Intelligent algorithms may save us from being overwhelmed by data

Chris Pitt
Head of Marketing
Vertical Leap

We are in an age of information and connectivity. The amount of available data that a marketer can access is incalculable. With enough dedication, data and creativity, marketers can drill down into the minutiae of a person’s online behaviour and send highly targeted marketing messages.

A recent IBM study revealed that “every day, we create 2.5 quintillion bytes of data — so much that 90% of the data in the world today has been created in the last two years alone.” So consider this: if we already create that volume of data today (just by being online), what happens when the Internet of Things becomes as much a part of normal life as the internet has become? What happens when everything we do anywhere, becomes an available part of the data set? What happens when we can see that not only does our prospect like watching Doctor Who and outdoor sports, but that they make a cup of coffee at 5:30am every week day, run the same three-mile route every Wednesday morning and get their shopping delivered at 7pm on the 1st Monday of each month?

Stalky ads aside, there is a fast approaching problem that promises to overwhelm marketers – and it’s not data as such. It’s what the data provides us with: insights.

Can we know too much?

I am sure that like me, you have suffered from analysis paralysis: the act of over-analysing information to such a depth that you become unable to reach an outcome. It is both over-whelming and demoralising when it happens. You think you are making progress before realising that correlation does not imply causation and that it is unlikely that Nicholas Cage is responsible for swimming pool deaths.

The marketing industry, specifically the digital marketing industry, is going through huge disruption, in part to deal with this problem. The data is fantastic to have, but there is too much of it for us humans to get any real value from it. We either can’t use all of it or we can’t analyse all of it, properly. So technology and data are combining to create software platforms that can make sense of large volumes of data and turn them into actionable insights. In fact, the savvier and more forward-thinking agencies are creating proprietary platforms in order to continue providing their services (hint: I work for one of them). But these platforms risk causing a new and unique problem.

If we have access to an unending flow of data, and we also have software that’s capable of turning that data into insights, do we risk the situation that instead of drowning in data, we drown in insights instead?

If you could do but one thing today…

Imagine this: every day when you get to work you are provided with a list of every single task that needs to be done in order for your role to be successful. Now imagine that each day that list grows based on what you ticked off from yesterday’s list, changes to the environment and alterations made by competitors or third parties. What is the first task you are going to do?

If you are anything like me, your first task would be to prioritise your list, but of course that is impossible. To have to prioritise your growing list each and every day means that you are going to have to spend a growing amount of time prioritising rather than doing, so nothing will get done. Or some things will get done, but they might not be the right things at that time.

It may sound ludicrous, but this reality is almost upon us. Technology, specifically artificial intelligence (AI), is advancing so fast that instead of suffering from analysis paralysis, we are suffering paralysis from over exposure. We know so much that we risk not knowing where to start!

Who watches the watchman?

Really, when you think about it, there is a kind of delicious irony to it all. Technology has come so far that the age of robots and AI is upon us. For the marketing industry, this means that those with the right software platforms are able to provide their services with a degree of efficacy that has never before been realised.

But in doing so, a new problem has been created. Those software platforms are providing so much valuable insight that we need new functionality to make sense of it all. It’s a form of evolution when you think about it and I am certain that survival of the fittest is as relevant as ever.

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