Big data has been defined in various ways including by reference to the “three V’s”. This refers to volume being the size of the dataset, velocity being the real-time nature of the data and variety referring to the different sources of the data.

An alternative is to define big data as an extremely large data set that cannot be analysed using traditional methods. Instead such big data is analysed using alternative methods (such as machine learning) in order to reveal trends, patterns, interactions and other information that can be used to inform decision-making and business strategy.

The key to big data is the analysis and resulting output.

The majority of data that is captured in systems around the world isn’t turned into useful insight. Even when humankind starts to analyse more than the lowly 1% that is currently being analysed (according to the International Data Corporation), we find that insights aren’t forthcoming; the emphasis is still on the individuals’ interpretation.

Because the truth is, we won’t necessarily find the right answers in data.

Despite the advances in machine learning and neural networks, the best human critical thinking still is vastly superior – a reminder of this came this week when Amazon scrapped the algorithm it was using to filter job applicants because it had simply hard-encoded the gender bias it was supposed to be immune from.

Human thinking has many flaws and biases, and yet our subconscious mind is immeasurably complex and sophisticated. As Einstein put it: “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”

Crucially it is in the interplay of knowledge and imagination that advances occur. It is men and women that create the motivating ideas that bring people together. Big ideas still need substance and validation, and this is the fundamental of the scientific method Copernicus first outlined more than 500 years ago.

While we have faster and more sophisticated digital tools than ever, we still need to use and appeal to the most powerful computational machine in existence: the human subconscious.

So, ask yourself, is your marketing human?

Is it designed to take advantage of the heuristics that your audiences use to make every choice in their lives?

Does it appeal to their deep-rooted aspirations and senses of self? Or are you still trying to persuade people purely with facts?

To truly harness that Big Data, you need to remember that persuasion starts with this simple truth: Your audience is human.

 

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