Pesky Data and the Quest for Truth

August 1, 2020

We’ve just completed yet another week of semi-quarantine. If you remember, when we left off, the Romans have just completed the battle of Lake Regillus and the foedus Cassianum, leaving Rome with its first dictator, Titus Larrius. Man, those were the days!

The amount of bullshit we’re all having to deal with right now is firmly at the hands of the White House, Congress, science deniers, and End-Times zealots. Let us not for a moment forget that it didn’t have to be this way. We basically could be near open if leadership in the US had simply followed the advice of scientists — you know, experts in epidemiology. Instead, we are all having to make draconian changes to our daily routines because, apparently, re-elections are the most important things in our daily lives. If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to live with a person with narcissistic personality disorder, now you know.

Yes, I’m really mad about this because I care about data but not for data’s sake. I care about data because they are the building blocks towards truth. In each and every move I make with the agency, for example, I want to know the data. People are naturally tribal and tend to gravitate towards data points that support their personal viewpoints. That’s when “someone” (a datapoint) becomes “everyone” (a generalization) in a statement. “Everyone thinks we should open the office.” “Everyone thinks we should stay closed until 2021.” Neither are true. Both are opinions based upon an anecdote that strongly aligns with one’s view of hope. “I hope we can open soon” becomes “everyone thinks we should open soon.”

Marketing organizations have been doing this for generations. The amount of broad sweeping generalizations applied to preferred marketing channels has been a plague on brands for a long, long time. Brands that became entirely reliant on television advertising, for example, became so because a) it worked for a long time thereby entrenching it, and b) an entire culture and economy was built around the creative process, production, and buying of television spots.

But then new pipes moved into our homes — high-speed internet. And TV didn’t have to be The Thing anymore. But did the brands move? Aggressive, innovative brands have, that’s for sure. The data is now clear: people don’t consume linear television proportional to the marketing investments it requires (Bernstein Research). Especially during the pandemic, consumer behaviors have fundamentally changed…and they’re not going back (Forbes). The “science,” if you will, is dictating a change. But can we bust out of our bias and routines? Denying the science is certainly easier. No question about that. But will brands who choose to do so survive? I doubt that.

Recently, two friends, Gino Giovannelli, professor at St. Thomas, and Kathy Hollenhorst, CEO of Creatis, started a great podcast called In the Key of D: Using Digital to Transform Your Business. I was a recent guest along with people like Craig Herkert, former CEO of Supervalu, who all say that digital transformation is truly all about survival. We’re past the testing phase. We’re past the science. We’re in essential decision mode about survival. If you want to catch mine, here you go. (I’m sorry for pushing a giant mug of myself. What a way to start a weekend.)

It’s Saturday, so if you need to mow that lawn again or take the dog for yet another walk, I encourage you to pop in your earbuds into your earholes and give a little listen to varying perspectives.