Don’t Be Blinded by Big Data| By |Laura MacPherson

It’s the Age of Big Data. Everything is tracked. Everything is measured. Everything is analyzed.

A 2016 study of 316 executives from large global companies, conducted by Forbes Insights and sponsored by Teradata in partnership with McKinsey, found that 90% of organizations report medium to high levels of investment in big data analytics, and about a third call their investments “very significant.” Another study last year conducted by New Vantage Partners, a management consulting firm, revealed that 62.5% of respondents said they now have at least one instance of big data in production, nearly double the number of those (31.4%) who reported the same in 2013.

“Data-driven strategy” is the latest buzzword being tossed around by marketing professionals in companies of all sizes, not just large corporations. And while the value of data is clear, there’s a limit to what hard data can reveal.

Data is about numbers. It reflects quantifiable information—how many survey participants selected this or that response option, how many customers chose Product A over Product B, which demographic said they would value this or that feature at this or that price point.

What data can’t yet tell us are the stories, the nuances behind that quantifiable information. The background behind why the preferences are what they are and the factors that influence decision-making. And, ultimately, what will cause these preferences to evolve in the weeks, months, and years ahead.

The stories behind the data are, arguably, even more valuable than the easily-quantifiable. How many missteps are made by companies who look at data and make incorrect assumptions about what the data means or apply the data in ineffective ways? We can be so sure about a plan of action based on data, only to discover that we were incredibly off the mark.

To get the story, to learn the nuance, you have to get out from behind the computer screen and have real, live conversations with people. This is why award-winning journalists insist on spending time in the day-to-day lives of people and aren’t content to rely on data alone. They understand that the real story lies deeper, and their mission is to uncover what’s really going on, what’s beyond the obvious—which may completely change the understanding of a situation.

Marketers can’t forget the importance of the one-on-one in-depth interview. Interviews can reveal motivations, subconscious desires, otherwise-unvoiced fears, and alternative viewpoints of problems (and solutions). Mass-collection means, data, and numbers can’t deliver these golden nuggets of truth.

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