Folks here at SIGMA are always up to their necks in data from our various clients. We love it, love it, love it. In fact, there’s a special office here where our marketing analytics team can, individually or as a team building exercise, toss data on the floor and physically roll around in it.
Our clients love data too. Uniformly, they’re just giddy about the stuff. But to be clear, we don’t share the data that we’ve rolled around in with our clients because that’s unseemly and goes against all data hygiene best practices.
A couple years back, Google’s Eric Schmidt said something along the lines of humanity creating as much information every two days as was created from the birth of civilization until 2003. (http://techcrunch.com/2010/08/04/schmidt-data/)
Mashable also has a lovely infographic citing a study by IDC and EMC. They say that 1.8 zettabytes of data will be created and stored in 2011.
It turns out that a zettabyte is really a lot, and I know because I checked that it’s not possible to buy a 2-zettabyte thumb drive at Staples. But there is, also not surprisingly, an infographic for this as well at the UK Guardian’s website. It seems I can’t swing a dead cat these days without hitting half a dozen slick infographics.
Going back to Eric Schmidt, he said, “The real issue is user-generated content.” So I went to Twitter just this instant to steal some and got this:
Once I got into Twitter, I found stuff like this among the 1.8 zettabytes we get to store for all eternity:
Awesome. Thanks for that, Anderson Cooper. We’re all happy that’s on the zettabyte floppy disk. (Along with this blog. Sheesh, where is this guy going with this blog post?)
But the existence of the zettabytes themselves is the reason for the infographic onslaught and the revolution in information design such as David McCandless’s wonderful presentation at TED. We as individuals in our daily lives and as professionals trying to grow businesses have titanic quantities of data at our disposal about everything, and they have become a reliable method of incorporating analytical context into the endless streams of data we’re drowning in and supposed to continually judge. And they’re just neat-o.
“Drowning in data” isn’t even the right cliché because of the scale involved. We’re more like single plankton in the ocean, specks in an ever-expanding cosmos whose very nature renders our existence meaningless. That’s what my Mom used to tell me when she tucked me in, and that’s what I tell my kids.
The information designer’s tricks and the tricks of a good data analyst aren’t to make sense of the entire universe of information. Rather, it’s the ability to recognize how much of the data universe is meaningless and avoid over-reporting data that will never get used. It’s similar to your job when you’re reading my blog posts, to wade through all the silliness to get to the one joke worth recycling.
As marketers and strategists, we have the ability to generate tables and charts until the cows come home, and then we’ll graph the heifers too. In fourth grade, your teacher may have wanted you to show your work, and it’s obviously important to have the guts of your data that proves your top line conclusions in your back pocket.
It’s crucial that we define our research and our deliverables to identify who is supposed to be consuming our work, and at SIGMA we make every effort to narrow the field of vision for our clients by helping them identify and present the true insights to be gained from the small percentage of truly meaningful data. However, it’s just as important for clients we serve, and the prospects we’ll talk to in the future, to acknowledge what’s relevant for their audiences as well. Just because your company has used a particular extensive reporting mechanism for years doesn’t mean it’s still relevant to your business today. Maybe an infographic solves your problem. Maybe it’s just being told: “Sell nine, or you’re hosed.”
Great analysts can help you recognize that there is little value in providing the 75-slide presentation deck and 5-megabyte Excel spreadsheet ranking all 5,000 products to the group of sales executives when everyone knows they are only interested in the one number on slide 11. When the one overachiever asks for the supporting data, by all means provide it, but consider the delivery and the data relevance first and foremost and seek the counsel of your analyst. Your data analyst, that is, not your psychoanalyst.
The hipster data visualizations are a tremendous help when we don’t know what we’re supposed to be looking for in the zettabytes of dog tweets. But the real problem is that we asked for all those useless zettabytes from the start.
About the Author:
Andrew Lucyszyn is the Director of Web Analytics at SIGMA Marketing Group.