Digesting Digital Data

Data is rapidly becoming a buzzword in marketing circles and it is considered a must for all things digital. In the recent months I have seen data advocacy from business magazines, journals, bloggers, conference speakers, and academicians. Their enthusiasm is justified as we’re currently witnessing a massive data explosion across different digital platforms.

Marketers are starting to get more aggressive about digital data. Strategies are getting developed to capture diverse data types from almost all digital touch points. Everyone seems to be focused on acquiring maximum data in the shortest time with the lowest cost. I appreciate the enthusiasm and aggression on capturing digital data but I think it is important for marketers to think about digesting digital data because capturing, processing, interpreting, and using data costs money. Let us look at how marketers can approach the same.

Firstly, it is a must to determine the relevance of different data types before starting to collect. This is usually derived from the business requirements and will vary from industry to industry. In my observation, most organizations fail to define what they need and how it connects with their business drivers.

Secondly, it is important to determine how the data will be utilized after it gets captured. The data utilization plan helps understand where it will be used, who will use it, and how it will be used.
Thirdly, it is necessary to develop a data management plan that usually includes validating, cleaning, trimming, updating, and even junking of unnecessary data. These tasks need to be performed on a regular basis and it can’t be sporadic activity as and when people have spare time.

Finally, it is important to avoid the temptation of excessive data acquisition. It often leads to confusion and sometimes causes failure of the entire system. Therefore, striking a balance is must.
Let me explain it through a very simple analogy borrowed from the human body system. What would happen if you overate in every meal? Additionally, you decide not to exercise and stay very much idle. In the first few instances, your body will work very hard to digest all the extra food without any help from you in terms of physical exercise. But after a few days if the excess continues then the body will start failing in digesting the food. And as you know, only digested food will get converted to anything meaningful. At this stage, your system will start to fail in small bits. It will start giving you early warnings but unfortunately it will not give any serious alarms. If you take the warnings seriously then you will have to act on it and go on course correction. But if you choose to ignore it then your system will suffer from further degradation. As a result you will start putting on weight. Your movements will slow down and your ability to exercise will be further reduced. If you still choose to ignore then finally it could lead to blockages, gastric issues, blood pressure, sugar problems, and so on. All of it would essentially lead to total system failure.

Now imagine the same thing happening to your marketing system focused on acquiring random and excessive data. In my opinion, it would lead to no other fate than the one described above. In fact, the time taken for system failure would be much faster than the human system. It is because any man-made system is still not as intelligent and efficient as the human body. Additionally, fixing a broken system is expensive and time consuming. Just like going to doctors to fix your body problem. Also the organization won’t really gain anything meaningful from the excess of data as it will not be digested and hence not interpreted to get any meaningful insights.

In summary, don’t get carried away by the enthusiasm of capturing excessive data just because it is free or cheap. Capture as much as your system needs and can digest. Remember to put your data through the rigor of exercising on a regular basis.

Health is wealth and the same is true for your digital data.

(Originally published in ClickZ.Asia on 12 March 2012)