Big data is dumb.
(oooh ... this guy is being provocative)
OK, I’ll back off that statement a bit by saying: Big data is ambivalent.
I’m picturing a giant robot with a stream of data flowing from its mouth. And below, marketers hoot and cheer and slosh around in a lake of information. But soon, they realize the stream won’t stop, and the lake becomes a sea, and the sea becomes an ocean. The marketers are lost amongst the waves while the robot continues, relentless and dumb and, very, very ambivalent.
Who knew it would be marketers who bring about the robot apocalypse? We’ve become so reliant on big data to make our decisions, we’re losing our humanity. Brands have removed whiteboards in favor of automated tools. Creatives are sad and moping around the lunchroom, while tech consultants thumb all their buttons and pull all the levers. The robots are winning, and we’ve all seen how that movie ends: We push the technology too far, hand over control, then, beep-boop, the bots are self-aware and angry.
Marketers are fixated on data, driving every action. Addicted to numbers, they swim in spreadsheets and forget to ask why consumers do the things they do.
Extreme optimization leads to extreme sameness. Guess who likes sameness? Robots.
Humans like novelty and surprise. That's why things like the Mustard Watermelon Challenge and the Pen Pineapple Apple Pen guy go viral. Data won't help you figure out what will break through with people. So what will? Creativity.
How to Maintain Your Humanity and Stop the Robot Apocalypse
1. Trust your gut.
One time I had a co-worker apologize for using a personal anecdote to explain why he favored a strategic option. Why? We’re human. We know humans. It’s perfectly OK to draw upon your years of experience and interactions to make decisions. Of course, the danger is you’ll be wrong. Great! You learned something. Optimize and move forward with even more experience.
2. Ask yourself emotional questions.
Ultimately, marketing is just providing answers to some intensely human questions. Why should I care? Is it something I’d love? Will I feel good about it? Robots are about facts. Humans are about the feels.
3. Be creative.
Creativity is the other side of this coin. It's the imaginative bridge between boring ol' today and sparkly new, fun tomorrow. While data will tell you who's listening and what they listened to yesterday, creativity will create the conversation that people haven't yet had — and more importantly — are eager to talk about.
Data is the key to unlocking the millions. Creativity is the key to the individual.
Robots and Humans, Better Together
I’m already getting angry messages from my analytical, bot-loving friends. They’re worried I’m advocating for a world where we make all our plans based on an itch and a prayer. Not at all. Humans and robots can live and work together. In fact, when data and creativity come together, the results can be transformative.
We need to embrace data and absorb everything we possibly can about the consumer and the marketplace. Just don’t forget surprise and delight. Don’t forget your humanity. Use data as a launchpad, then dream madly like a human should.
Steve Klinetobe is the chief creative officer at Netrush, an online retailer that partners with premium brands to provide the teams, technology, strategy, and infrastructure needed to thrive on Amazon.