Brands Don't Want Bigger Data -- They Want Actionable Insights

Agencies: Does Your Data Pass the 'So-What' Test?

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You're sitting in a brand-agency meeting and someone starts talking about their 3 billion data points or their real-time Hadoop big-data capabilities. The agency lead is thinking, "Ooh, this is going to be good." The client has other thoughts. After all, what is the client supposed to do with all that information?

If I've learned one thing in 2014, it's that size does not matter -- insights do. Brands don't care how big your data is; instead, they want to know if you know how to use it and what they need to do next.

2014 was really the year where everybody -- myself included -- threw giant amounts of analysis and dashboards at their clients. Like pulling a rabbit out of a hat, I would pull a by-city engagement report against population data from our shiny database to show the client's brand affinity by region. I brought our clients massive data dumps that gave them every detail from media impressions by hour of day to different user behavior patterns by device type and screen size. The response usually did not carry the same enthusiasm I had about it.

Anybody who is as data-obsessed as I am knows the feeling -- we look at some data, find a nugget that tells some great brand-consumer story (in our heads, anyway) and we can't wait to bring it to the client. Unfortunately, as I learned this past year, clients often find these stories interesting, but in the end, they don't know what to do with all the information.

As a result of that experience, I spent the first few weeks of this year talking to some of our brand leads about strategy and insights, and what all that data means to them.

Interestingly, the responses were very similar across the board. Clients do not care about the size of our data; rather, they believe that a single targeted insight or idea can change the way they do business. Even when insights are relevant to them (like brand affinity by city) they often ask "so what?" One of my clients put it perfectly:

"We hire agencies to come up with ideas and manage our budget efficiently. How you get there is not really important to us. We want to know what we need to do in order to win; but just because you have so much data, does not mean you have to show it to me. For my regular TV buys, I don't look at each state's tune-in and ratings. I have my agency use the data to make better decisions and tell me what to do."

Point taken.

Based on that overwhelming feedback, we are now starting to team up our data scientists and analysts with brand storytellers -- people who can take the data insights and brand knowledge and create meaningful, actionable business recommendations that truly impact the client's business. Don't get me wrong; we will continue to collect, analyze and apply massive amounts of data in order to make smarter buys and better manage campaigns, but we will stop sending every kernel of data, every list and every chart to our brands. Going forward, we will focus on meaningful insights and share things that pass the "so what" test. That means presenting insights and ideas that matter to our brands -- the "Here's what to do" rather than "Here's how we get there."

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