Future Now – an introduction to Big Data

Google, LinkedIn and Amazon are essentially Big Data companies, so you’re probably using at least some of the tools they offer every day. Google search, for example, is a Big Data tool that everyone can use – the trick is to turn it into a tool that works for you and your business. But let’s look at Big Data and what it is. Essentially Big Data is about finding meaning in what you can measure about your business performance and you may have already come across data mining tools that measure specific business areas such as social media.

Essentially Big Data is about finding meaning in what you can measure about your business performance.

A Big Data approach allows business owners and managers to see the future before it happens, to see the meaning and the patterns in what they are doing now that can tell them what will happen to them and their business tomorrow.

In other words it gives you a better, more reliable view of your own performance and customer behaviour and takes a lot of the gut feeling out of business strategy by giving fast, reliable, real-time insights.

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Big data approach means business empowerment for all

In one of our previous posts on Big Data we looked at how a Big Data approach can let you see your brand’s performance before it happens, because of the competitive and marketing advantage it gives you.

Business owners often ask me if Big Data really will make any difference for them and how is it possible to gain a competitive advantage if you don’t have the time and resources to adopt an enterprise level Big Data strategy?

Many of the tools used to help get insights are available to everyone and can empower virtually every business.

You may feel a Big Data approach is only for the big boys, however many of the tools used to help get insights and measurements are available to everyone and can empower virtually every business.

It’s probably not feasible or appropriate for you to have a team of data analysts sifting through your company and customer data in the hope of uncovering actionable insights. But you probably already have feedback and listening systems in place that tell you about your brand performance and the thoughts and views of your customers.

BigData2You probably have a social media account like Twitter, or Facebook, that gives you the chance to measure and react to your sales and marketing messages and brand performance. You can listen and absorb what clients and potential clients are saying about you and your competitors and what they’re looking for from you and other companies. Twitter and Google, for example, make great Big Data tools, as their open search engines can give you a large amount of free data and information that can help drive your business and brand decisions.

You may not have the luxury of full-scale data analysis, but if you take the time to think and digest what social media and organic search results can tell you, then you’re using a Big Data approach where you decisions are based not on gut feeling alone, or conjecture, but on live social data mined from your own and other easily available sources.

If you operate in a B2B environment, there is no better Big Data tool than LinkedIn where you can use saved searches, build prospect lists and search a wide variety of criteria to build a unique data-rich resource to help drive your new business strategy, without even having to pay for a premium account. With the right Big Data approach you can use LinkedIn as your own personal new prospect database.

Google AdSense and Facebook advertising both give you access to a rich resource of potential targets for your products or services, that can also be approached with a Big Data mindset to ensure your marketing campaigns and brand promotions reach their desired targets. You get fast, accurate feedback on the effectiveness of your campaigns and this speed of response is exactly what a brand owner needs to measure and respond to brand communication. It takes a willingness to be flexible and to have the speed and desire to adapt and evolve.

Your website too is one of the primary resources of easily available data. Once you have registered your site with Google Webmaster tools, you get measurable information on how visitors are using your site without having to pay for expensive analysis. If your site is built on a platform like WordPress, you also get great tracking and feedback from useful plugins like Jetpack, that help you learn more about where your users come from and can help you get more and better traffic from your web design and content.

“It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.”

So you see these are all things any marketer or business owner can do right now to begin to adopt a Big Data mindset and help grow your business in a competitive and cluttered market. The most important thing, however, is to be ready to adapt as soon as useful information becomes available. As Charles Darwin said “it is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.”

The Big Data model then is to become the Amazon or the Netflix of your market, by being the business that listens to and responds to what your clients want now and will probably want tomorrow and you’ll find that this approach can help you empower your business and your brand and give you confidence in, an ownership of, your future.

Eugene Burns

 

 

 

Get what you want – the art of online persuasion

It’s really quite simple. In business you get what you want by persuading people to do what you want them to do. There’s nothing easier, right? We all know that persuasion is hard at the best of times, but in the online world it’s an even harder task.

There are several things that can help a business owner and her/his designer get what they want in terms of getting your user, your potential customer after all, to do what you want and help you grow your business.

