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To uncover gold you need a rich seam of data...and the right pick axes

I remember clearly a marketing management meeting at a previous company in which we discussed how we would might use a new data set we were considering. We quickly came up with an initial list of insight opportunities. However that list was relatively short and we struggled to produce a strong enough set of values to justify the investment. We felt we would get more value from the data when we actually started playing with it; but as we never went ahead and made the investment, we never found out if that was true.

I believe the situation is similar today with the raft of digital channel data now available from websites, mobile and other channels. Whilst we can come up with a strong list of valuable insights such as understanding conversion rates and learning which calls to action are most popular, some of the most valuable nuggets of data gold that we’ve seen our clients uncover aren’t those they are looking for – they are in fact nuggets that they didn’t even know existed.

For example, one client identified strong indicators of potentially fraudulent behaviour which, upon investigation, led directly to considerable cost savings. Fantastic – though the initial focus had actually been on improving profiling, segmentation and targeting. Another client discovered that they had a surprisingly high number of potential customers under the age of 25, but only realised this when they noticed a very high non-conversion rate on their website. Through examining the data they worked out that their brand appealed to a much broader age group than originally thought, therefore were able to adjust their product mix to target a younger age group.

Those clients were able to make such important discoveries for three key reasons. Firstly they were using analytical technologies such as data discovery, data visualisation or BI tools, which surface previously hidden relationships and correlations within data. Secondly those clients had access to a very complete and granular set of data. In this case it was about individuals’ behaviours across their online channels, but the principle could equally apply to remote sensor data or scientific research data where new discoveries are made every week. Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, they applied their collective and creative brain-power to really investigate the data and open their minds to the potential new insights within it.

Whilst I absolutely agree that it’s extremely important not to waste effort on gathering huge amounts of data which are of no commercial or actionable value to the company, or using data to freak out customers by showing that you know what they might consider to be "too much" about them, it’s not always possible to be sure from the outset what data exactly will be useful. It’s therefore very easy to miss precious insight which could really help drive the business forwards. Sometimes diving headlong into a broad set of data in full mining mode, pick axe at the ready, can be extremely valuable, but only if you have the right tools, raw materials and creative thinking at your disposal and know how to use the data correctly to truly engage customers, not bombard or scare them.