No, we’re not going to fall for a headline that says Big Data is Like Sex, just because it has the word “sex” in it.
OK, a little bit, but it turns out the provocatively titled Media Post rundown on the MDC Partners Small Data, Big Ideas Conference at which a star-studded field spoke about the benefits of understanding data, is a pretty interesting piece.
The attention-getting headline refers to a notion put forth by Dan Ariely, a Duke University behavioral economics professor, the Media Post piece reports, who says big data is like teenage sex: Everyone talks about it and assumes everyone but them is doing it.
It’s a good line and makes the point that big data is one of those buzz phrases that can mean a lot of different things to a different people. In the end, of course, it’s not whether you have big data, but how you use it — a point made very well by a very tall man, NBA star turned entrepreneur, Shaquille O’Neil.
The key, Shaq told the assembled crowd, is to use data to make it possible to have one-to-one insights into your customer, Media Post reports.
His idea sounds a lot like personalization, a strategy that many Web sites talk about, but which few do really well. The best personalization — and some would argue the only true personalization — recognizes individuals and understands their intent based on their behavior.
“In particular, O’Neal discussed the importance of humor in cutting through most differences with individuals,” the Media Post story says. “He emphasized that whether trying to reach one person or a million, it’s the personal touch that resonates.”
And in a time when even theme parks, museums and baseball teams are turning to personalization, the story pointed out that personalization is crucial for online retailers, but it also applies to personal brands, media platforms and politics.
“Numbers,” Media Post says, “only provide an entry point to unlocking human emotions which drive purchasing decisions.”
No doubt big data is at its best when humans are around to figure out which big data is relevant and to come up with meaningful ways to analyze the big data that they do have.
And apparently it is vitally important that those who are doing the analyzing put their trust in what the numbers are telling them. Andrew McAfee makes a strong argument in The Harvard Business Review that experts’ knowledge is best used on the front-end — to help tweak an algorithm that is going to produce your big data.
That’s a much better way to go, McAfee writes, than having an expert second-guess data results and go with his or her gut to make a decision.
He is unequivocal about where he comes down, writing:
“The practical conclusion is that we should turn many of our decisions, predictions, diagnoses, and judgments—both the trivial and the consequential—over to the algorithms. There’s just no controversy any more about whether doing so will give us better results.”
Doing the important work of adding human insights upfront might not seem as sexy as second-guessing, but then again, sexy isn’t always substantive.
Mike Cassidy is BloomReach’s storyteller. Reach him at email@example.com follow him on Twitter at @mikecassidy