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Is more data always better?

Posted on: Friday 30th of March 2012

One of the pushbacks we get when talking to marketers about VPI (Volunteered Personal Information) goes like this: “Oh no! You are talking about yet another source of data. I’m already awash with data! In fact I’ve got so much data that I don’t know what to do with it! Now you are asking me to take on even more!”

In fact, what we are suggesting is something far more radical – and simple. Marketers find themselves awash with lots of useless data because they haven’t got the few special bits of data they really need.

To communicate effectively with someone – about the right thing, at the right time –  you only need three pieces of information: who they are, what they want, when.

Er … that’s it.

Every consumer in buying mode knows who they are, what they want, and when. And they could be empowered to make this information available.

But our current system doesn’t allow for this. Because it’s a top-down push model, it’s based on marketers sending messages to audiences, not eliciting the information they need from the people they want to deal with.

So marketers need to invent work-arounds and proxies. They run after transaction data, online behavioural data, social media data, geodemographic data, audience and media consumption data, psychographic data. Having collected (or purchased) these vast data sets, they then need to connect the dots – to create a coherent picture of their target audiences and likely buying preferences.

This is the ‘holy grail of closed loop marketing’ I talked about before.  In fact, the end result is a gigantic, unwieldy, massively expensive,  over-complex and higgledy piggeldy Heath Robinson contraption where some screw is always missing (where some data is missing or not being connected in the right way) and where all the contraption can create (even at the best of times) is guesswork leading to high levels of waste and error

This is the God Quest in reality: a massive piece of displacement activity, designed to compensate for the fact that those three simple pieces of information – who I am, what I want, when – are missing.

No wonder marketers despair.

The bottom line is this. VPI – empowering individuals with voice as well as choice, in their dealings with organisations as well as each other via social networking – offers an opportunity for radical simplification; for needing less data not more. It puts an end to today’s syndrome of ‘data, data, everywhere and not a bit to use’.

Behind this lies some big issues. We need the right infrastructure to make this sort of data sharing easy and efficient. And the right trust framework. Why should I give marketers information about me if  all they’re going to do is sell it on or spam me?.

But behind these big issues lies a simple point. This debate isn’t just about ‘Big Data’ versus ‘Small Data’.  There is another layer to it. Sometimes more is worse and less is better. And in the case of VPI, less can be a lot better.

Alan Mitchell