This isn’t “7 surprising ways to utilize big data”, “Engage your audience: why size doesn’t matter”, or some other Cosmo inspired twitter fodder article. This is a warning. A warning from the future. From 2014. I can’t explain how I’m writing from the future, I barely understand it myself, but in 2013 the idea of big data will be hugely popular. Not big data itself, just the idea.
Later this month Fast Company, Nate Silver, Wired, and Jeremiah Owyang will all release deep and well thought out articles that detail the profitability and pitfalls of “big data”. These articles will be read first by C-levels and VPs over morning coffee. They’ll understand the general ideas and see the amazing potential for their organization. They’ll forward the articles with subject lines such as “read this” or “interesting” to their managers. The managers, not fully understanding the articles but not wanting to look foolish, will pass the articles to entry level employees with subject lines like “we should look into this” or “save this for later”.
Entry level employees, in charge of social media presences, will see an opportunity to get brownie points and tweet out the articles their bosses seem to find such value in. Since “social engagement” was so popular in 2012, the twitterati will try to start meaningful conversation, only to be cut off after 140 characters. This textual limitation will warp and bastardize the message into something which universally translates into “big data is good.”
Bloggers, impressed by the viral coefficient of ‘big data is good’, will write articles simplifying complicated concepts into bulleted lists which no one will read but everyone will retweet. Thousands will change their Linkedin position to “Sage of Big Data”. In a flood of content marketing, “Sages” will pump out articles on big data in the hopes that it will create organizational demand and companies will create positions for them to fill.
Managers, seeing this demand, will believe it can be done cheaper and better by their entry level marketer. The manager will go to her and, using ambiguous words and ambitious hand gestures, lay out his grand plan for big data. This plan will make no sense. The entry level, knowing this plan makes no sense, will be too afraid to say anything and accept the project with gusto. She’ll go online, find three month old bullet point articles which kind of explain big data and how to use it. She’ll make a marketing plan reminiscent of her senior project. It’ll kind of work, but mostly it won’t.
As Q4 approaches, words like “ROI” and “measurability” will come back out of hibernation. Ironically, at the end of the year, the big data experiment will be shelved because there’s not enough data to show if it actually worked. 2013 will roll out, 2014 will roll in, and consumers will be creeped out enough for “do not track” to be the default setting on every browser on the market, effectively killing “big data”.
That’s my warning, but I also want to tell you about another story of 2013. I didn’t see it at the time, looking back it’s so clear retrospect. It’s the story we should have focused on from the beginning. As big data rises companies will focus intently on pleasing large swaths of customers in a single swoop. The information gathered won’t be perfect but it’ll be efficient, and companies will focus on the needs of the many.
A few intelligent people will start to talk about the long tail and the volume of customers who being ignored because they don’t fall in the confines of big data. These writers will be largely ignored for resurfacing old ideas, but their writing will resonate with with disenfranchised consumers. Consumer blogs will start to write tips and tricks on how to connect directly with support staff and how a consumer can change from a number attached to a dollar to a face attached to a personality.
By the end of the year, the intellectual elites will be shunning big data and talking about the simplicity of good services. In fact, that’s what inspired me to write this article — Fast Company, Nate Silver, Wired, and Jeremiah Owyang all just wrote articles on the value of keeping customers.
I just wanted to beat all the other bloggers to the punch.
Photo credit AdamL212