I had the great luck this week to be part of a team researching two closely related, of-the-moment topics that are likely to become major elements defining our society for the next decade (at least): data-driven business culture and big data ethics.
Many smart people we talked to are convinced that overcoming legacy decision-making cultures is becoming critically important to business success. CIOs and/or CMOs can build all the big data analysis systems they like, but there’s little point if their organizations refuse to credit the insights they produce. In the world of entertainment, there’s a fascinating example that Kevin Spacey has been telling to any talk show host who will listen for the last year.
Spacey tells how he pitched "House of Cards" to about two dozen different media companies. All but one said they liked the idea and wanted to see a pilot for their programmers to evaluate. Netflix, of course, was the one that said, “We’ve run our data, and it tells us that our audience would watch this series. We don’t need you to do a pilot.” (Spacey’s comment is in the video on this page.)
But the challenge of overcoming legacy decision-making culture is not limited to the network TV “tastemakers” who once-upon-a-time defined pop culture.
Michael Hickins, editor of The Wall Street Journal’s CIO Journal, told us, “CIOs have the big data analytics tools they need to keep up with the crazy pace of communications between the customer and the business. It’s not easy, and it’s constantly changing, and it’s going faster than ever, but they have the tools. The issue is the willingness of the business units to be driven by data. That’s the bottleneck.”
Hickins cites the example of a retailer whose director of business intelligence he recently spoke with; he wouldn’t name the company for reasons that are about to become obvious. “He told me, ‘Our merchandisers think our customers buy outfits. We know people don’t buy outfits. We’re trying to make the data more obvious to them, so that they can see people don’t buy outfits and will stop wasting so much time and money trying to put outfits in front of customers, and just put in front of them the individual pieces our customers want to buy.’”
“That retailer has a difficult cultural issue,” Hickins continued. “Creating fashion is an art form, there is no doubt, but selling clothing doesn’t have to be. But for their merchandisers, it is about art. It’s about my feelings, my experience, my conversations with customers in the stores. But the data is the reality, and they’re ignoring it. Until they transform that culture, they’re not going to accelerate that business's growth.”
At SteinIAS, we’ve become convinced that the ability to analyze data for deep insight--transparently, ethically, and respectfully--will be one of the factors (if not the main factor) separating brand activation winners from losers in the next few years.
And now I’ve hit my 500 words so I’ll share those big data ethics thoughts in a future post.