For me, the benefit of nearly 3 decades in business is grey hair and a degree in hindsight, earned from riding the marketing wave with brands across sectors through cycles of boom and bust, taking the Army to war (as a brand) and digging RBS out of a hole during the recession, to name a couple of scars I wear with a bit of pride.

The trouble with hindsight is that it tells you what already happened not what’s going to happen…and that’s not going to win anyone’s lottery…so enter stage right one of the only true advents in innovation I have witnessed in all that time – up there with the Motorola DynaTAC, the Macintosh 84, the launch of the Web and Friends Reunited – each a seminal moment in the brand landscape – I’m talking predictive analytics.

For the last few years, as brands have wrestled with the changing face of consumer engagement, in a world where the web has moved from read to earned, where social has changed the nature of brand endorsement and where tech has put the control panel into the hands of customers.  We have all had to adapt our traditional models to chase consumers around a vastly different and fragmented media landscape.

So how now should we approach planning, as the old models of big idea advertising collapse into multi channel micro transactions, with an ever multiplying demand for extended content?…surely answers lie in the knowledge collected by brands.

So here it comes…Big Data…

But what does that really mean?  I guess at it’s base level we are talking about the huge volume of sales, marketing and behavioural insight collected over time, mapped against our ability to increasingly define the consequential insight from amongst this vast bank of information and using tech tools and channel analysis to try and make sense of it all.

Back in the day, things were simpler, intuition and experience would be enough to deliver enough noise in fewer channels in order to prompt intention to purchase; and regression, tracking and econometric tools would tell us what just happened.  Marketers knew their numbers and what to do if they showed signs of change.


Trouble is today everything has proliferated, insight tools like econometrics have been twisted to justify traditional channel spend and we’ve all matured as consumers and have become way more discerning and brand savvy.  


So where didactic may have worked before – shout loud enough and people will listen – we now have to rethink our approach to align our propositions to the most important words in any language…our customers first and second names.  This of course implies a bit of a 180 degree turn on our approach to brand planning; whilst trying to bring the multi-channel planets into alignment and at the same time as personalising the customer engagement. Which all spells out the big RISK word which normally sends us scurrying back to the good old status quo.

But, based on the definition of lunacy being doing the same thing over and expecting different results,  the landscape has  changed along with it the kind of people we both need in our businesses (and need to adapt to be) – some bright spark somewhere coined “T shaped” people, broad in base knowledge; deep in expertise…not so sure about that, I think in plain English we are seeing the silos of sales, marketing and IT beginning to merge and traditional distinctions between marketing and IT road maps are beginning to blur…

It’s a bit of a what, so what, now what moment?  So here comes the sell…at Black Swan we believe that separating the signals (the bits of information that really matter) from the noise (all that big data we are getting so exercised about).

But if finding the signals takes the brains of an Archbishop, or in our case a team of data scientists, whom we feed on caffeine and pizza, defining how to use them is what separates us from the rest of the big data crowd.  We get there fast and help our partners activate pilots, which prove hypotheses and most importantly help them make money.  We are also pretty good at helping businesses navigate the changing relationships between insight, marketing supply chain and IT.

One thing is for sure after 30 years of watching the evolution of marketing turn from a surging torrent into a lazy delta this old dog is learning new tricks and tearing up the rule book, why? Because this stuff really is the Holy Grail which senior marketers have been seeking for a good long old while…

Mark Bainbridge is Business Development Director at Black Swan Data