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Data Data Everywhere

Who’s afraid of the data wolf?

In reality loads of us. Whether we’re drowning in it, or desperately digging for it, many us feel we are either slaves to our data (we must do what the numbers say) or it is simply a cross we have to bear (a bit like eating our greens, we must spare the time to know our numbers). One of the main barriers is that data feels like the geeky cousin of creativity – the spoil-sport dressed in an ugly suit and speaking in monotone… but in reality data is alive with creativity and possibility – rather than a dry, secretive and awkward world, it is actually wonderfully open and inspiring.

Take research, for example. Far more people in our industry are comfortable with touchy feely qual, where we can sit back and listen. In reality though qual (and the focus group in particular) must be handled very carefully. The research effect of putting strangers together and asking their opinion can be huge, especially since (even in comfortable, everyday situations) many people don’t say what they mean… or mean what they say. The data heavy counterpart, quant, is actually far more revealing and fair, especially when you pool sources. Combining, for example, loyalty card data, search results, google analytics, blogs and beyond, we know far more accurately what people are doing, as well as where they’re doing it and what they’re saying about it. Bringing together these various sources of information gives us the best, truest indication we’ve ever had of what people are really up to.

The problem is that most information is messy and disconnected, which in turn can make it feel overwhelming. Surveys on the subject of information in businesses suggest that 75% of decision makers feel swamped by data and actually only half of the information held is useful in guiding decisions.

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Specialist agencies, “data strategists”, are helping and perhaps in the future we’ll see still analytics hotshops popping up for clients to outsource their number cruching too; but in the meantime we all need to get better and learn to enjoy, nuture and play with the information around us.

Finding creative ways to digest and share data is a good start point (who doesn’t love an infographic?). The likes of Jonathan Harris with http://www.wefeelfine.org are doing gorgeous things with vast amounts of information, and some more fantastic examples can be found at sites like http://www.infosthetics.com.

The reality is that all data can tell a story, so presenting the pure, raw numbers isn’t good enough. We have to seek out (and sometimes eek out) the narrative… and finding ways to make our business numbers more engaging will change our relationship towards data for the better.

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