I led a workshop this week at Wharton Business School's Supernova gathering, where we dissected transformations in market research and information. One of the most provoking questions that drove post-event discussion was: "In a world where consumer behaviors and transactions produce a propagating stream of digital breadcrumbs, what impact do the resulting real-time data and analytics have on our ability to make decisions?"
Think about our Web measurements, analytics and feeds -- from site traffic, to media ratings, to customer transactions, to search performance, traditional news and consumer-generated media monitoring and then dashboards to mash it all together. Without a doubt, our marketing inputs are moving fast in this instantaneous direction, away from time stamps. There's no denying marketer consensus that real-time capability is better, that it equals competitive advantage. So much so, it's become a self-fulfilling prophecy, conditioning us to infatuate on what's happening right now, before anyone else. There's no stopping this train of instant gratification!
To be sure, there are benefits and critical business requirements for real-time inputs and analytics. If your company is being attacked by a brand terrorist, it would be good to know as soon as possible. If your Web site traffic and sales suddenly disappeared because a competitor figured out your search and affiliate strategy, it would be good to know right away. If there's an opportunity to upsell a customer on the spot, real-time inputs can be mandatory. I'll say it again: real-time analytics are crucial.
But does infatuation with real-time input create a mental state among marketers that stifles their ability to make decisions? First of all, think about the fear of not knowing, or not knowing right now. Does that fear consume one's ability to focus mental or decision-making resources where they should be? You bet it can.
Secondly, can constant data streams -- the ability to see trending as it happens in the real world -- cause marketers to delay making timely conclusions and subsequent business decisions? What is the propensity to believe a trend will turn favorable, or more complete and comprehensive, if you just wait one more day? It can turn into a vicious cycle, and the impact can be had on a range of decisions, from short-term to long, and trivial to strategic.
To be sure, real-time data and analytics can provide competitive advantage, and they're only going to become ubiquitous in everything we do. But the negative side effects underscore that competitive advantage may, in many circumstances, hinge on one's ability to simply turn the fire hose off. That's right, shut it down and detach. It is perhaps only the wiser and more disciplined marketers who can do this -- a challenging feat, for sure.
What do you think?