Big data must become ‘people data’


By Dominique Delport, Global Managing Director, Havas Media Group

Search the big data hashtag (#bigdata) on Twitter and you’ll find, on average, around 30-50 posts per minute. There are also organisations such as Big Data Week and Big Data Blogs all dedicated to the Big Data debate. The new millennial consumer is already in charge and there is no doubt that making use of the explosion in the volume, velocity and variety of data is critical in this new world.

However,  there’s simply not enough sense being made of all that data. Sometimes the complexity is so confusing I worry that it is taking us away from the real issues. Being pragmatic about data and going back to basics is what we need in many instances to help us move forward. Using data to help us ask and answer the simple, but larger strategic questions: what do we need, why do we need it and how do we get it?  This requires organisational change, a change in mentality and approach, not just a change of skills and tools.

Solving marketing and business issues within a company is often not about big data at all – it’s about how to connect different types of data to the different areas within the company, and with marketing the business to consumers. Time and time again we see disconnected data and disconnected technology and, most importantly, disconnected business structures and strategies that are trying to speak to a very connected consumer in a multi-channel and multi-device world.

At Havas, rather than focusing on big data, we’re thinking about “people data” – how to use data to help connect business and brands to build meaningful connections with people. We know that brands who are not completely interconnected with consumers will not survive in our hyper-connected world and will not be able to build sustainable organic growth. Nor will they be able to leverage all the signals and instructions being given to them by the people with whom want to be communicated.

Just look at the financial services industry – these companies are bursting with big data, but because they lost the people focus, mistrust and surveillance scandals are still dominating their industry because their business became purely about numbers and not the people generating them.

Technology brands have topped our Meaningful Brands ranking for the last couple of years, but how long will this last given the concerns around privacy? It’s true that Google Glass and Facebook photos are also wrestling with these issues, but as long as they continue to offer something that adds real value and well-being to us all, they will teach us a lot. Most consumers only find privacy a concern when they don’t get something they value in return.  Amazon has become a master of this exchange.

Sadly if our experience is anything to go by, these connected data savvy companies will not become the norm. Silos are still a huge issue for many businesses and change management will continue to hinder many companies. If you want to create and harness the immense potential surrounding people data, it’s pretty obvious that you have to start with the people, not the data. Internally you must connect your teams and eradicate silos, putting data and content at your core.

Change management and shifting from big data to people data starts with the right questions: what do we need, why do we need it and how do we get it? Start asking people internally (and externally) these fundamental questions. Then find out what sort of data you need to help add value to people’s lives – whether it’s your own teams or it’s the people who interact with your brand.

It’s a simple idea that is very hard to put into practice. Your data policy must be linked to the fundamental business challenges; it’s not just a marketing issue, it’s one of the most exciting business assets you will have and at the core of some of the biggest success stories of our time.

I will be speaking more about this at the Guardian Changing Media Summit on 19th March – at 11.45 am on the main stage and then again on a panel session at 12.00. It’s going to be a great two days and I very much hope you can join me there.


This article was first published on The Guardian and republished with their kind permission.

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