What if analytics gives you the wrong answer?

Written by on September 24, 2015 in Opinion with 0 Comments

A dangerous man chasing Santa Claus running

There is a lot of talk of analytics. Possibly too much. Some say that analytics is the ‘new’ advertising. Others say that companies cannot compete without analytics. It is hard to disagree with either of these arguments but analytics alone is not the answer. And we are in danger of doing exactly what we have done before (think Desktop Publishing). Assuming that analytics is the answer, whatever the question.

Last week Tony Poulos proposed that it was more valuable to analyse product failures than product successes. This, too, is an answer, but, again, only part of one.

We also need vision, imagination and – vitally – common sense.

If Henry Ford had had access to analytics, he would have realised, with complete certainty, that he should become a horse trainer. Clearly, the world needed faster horses. If whoever it was who gazed across the Firth of Forth and had a sudden feeling that a bridge across the troubled water would be great had then fed the thought into his analytics machine, the answer would have been to improve the roads around the end of the Firth. He would also hope that, one day, someone would come up with faster horses.

These may be simplistic, even banal examples. So, instead, reflect for a minute on recent online experiences on social media (the emphasis now on media, rather than social). You book a flight, a car, a hotel. For the next few weeks, you are inundated with adverts for flights, cars and hotels. Why? Because those funny little bots and clever little computer programmes see you doing these things and whirr away for a millisecond. Then they come to the conclusion that you are a consumer of flights, cars and hotels and send urgent messages to companies trying to sell flights, cars and hotels. Without coming to another, actually more obvious, conclusion that you just consumed flights, cars and hotels and probably will not need them for a while.

About a year ago a DisruptiveViews’ operative got engaged. At the same time, he and his fiancée thought it might be fun to get back onto Facebook (both had become bored of the mindless drivel that people seem to share). So, they found, dusted off or asked for new passwords and happily started sharing their own mindless drivel. They changed their status to ‘engaged’. And those funny little bots and computer programmes whirred and clicked for a millisecond and came to the conclusion that they wanted wedding venues, flower and cake providers, champagne and suit hire companies. The bots had a field day. And the advertisers got absolutely no business out of the excited bots’ discovery, because every one of the arrangements had already been made. The funny little bots could have deduced this by seeing whether there was a wedding date mentioned somewhere. There was, and it was two weeks from when they changed their status.

Analytics is great. But let us not bet the farm on analytics alone. We must preserve the vision, the imagination and the common sense, otherwise analytics will be the destruction of the media, not its saviour.

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About the Author

About the Author: Alex was Founder and CEO of the Global Billing Association (GBA), a trade body focused on the communications sector. He is a sought after speaker and chairman at leading industry conferences, and is widely published in communications magazines around the world. Until it closed, he was Contributing Editor, OSS/BSS for Connected Planet. He is publisher of DisruptiveViews and previously BillingViews. .

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