“There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” – Mark Twain
Remember that quote. In 2010 the very best marketers, PR professionals, and social media consultants will put data at the center of everything they do. For anyone unfamiliar with these concepts, just as with social media, data marketing may seem opaque or intimidating at the beginning. The only way you ever learn is by jumping in headfirst — become a data nerd, because data nerds are changing the world.
Your Data Is An Asset
In the near term, learn to think of data as an asset, and be creative. Data shapes conversations and markets. But data doesn’t come to you – organizationally, the gathering, filtering, curation, visualization and publishing of data will in many cases require a reorientation of the marketing function and its relationship to other roles, but it is well worth it.
Using one’s own data to tell a broader category story is one tried and true tactic that will continue to gain popularity. Comscore has done an excellent job of this for years, as have companies like Mint and ZocDoc in more recent memory.
What is happening is that companies large and small are starting to turn on to the idea of the data as an asset – and not only that, but a marketing asset — one that can be used to shape discourse in ways that no number of retweets ever can.
Data Journalism Is the Tip of the Iceberg
Journalism itself if profoundly changing, and becoming more data oriented. The idea of “data journalism” has taken off, and everyone from Y Combinator with their recent RFS, to AOL with their controversial new automation strategy, to the Texas Tribune, which has put their databases front and center, are good indicators of what is to come over the next year.
Even non-profit offerings like This We Know, which is built on open public data, surface important stories and trends that might not have otherwise made their way across an editor’s desk. And if you’re a PR person, the reality of data-driven reporting is going to make or break you.
But it’s not just journalism – it’s advertising, conferences and events, SEO, social media, television, promotions and offers (think Groupon), web and application development, etc. — the vehicles of communication are themselves evolving.
Getting your organization’s data game together is one thing, but understanding the mutating DNA of the marketing channels themselves is even more important.
Privacy, Privacy, Privacy
Facebook’s recent privacy changes are a great example of how privacy issues will take center stage in a data-driven world. Privacy, safety, authenticity and transparency are paramount – but what have become healthy-sounding buzzwords in word-of-mouth marketing circles will be put to the test.
The Twain quote that starts this post says it all – data can be used for good or evil, it can reveal great truths and propagate outstanding lies – which is it going to be? How will users and customers respond? When will government get involved? Who will solidify their brand and who will self-destruct?
Personal privacy, as it relates to data, is an important subject for marketers to consider seriously. The upside of the proliferation of data may be that campaigns are more measurable, strategies are more empirical, and “release early, iterate often” is a reality because social media gives us a massive, real-time focus group at our fingertips.
But, the downside is that data can be darn scary, and for good reason, even despite the legions of early adopters pioneering the concept of personal data as a new form of self-expression. There are lines that should not be crossed, and there are power dynamics already at play that risk tipping the balance too strongly in favor of certain parties.
Despite tepid reviews, Google’s new privacy dashboard is a step in the right direction – the vision is to allow individuals control over their own data. Empowerment and personal freedoms are key concepts in this new world, and they will be debated heavily in 2010, from every angle.
The truth is that he who owns the data, wins. Even though right now government is enthusiastically hopping on the open data bandwagon with great results (and kudos to them for it), over time the gathering and dissemination of data will become a highly-regulated industry.
Realize that any serious company that thinks of data as a core marketing asset likewise needs to think about where it gets that data, and the potential backlash if users or customers feel manipulated or outright fooled. We often talk about authenticity and transparency when it comes to social media best practices – those attitudes must be heightened and extended when it comes to data.
That’s So Meta
Finally, looking beyond data to metadata – that’s where the biggest opportunity lies in the long-run for marketers. Metadata is already here in the form of microformats and the Semantic Web, but it’s still in many ways a frontier.
What is metadata? It’s data that describes data – it’s data that tells us about the data. It is reasonable to expect that new classes of self-describing data will eventually tell us not only what it is, but how to use it, who it is best suited for, what geographies it should be targeted at, and how much inertia it requires to achieve critical mass. Over time, however, marketing will transition from being based on data, to being conceptually inseparable from it. A lot of money is going to made in the process, and huge numbers of jobs will be won and lost. It’s too early to tell exactly how it’s all going to play out, but the groundwork has certainly been laid.
Robert Scoble’s idea of a “Supertweet” is a nearer-term example, and rather compelling – it is the idea that advertising (among other things) can and will be delivered at the metadata level inside of tweets, with the help of clever new data-driven interface elements. The metadata might tell you where a tweet originated, what tweets it is related to, how many times it has been retweeted, or what concepts that tweet is about – but the point is that tweets will become much more rich, and our understanding of their intent and use will be that much more sophisticated.
The core thing to understand about metadata, especially if you’re not technical, is that eventually, marketing will no longer be something that happens based on top of data, and the insights gained therein. It will happen literally inside the data, as a constituent part of it.
This change won’t be fully effected for several years at the earliest, but we’re starting to see concrete examples of how this might work. The imminent arrival of true software-based assistants, for example, will only accelerate metadata assimilation. The efficacy of machine-to-machine marketing will eventually supersede human-to-human and machine-to-human marketing as the primary seat of innovation in our discipline.
Full Disclosure: Siri and ChallengePost are clients of Josh Jones-Dilworth, and are referenced in stories linked to above. ZocDoc is a former client.