Commentary

How Data is Shaping History

For the last several generations, grade school history curricula have included studies of the Industrial Revolution, the Iron Age, the Bronze Age, etc; all fundamental paradigm shifts affecting the very nature of society. Innovation and advances in technology have continuously created circumstances that significantly alter how people live their lives, make a living, thereby changing the course of history. The Computer Age arose in the 1980's and with it came a revolution around how people and organizations could harness information and, subsequently, make their lives more informed and efficient. We're seeing yet another iteration of that change right now; interestingly, it is not material or machine based -- the catalyst is data itself.

Some might call this new phenomenon just another component of the Computer Age; there is truth to that. However, it goes so much farther. It's not so much about possessing the information itself anymore; it's about the sheer expanse of the data and the immense capabilities to make it actionable.

Human behavior is not being qualified and quantified and the nature of digital interactions is driving massive scale and the potential for immediacy. Sophisticated algorithms and systems now exist to apply mathematical and statistical analysis to the extreme nuances of people's wants and needs. This ability to numerate, and therefore anticipate, the behavior of the individual is driving a wave of new business philosophies and practices that stretch across industries.

This paradigm shift is not only applicable to numbers and stats. Entirely new industries, businesses, revenue models and livelihoods have developed around these fundamentals, and existing industries are also reshaping to survive and succeed in this new universe where data is king. Boutique retail shops don't just operate out of a single brick-and-mortar location and cater to a select group of regulars; now they use audience targeting and re-targeting to cater to a much larger group of consumers across a larger geographic area, and all with the same level of personal insight. Ponder the thought that so much of retail has completely evolved from brick-and-mortar to a largely online experience. It would be quite entertaining to speak to a retailer from the 1950s and see their reaction to the notion that they would be selling their goods and services via the ether, as opposed to across the counter.

Consider the proliferation of data that exists based on increased use of the Internet: e-commerce, social networking, online TV and more. In 2009, we're trending even more significantly toward a shift to an online world. It follows then that marketing and advertising trends will shift toward that magnet, finding new, dynamic ways to leverage the data that coincides with Internet activity.

Dynamic targeting exists today to help marketers reach the right person with the right message. By harnessing the data, we can now focus on personalizing ads to each individual and experimenting with the varying targeting techniques. The key is to continue to innovate.

Imagine in ten, twenty, even fifty years from now, the landscapes of society and business. How much have they changed in the last twenty, or even ten years? I've used the example of the movie "Minority Report" before to illustrate the use of data to deliver individually relevant advertising and promotions to consumers as they walk through a shopping mall or down the sidewalk. That movie is set in 2054... a lot longer than I think it will take to reach an environment that adapts to our wants and needs. Let's keep it simple for now. Data drives relevancy. Are you looking forward or back?

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2 comments about "How Data is Shaping History".
  1. Mark Zagorski from eXelate , November 25, 2009 at 8:56 a.m.

    Nicely put, Jeff. We should all "give thanks" for data this time of year!

  2. Gray Hammond from Quire , November 25, 2009 at 12:11 p.m.

    Typo? "Human behavior is not being qualified and quantified ..." Did you mean "now", vs. "not"? ;{)

    As long as we recognize not all noise is data, and not all data is info ...