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Forget what you know: Data is now sexy

Something unexpected and downright bizarre has been happening over the last few months. Data has become sexy.
Even its most passionate...

Something unexpected and downright bizarre has been happening over the last few months. Data has become sexy.
Even its most passionate exponents would acknowledge that data has never been sexy before. Important, certainly; even potentially business critical. But never sexy: it was often considered the domain of marketing anoraks. So how and why has this radical transformation occurred? And, what does it mean for marketers?

There’s no single explanation for the origins of this change – the factors influencing it are varied and consequently its repercussions are being felt far and wide, way beyond marketing. The success of the book turned film ‘Freakonomics’ and US TV cop show ‘Numbers’, both of which rely on the creative interpretation of data to draw extraordinary conclusions, illustrate this. But there have been a number of catalysts that have influenced marketing’s shift in perspective on data, many of which are driven by technology.

For example, the rise of behavioural economics, the development of sophisticated analytics packages, and the increasing power of Google and Facebook, whose acquisition of customer data continues to accelerate at an exponential rate. Marketing has entered a new world of data awareness, led and enabled by the search and social giants.

As Alex Blyth discusses in our March cover story, this data renaissance was crystallised by the gurus at McKinsey, who coined the phrase ‘big data’ to express the vast and growing universe of information now available to marketers. No longer can data be dismissed as a mere detail of effective DM or customer profiling: the possibilities are now limitless. And that’s what makes data sexy… if not scary.

The repercussions for marketers are potentially enormous. They may also be extremely difficult to exploit for many organisations. Generating real business benefits from these new data resources will be gradual and requires an attitudinal shift. But make no mistake, once again, marketing is changing, and you must change too or risk getting left behind.