A Pile of Beans.

A Pile of Beans.

Big data. The name alone commands respect and intrigue, like Big Oil. And that’s the trouble with labels. They over-simplify and often stupefy people into thinking one way about a related issue, challenge or opportunity.

For years, I’ve been arguing that we’re in the age of actionable data. This is a significant step beyond the Information Age. Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Google aren’t the most powerful companies on the planet because they have a ton of information. They are valuable because of what they can do with those data (i.e., make decisions about people and markets in order to sell more advertisements, products and services). 

Smart marketers and advertisers have taken note. In a recent Look Over My Shoulder program, I take a deep dive on the Google Display Network. This tool is making it easier for good marketers to get better and for bad marketers to get worse. 

Why? Because more data does not always mean accurate, relevant or representative data. Because easier doesn’t always mean better and bigger doesn’t always mean more effective or efficient. I live in the world of results, or at least I do until my bank starts handing out participation awards.

Lest you think this old curmudgeon is abnegating the power of “big data,” I’m not. I’m simply asking you to see both sides of the challenge in all advertising media, especially those with billions of fake users, fake clicks and digital ad fraud.

Here’s one even the savviest digital ad hawks didn’t see coming. A recent Stanford University and Carnegie Mellon University study suggests that smartphone location data often leave out older people and people of color. The research looked at geolocation data and polling locations. Voter data, which includes information about race and age, did not match well with mobility data at polling locations where more elderly and nonwhite people voted, compared to locations where younger and predominantly white people voted. In other words…

Big data is not always representative data.

Business owners that serve older and nonwhite populations would be wise to look very closely at mobility data, geofencing results and targeted ads at users who might not be carrying phones or using apps that show their location. 

All the data in the world aren’t worth a pile of beans if they can’t help you make a decision that benefits all parties and all parties can only benefit, by definition, if they show up at the table.

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Worked at Burleson Orthodontics. Attended University of Missouri–Kansas City. Lives in Kansas City, Missouri.