Amazon’s recommendation engine that “learns” what you like, or Netflix’s, that matches your preferences to a single percentage point, are just examples of best-in-class machine learning in action.

Companies using machine learning are already stealing market share not only from others in their category, but disrupting other categories itself.

Netflix is attacking conventional TV in the USA, for instance. The German car marques, hitherto unrivalled corporate touchstones with a century of leadership under their hoods, are in danger of being overtaken by data-driven tech upstarts.

If you don’t adopt technology that drives big data and machine learning, your business is under threat.

2 - The FMCG landscape, bastion of conventional marketers, is shape-shifting

Established leaders like Nestle, Unilever and others are masters of market research, but follow that with largely traditional marketing of the 4/5/6Ps.

However the rise of data analytics is putting science into the “gut feel” of seasoned marketers.

One analytics company we work with, Absolutdata, for instance, has built a massive business providing data analytics to Fortune 100 clients like Mondelez globally.

It can help predict what SKU to stock on what shelf in which retail outlet, to maximise business returns, and deliver that to the FMCG’s sales force on the fly, as they do their sales rounds.

3 - Data can be processed real-time, creating engagement opportunities on the go

Unscrambl, an innovative real-time AI and streaming analytics company we are associated with, has recently created 1500 customer segments for a client within two months, by using real-time streaming analytics and machine learning. These segments are statistically valid and drive proven sales uplift.

No human being could have built so many relevant segments so fast. Unscrambl is not alone, and companies like theirs are making it ever easier to market to an audience of 1 person, which is the marketer’s Holy Grail.

We started with data, but let’s end with words. Specifically, Nobel Laureate Bob Dylan’s words, sometimes monotonous too, but suitable for C level execs, marketers and agencies not embracing data:

Of Data & DylanCome gather 'round people

Wherever you roam

And admit that the waters

Around you have grown

And accept it that soon

You'll be drenched to the bone.

If your time to you

Is worth savin'

Then you better start swimmin'

Or you'll sink like a stone

For the times they are a-changin'.

Sandeep Joseph is co-founder and CEO of Ampersand Advisory, a consulting agency that combines media, creative and data to deliver immediate business results for clients. To debate the article: [email protected]


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