An Open Letter To IBM

Dear IBM,

It may have taken 62 spots and a captive audience of golf fans, but by gosh you’ve actually done it. Congratulations! You’re the first company to finally define, in human terms, with true emotion and real examples, why “big data” matters.  

Over the course of one glorious weekend in April, you helped big data grow out of its awkward teenage phase and into adulthood. My favorite quote of the last few months from Duke University professor Dan Ariely describes the former state of big data perfectly: “Big data is like teenage sex: everybody talks about it, nobody really knows how to do it, everyone thinks everyone else is doing it, so everyone claims they are doing it…” 

Yes, big data is growing up. By pulling it into the bright global spotlight that is The Masters, you’ve aligned your brand with perhaps the most meaningful movement of our generation: the “datafication” of the world around us. Kudos to your marketing team and Ogilvy for thoughtful strategy and near-flawless execution.

In each spot, which ran once during the televised golf tournament, IBM’s consumers and customers awake to a new day with a greater appreciation of the unavoidable truth that data powers everything. The sales receipt on the counter of a busy city diner, a car company plotting electrical recharge stations, even a fan sitting in the nosebleeds at a football game; they’re all connected to and influenced by data. Whether it be the number of eggs a farm needs to produce, or the type of treatment that a doctor recommends for a patient, these examples drive home the central theme: data makes it better.  

In my opinion, the only area of this strategy that could use some refinement is how data can influence social marketing. The spot “Influence made with Social Media” begins with an assumption: “the biggest misconception about social business is that it’s social media.” It asserts that social business is about crowdsourced innovation and streamlining feedback from customers -- the area of social largely painted with a “social listening” brush.

While social listening is certainly part of a holistic social business strategy,  this approach seems to narrowly define the potential impact of social media marketing. What about leveraging big data to efficiently find new customers, serve more relevant marketing messages, and develop more loyalty and frequency from existing customers? Using data to personalize, localize, and make your marketing more relevant is the Holy Grail for digital marketers and represents a better commercial experience between consumers and the brands that matter to them.

This work starts by deeply integrating with social platforms like Twitter and Facebook, often credited as the birth parents of relevant big data. Just as the farmers in your spot match their IBM-sourced egg-consumption data to their own product statistics to determine supply and demand, social media marketers must match their data with first- and third-party systems to get better results.  

Imagine that moment when a store recognizes you as you enter, and serves you a personalized mobile message based on your buying patterns and social profile. You then buy more strawberries because they’re fresh today and on sale, and that purchase alerts your strawberry-loving friends on Facebook to fill their cart with fresh strawberries. This is the promise of big data meeting social business.

Do I see spot #63?  Either way, congratulations on the first 62 in the series.  You’ve done more for big data than it may ever know or appreciate. Typical teenager.


Your admiring fan,
Jamie

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7 comments about "An Open Letter To IBM".
  1. David Shor from Prove , April 22, 2014 at 1:50 p.m.
    I enjoyed the spots, too, but as with most "new" things, I'm concerned that the vendors satisfying the buzzword-driven corporate clients, only some of which will actually have the talent to bring big data to reality within their organizations, will create chaos by making Big Data bigger than it actually has to be. We should REALLY be talking about how to implement Big Data as a continuum of bite size initiatives that deliver value early and demonstrate how data-powered decisionmaking (from financial modeling to target market selection to marketing creative to campaign sequencing/scheduling/optimization) is not only self-funding but creates market-share shifting insights. It's these Little Bets I'm most excited about and which we implement over time with clients so that, a couple years later, full implementations are systematically understood within organizations that welcome the insight-driven approach rather than "Here's new stuff you have to deal with that no one understands and no one will use."
  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited , April 22, 2014 at 6:59 p.m.
    We are all managed by algorithms.
  3. Mike Wing from IBM , April 23, 2014 at 9:25 a.m.
    Jamie – It’s very gratifying when someone gets one’s intent as fully as you have ours. Thanks for expressing it so clearly and thoughtfully. As to your point re social business and marketing – we couldn’t agree more. And I’d actually venture to say that those ideas are pretty extensively woven into the “Made with IBM” spots, though perhaps they aren’t isolated as such in more than a couple – notably those for Macy’s (http://www.ibm.com/smarterplanet/us/en/madewithibm/stories/#!story/20) and Leyou (http://www.ibm.com/smarterplanet/us/en/madewithibm/stories/#!story/3). But whether it’s citizen participation in Miami Dade, or one-to-one banking with Banorte, or personalized brain cancer treatment with the New York Genome Center – or the spots featuring Princess Cruise Lines, Lindt chocolates or Millesima wine retailing – we very much want to capture the potential of Big Data, analytics, cloud, mobile and social technologies to transform engagement with newly empowered individuals, for both businesses and societies.
  4. Pete Austin from Triggered Messaging , April 24, 2014 at 4:47 a.m.
    Sigh: "a store recognizes you as you enter, and serves you a personalized mobile message based on your buying patterns and social profile. You then buy more strawberries because they’re fresh today and on sale, and that purchase alerts your strawberry-loving friends on Facebook to fill their cart with fresh strawberries. This is the promise of big data meeting social business." No, it's dumb. Because while you and your friends are fiddling with your phones you are *not* looking at all the other adverts in the store. So you buy more low-margin sale price strawberries, but at the cost of not buying something else. If companies really want to do this type of complicated marketing, stick to products that make the most money. M'kay?
  5. Jamie Tedford from Brand Networks Inc. , April 25, 2014 at 3:30 p.m.
    Thanks for the thoughtful response and recognition @Mike. I agree, each of the spots takes on a complex data challenge and simplifies it for the viewer to understand how it impacts the world around us. Bravo.
  6. Jamie Tedford from Brand Networks Inc. , April 25, 2014 at 3:32 p.m.
    Great point @David. The sky is not falling and this has been a relatively gradual dynamic that marketers and individuals are dealing with.
  7. Jamie Tedford from Brand Networks Inc. , April 25, 2014 at 3:38 p.m.
    @peter, if my example was a higher margin item, perhaps flat screen TV's, would you agree data influenced mobile messaging has the potential to drive incremental sales? Either way, thanks for your thoughts.