In the online world getting what you want means knowing something about how the unconscious mind works. It comes down to an examination of free will.

In her recent book Webs Of Influence – The Psychology Of Online Persuasion, Nathalie Nahai outlines the most recent research in the psychology of human decision-making.

‘Our conscious experience of free will happens only after the neural events that caused it… put simply, your brain knows what you are going to do before you do.’

It turns out that most of our decision-making processes occur in parallel, without our conscious awareness.

Business owners, marketing professionals and interactive designers can learn a lot from a more than superficial study of the science of human psychological behaviour.

‘We are not rational beings, as classical economists would have you believe. In fact, the reality is that we are malleable, impressionable creatures, whose behaviours can be heavily influenced by our situations and surroundings, without us even being aware of it.’

Leaving aside the spiritual and philosophical implications of this view, it’s clear that business owners, marketing professionals and interactive designers can learn a lot from a more than superficial study of the science of human psychological behaviour.

It can tell us all a lot about how we can achieve what we want to achieve, and because we are essentially measuring online human behaviours, it gives us data that we can measure and act upon to fine-tune and re-target our approach.

‘Our emotions exert a great influence on our thoughts… beyond making us feel good or bad, emotions play a vital role in how we make decisions.

Emotions play a part as well as intellect when it comes to our on-line decision-making processes.

‘Our emotions exert a great influence on our thoughts… beyond making us feel good or bad, emotions play a vital role in how we make decisions.’

Here is where creativity, ideas and design intuition can play a major part in the online design process and help you to get want you want. Design and creativity, based on a solid grasp of recent psychological research, can help any online business get where it needs to go faster and more efficiently. This approach can integrate well with any off-line and related social media campaigns that you may want to run at the same time.

In the online world, creativity and good design thinking are not only scientific but also measurable in terns of the results and the targets they achieve.

If you know what your customers are trying to achieve, then it’s easier for you to help get them there.

So what do you want to achieve for yourself and for your business? And what approaches are you using to help get you there?

‘The ability to manufacture persuasion is a powerful one and its success hinges on the accuracy of your demographic data.’

In a later post I’ll go on to look at these demographic, social and cultural factors that help colour your approach to influencing your online customers. But to sum up, if you know what your customers are trying to achieve, then it’s easier for you to help get them there.

We know that our customers want us to help them achieve their goals through the intelligent use of technology, social media and design. We know that because we asked them. But what do your customers really want? Perhaps we can help you find out.

Eugene Burns

 

Irish design has the opportunity to be reignited for the Big Data era

In my previous post on the theme of An Irish Design I asked the question: is it time to put Ireland back at the centre of European design? The post received a very good response from clients and other designers. A simple answer to the question is – design has an important part to play in not only the future development of Irish technology companies, it has a part to play in the business growth of Irish companies of all kinds.

Irish design is not a monolith – there are as many approaches to delivering creative and successful design solutions as there are designers.

Irish design is not a monolith – there are as many approaches to delivering creative and successful design solutions as there are designers, and just because a designer comes from, or is based in, any part of Ireland doesn’t mean she or he has to employ a culturally conditioned pre-set series of solutions.

If Ireland as a country is open to external influences and part of the wider cultural landscape of Europe and beyond, then there’s room for lots of creative and cultural cross-fertilization that can only be an asset to designers and the clients they work with. My own influences are French, Swiss International, Japanese and Chinese culture and design as well as the Irish culture of my birth, enhanced with several years of being based in the open city of London where many different design and cultural identities thrive and develop.

The intention is to be aware of the history of Celtic design and to use the influences to develop a specifically Irish approach in a technologically driven and playful way.

The intention of An Irish Design is to be aware of the history of Celtic design in Ireland and to use some of the influences to play with and develop a specifically Irish approach in a technologically driven and playful way. The hope is to add something to the tradition, no matter how insignificant, while not being to overwhelmed by the long shadows cast by past achievements. Irish design has the opportunity to be reignited for the Big Data era.

I’ve produced a new video and brochure on the An Irish Design theme. You can download the An Irish Design brochure here. Each of these takes some Celtic/Irish design elements and seeks to develop and extend them in a small way. These include some re-workings of some classic book covers and some ‘hand-drawn-in-Photoshop’ designs based on motifs found in The Book Of Kells and elsewhere in Irish design history.

