Heart And Science

Feb 05, 2016


A college friend of mine, Vijay Mehrotra, recently published a thought-provoking piece in Analytics Magazine about the growth of Uber and other automated free markets. This is an aspect of Big Data and the type of customer analytics we do that I don’t often think about — how do centralized databases and powerful brain trusts create imbalances in the economy? Is this, in a way, analogous to the imbalances created in the early days of capitalism? And, what are the potential equalizing forces that could push more power and control back to consumers and service providers?

It makes me wonder if there’s a potential model for creating a new kind of collective that is analogous to labor unions (I supposed we could call them data unions?) in which individuals can leverage big data for their own purposes to negotiate, find or create alternatives, and balance marketplace forces. I am a fan of free markets, which are fueled by the free exchange of information. Perhaps we are nearing a time when it may be necessary for collectives and governments to intervene when information imbalances threaten to make markets less free. When the exchange of information is increasingly informed by super-advanced analytics on big data, then the free exchange may require some form of access to computing power and data by individual workers and consumers that large corporations have access to.

I have spent a fair portion of my career working on customer databases, thinking about stuff like Customer Master Data Management. I’ve puzzled over scenarios in which individual consumers might have their own databases, their own master data. Why can’t I run an analysis of all of my grocery and restaurant purchases from the past year before going for my annual physical? Why don’t I have easy access to the data of how and where I’ve spent my time over the past week, month, year? My phone knows (or should know) that information.

One thing we’re talking about now at Elicit is how being truly customer centric necessitates marketing becoming unselfish. Marketing is very selfish today — it’s all “buy this, buy this, buy this!” Value is measured as ROI, which is based on conversion, which is based on buying. What the customer gets from the company is thought about rarely, and when it is, it’s zero-sum: if I give something to a customer, even if it’s just information, it costs me, and diminishes my profits. Business cases based on expanding the market through mutual value creation are VERY hard to sell. Most leaders would rather safely comp LY + 4% than take on the risk of creating a new value proposition.

Maybe, just maybe, enlightened data scientists can help elevate this conversation, like Vijay is doing. Maybe it’s going to take a mix of heart and science.