Big Data Is Like Sex

Big data is like teenage sex. Everyone talks about it and believes everyone else is doing it, but they themselves aren't doing it, and don't know exactly who is.

This analogy by Duke University professor Dan Ariely helped kick off MDC Partners' "Small Data, Big Ideas" forum on Wednesday with industry experts, as well as more than 100 agency executives and clients, to discuss how to benefit from the big data revolution.

Indeed, big data is a popular discussion point, yet it seems someone else (or the competition) is benefiting from its services. "Gathering data is cheap, which is why it is so pervasive," said Bob Kantor, Chief Marketing and Business Development Officer, MDC Partners. "The real promise [of big data] is the ability to turn the data into brilliant insights." 

Still, big data is too large a topic to tackle in one day without breaking it down into four key areas. 

First, political and marketing consultant Frank Luntz discussed how words that are readily used and accepted can have important but unintentional consequences on campaigns. Hence, big data should be used to collect millions of individual opinions into national directives.

For instance, the word liberal can mean positive things to Democrats, but may have negative connotations for Republicans. It's critical to recognize how images and words engage audiences differently.

Luntz, whose firm is now part of MDC Partners, pointed out that politics and advertising are similar in that they benefit from speaking with individuals, while translating derived insights into action-oriented messages for a broader audience.

With applied algorithms, big data can also benefit media content. Rather than rely on individual editors selecting favored articles, Seth Rogin at user-generated content platform Mashable discussed how algorithms collect shared data, which can then predict and influence what becomes popular on its site. 

Big data is more than massive numbers divided into faceless insights. Jason DeLand and Mike Byrne of Anomaly, an agency owned by MDC, talked about the way data uncovers the human truths that drive purchasing decisions. This is particularly relevant for advertisers and brands that don't offer significant differences from their competitors, such as Dick's Sporting Goods, which sells the same Nike gear as Foot Locker and Modell's. 

Lastly, entrepreneur and former NBA great Shaquille O'Neal talked about how to keep a brand popular through one-on-one insight and social interactions with fans. In particular, O'Neal discussed the importance of humor in cutting through most differences with individuals. He emphasized that whether trying to reach one person or a million, it's the personal touch that resonates. 

Ultimately, big data can drive the same level of insight, regardless of whether it influences a personal brand, media platform or politics. Numbers only provide an entry point to unlocking human emotions which drive purchasing decisions.

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