As always I would be interested to hear your views and comments and, of course, I’m always happy to talk to you about your specific business needs and future projects. Let’s talk.

Eugene Burns

Understanding Big Data – a Cubist approach

Marketing is changing, design is changing and businesses and how they work are changing and these changes are happening quickly driven by technology. I’ve already published some thoughts on what I call the big data approach to branding and what it means for you and your business. But here are some thoughts to help you get your head around what’s different in the approach, and how it can help you grow your business.

‘The techniques of correlational analysis are being aided and enhanced by a fast-growing set of novel approaches and software that can tease out non-causal relationships in data from many different angles – rather like the way cubist painters tried to capture the image of a woman’s face from multiple viewpoints at once.’ 

From Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work and Think, London, 2013.

If you consider how you normally measure your customers, or even your social media engagement, you probably gather information from a single fixed viewpoint, such as the number of sales in a given period, or the number of Twitter followers. But what happens if you take a Cubist mindset, realising that your users, your customers and your potential business targets are dynamic, fluid, and changeable? You begin to understand that it’s more useful to take a multiplicity of viewpoints to communicate and engage with them in a more meaningful way. This is where the Cubist metaphor is very useful.

A big data approach to managing your business lets you see your business and your customers more ‘in the round’ – from as many different viewpoints as possible. This gives you a multi-dimensional view that’s more valuable when you’re making important business and brand decisions such as launching new products, or planning new campaigns.

It helps tell you what your business is doing now and in the near future, and it’s based on correlational analysis which gives you a good idea what your users and your customers will be doing too. Leaving the aesthetic considerations aside, big data gives you a Cubist viewpoint that you simply don’t get from being static and rooted in place and time.

A big data approach to managing your business lets you see your business and your customers more ‘in the round’ – from as many different viewpoints as possible.

If this sounds like a nice theory that’s of little practical value, then think about this. I’ve found that our own business is growing as we’re gathering new insights and making new data and technology-driven connections that more traditional design agencies normally miss out on. It’s an approach that’s helping us grow and develop in new and often unexpected ways.

Knowing more and knowing it faster, seeing your business and your clients and future clients from a range of different viewpoints, gives you a very valuable business advantage. So imagine what a Cubist approach could do for you today.

Eugene Burns

Of mice and men – your big data big brand moment

‘For much of history, humankind’s highest achievement arose from conquering the world by measuring it.’

There was a time long, long ago when Amazon didn’t have only techies on its payroll. They had editors and critics who evaluated and sifted through the titles that featured on the site’s pages and offered their human and insightful views on the latest books and made excellent and informed recommendations. They were celebrated in the pages of the Wall Street Journal as the US’s most influential critics as they drove so many book sales.

But then Jeff Bezos had another idea. What if the site could recommend books to users based on their individual shopping preferences? Amazon analyst Greg Linden saw a new way of doing things too. What if the site could make associations between products themselves rather than compare the preferences of people with other people? In 1998 Linden and his colleagues applied for a patent on ‘item-to-item’ collaborative filtering and the shift in approach made a big difference – a big data difference.

The company had a mice or men choice on its hands. What to put on the site – machine-driven content that showed empirical relationships between products, or reviews crafted by Amazon’s in-house book experts?

They ran tests and the data-driven sales vastly out-performed the critic-driven version. In the Amazon way the decision was made and today it’s said that at least a third of Amazon’s sales are made through data-driven recommendations and personalization systems. You could call it Amazon’s big data moment.

One important consideration is that Amazon didn’t bother too much questioning why the measurable upsurge in sales happened. They just knew that it did and acted quickly to take advantage of what the data told them. That gave the Amazon business and brand an advantage over just about every competitor they have ever had and all because they weren’t afraid to leverage the knowledge their own systems gave them. For good or ill of course.

‘Treating data as something imperfect and imprecise let’s us make superior forecasts, and thus understand our world better.’

So what does this Amazon big data moment mean for you and your business? What do you know that other people don’t and what do you have that can make your decisions faster and more accurate? That’s the big data question. Are your decisions machine-driven, gut-driven, or a little bit of both?

