Opinions

Here's Why Data Impacts Everything

Posted by Jonathan Gardner on February 4th, 2013 at 9:53 am

Think of it as an alternate version of the cheesy song in the film Love Actually: Data is all around you. Breathless proclamations surround us, with prognosticators heralding the “big data” era. I work in a techie industry that’s constantly discussing data, eating and even sleeping data — advertising technology. However, it has become abundantly clear in recent months that data is “mainstream” and not just for nerds anymore. Here are a few reasons everyone (including your grandma) needs to really care about data, right now:

Data is driving decision-making in more businesses and sectors, and in ways that would have been surprising just a couple of years ago.

As in: Oh my god, when you really get down and think about it (and read this article), Netflix’s development of the new buzzed-about show House of Cards was totally driven by data and insights they obtain from mining the habits of their subscribers. In fact, their entire business is only possible through the hyper-intelligent use of data.

And, that’s nothing, it’s just entertainment. Take a look at how that most basic of human drives — the desire to find a mate — is being shaped and recast, made efficient and effective through data wizardry. If, as the online dating companies claim, “20% of us meet our future spouse online,” then eHarmony, Match.com, et al are mining a lot of data with massive impact on the lives of many.

Data is critical to winning in the future of marketing.

As digital ad spending outstrips print and is poised to be the big dog in marketing, data grows right along with it. Down the road, nearly all forms of marketing will be digitized in some way— addressable and targetable. What this means is an even deeper trough of data for marketers, brands, agencies and media companies to mine for insights.

In short, all marketing relies on data but in the big game, the winners will be the ones who can sift through the biggest pile of sand and extract the gold nuggets. We’re seeing more marketers look for solutions to get a handle on the vast trove of data available to them and leverage it for smarter business decisions.

Facebook has a billion consumers on its platform, China has hundreds of millions of folks on mobile phones. All of these people, preferences and actions create data points that are of potential interest to marketers. How do we all benefit from our data being used? Why do we care? In the great value exchange, people will get better targeted messages from brands, some offers and savings, and maybe some interesting (ad-supported) content.

More facets of our lives are being impacted by data — mostly for good — and the onus is on each of us to understand what that really means.

Like the saying goes, “knowing is half the battle.” It’s an established fact that our data is being known, used and monetized by enterprises and entities far and wide. We all have a horse in this data-stakes, a few examples of which are:

  • Politicians and government are using data in the democratic process, as in the data-driven Obama election victory in 2012.
  • Insurance companies are using tons of data to model and predict who will get sick and cost them more money; or who should get lower car insurance rates.
  • The growing use of wearable devices such as the Fitbit. They read our physical status and imagine what we (or others) will do with the data they throw off.

While there are many critical reasons to reform education and job training in this country, here’s one thing we definitely need to do: start preparing a generation of data scientists, analysts and engineers who know how to work with and leverage data to build our tomorrow. I know for sure that our future depends on it. We’re all data now.

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