The fallacy of big data was tackled head on by Tricia Wang, a global tech ethnographer and the Co-Founder of Sudden Compass, an enterprise solutions firm specialising in customer data and insights.
According to Wang, despite the fact that 30% of CMO’s marketing budgets are dedicated to adtech, many marketing leaders don’t really know what impact it is actually having on their business objectives. Far from being “magical”, she explained, adtech has in fact created an “artifice of certainty for brands.”
“Adtech is speeding up old assumptions of people as avatars,” she said. A complex and opaque marketing ecosystem has served to devalue human insight. In effect brands consumed by measuring clicks have lost sight of the real drivers of customer behaviour.
Wang asks marketers to question “do I need to optimise, or do I need to grow?” For brands seeking the latter, what she terms “thick data” is the answer, an approach which is led by re-incorporating thick data insights back into the work. Likening the schism between creatives and martech providers as a fundamental divide akin to church and state, she warns that performance marketing has placed content at the very bottom of the value exchange.
Wang believes that the focus on big data at all costs, which has effectively reduced creativity to A/B testing, means that humanity and an understanding of human drivers has been lost in the process. Advocating “thick data” with context at its heart, Wang believes brands must focus on direct, unmediated data from consumers to capture their emotions and humanity, arguing the focus on big data has seen a loss of contextual insight in marketing.
“We’ve been putting too much pressure on machine intelligence to deliver and not enough on human insight,” she outlined. Sharing her experience working at Nokia, where company executives failed to see the rise of the smartphone as a legitimate focus for their business, she said “The organisation couldn’t fathom the data as all of their business models supported their existing structures and supply chain model.”