How do you know what will work for you and your brand and how do you decide? Do you click with your users and, perhaps more importantly, have you got the courage to find out?

Interesting questions aren’t they? I don’t have instant, off-the-peg solutions as every business and every brand is different, but if you would like to have a chat about what could be your big data, big brand moment – Let’s talk.

Eugene Burns

 

Quotations and overview of the Amazon strategy are taken from Big Data: A revolution that will transform how we live, work and think, by Viktor Mayer-Schonberger and Kenneth Cukier, 2013.

 

 

 

Amazon and the A to Z of disruption

You’re almost certainly aware that Amazon has had one of the fastest growths in internet history and become a worldwide superbrand – the digital equivalent of Coca-Cola. Amazon is essentially one of the first and most successful Big Data companies, in that it has used its technology to extract meaning from its huge data resources and above all act on the insights that the data makes available.

The Amazon brand is its technology and it seeks to position itself as ‘the world’s most customer-centric company.’ Features such as ‘Recommendations’ and ‘Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought’ have become paradigms for online commerce as well as the Amazon one-click and buying process. To trust the Amazon brand is to trust its technology.

To trust the Amazon brand is to trust its technology.

Amazon is of course the paradigm for online consumer delivery. I recently berated a bungling office furniture company for failing to deliver in a specific timeframe as, like you I’m sure, I’ve become so used to the Amazon process that anything less seems so much inferior.

Amazon customer service is essentially software driven and even if Amazon employees are not located in plush surroundings – we’ve all heard the stories of how they use doors for desks – the key point of Amazon service is that it normally just works seamlessly.

Core to the Amazon business, and therefore the brand, is the idea of the Digital Engine ‘a digital lever providing a significant advantage to outperform one’s competitors’

Amazon’s Jeff Bezos has outlined his three big ideas:

1. Digital enables limitless inventory

2. Digital boosts customer care

3. Digital allows high margin, lowest prices

And then there are the three As of the Amazon brand: Anything Anywhere Anytime that position Amazon as a world player without any recognizable frontiers.

But if haven’t been paying close attention to the business and restricted yourself to digging out the occasional bargain to place in your Amazon Shopping Basket and saving for later in the expectation that the price will drop, there’s lots more to ponder about the ubiquity of the Amazon brand and its future developments.

For a start Amazon are starting to become a player in the B2B sector with Amazon Supply. If you haven’t seen it take a look at the Amazon Supply site.

If you are in the B2B sector yourself how will you and your brand respond when the Amazon Supply delivery boxes start making inroads into the UK and European markets? Are your business and your brand ready to deal with the Big Daddy of Big Data and take them on at their own game?

Again if you haven’t been paying too much attention you may have noticed that LoveFilm now calls itself ‘an Amazon company’ right there under the logo. But have you seen what Amazon is doing in the film and media production sector with Amazon Studios?

Amazon is using the power of its technology-driven brand to make significant moves in a wide range of business sectors that have the potential to disrupt and reinvigorate those sectors with implications for businesses of all types regardless of size.

This is not the future, this is now. And I’m not even going to mention the computer tablet and publishing sectors where Amazon’s Big Data approach has already utterly changed everything for everyone in the market.

Is your brand ready to face competition from Amazon or another new player in your market that is ready to disrupt and change the terrain? Can you business and your brand stand comparison with an Amazon’s rock solid technology-driven positioning?

Of course the Amazon brand is far from perfect and its technological strength can also be perceived as a weakness, often revealing the company as a monolith beset by the all too human flaws of greed and wilful stubbornness.

If your business delivers a commodity or service of any kind, and especially if you deliver to your clients digitally, then Amazon is already your virtual competitor, no matter what market you’re in.

If your business delivers a commodity or service of any kind, and especially if you deliver to your clients digitally, then Amazon is already your virtual competitor, no matter what market you’re in.

The answer is that having a meaningful brand based on solid business principles and foundations is the best way to compete and be part of the disruptive process. To be a strong, recognizable and successful brand takes a lot of hard work, however, and a lot of skilful thought and design. But when you have to compete with the best in the world, you will find that all that hard work is worth it.

Eugene Burns

 

 

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