If I remember rightly, we waited about 5 years for the year of the mobile, as if it were a fixed date in the calendar. Yet none of us remember waking up one day all “on-mobile” – because that’s not how it works! The reality is that, like most of evolution, it didn’t happen on one day, it happened on many days and continues to happen, even now as brands we are still struggling to make real sense of the distributed consumer.

And, curse those pesky consumers – they’re always a bit hard to control – what with having minds of their own and all that – but now they are all over the place and pretty hard to pin down.  Back in the day before distributed comms, media planning was a great and revered science, it was easy enough to matrix plan and hit a mass audience with a defined channel mix if you put enough smart people on the case.

All Change

But it’s all changed and while we all pretend to like change and transformation, it makes us nervous because we have to unlearn things and adapt to new ways of thinking.  This is never more relevant than in the marketing and communications environment, and here’s the dichotomy, as individuals we manage our lives, shopping, chatting, discovering and sharing stuff through the little black windows of our devices, but as businesses we sometime forget this is how we are digesting content, or more likely as businesses there’s so much information flowing that its genuinely hard to make sense of the enormity of the information flooding past us.

All Grown Up

The internet at 27 years old is all grown up, it is embedded everywhere and so significant that there are even predictions that our physiological evolution is going to be shaped by the way we use tech so, like it of not, there’s no going back! When I was a lad, the agenda was dominated by black and white TV, radio and newsprint – oh, how the world has changed, but I think for the better – constant global connection brings us all closer together and it’s pretty democratic in that we all get the opportunity to state our views.  But this is creating a vast universe of information about how we are engaging and this collection of information provides the possibility to create more precision about delivering our business propositions than ever before.

Ironically we’ve all been contributing to the collection of data for years…’banks do it, brands do it, even educated mobile operators do it…”

There’s a wonderful book called the information which explains how It all started and where it’s going:

the information FINAL with Amazon from The Big Shot on Vimeo.

Did you know that the library of Congress in the US holds 160 terrabytes of information on every book, piece of music, every website and tweet published.

But like all great collections, from stamps to the relics of the ancient world, they are only really any use if we get to learn from them… and, I suppose, work out how to place a value on them.  Our vast hoards of data are a bit like a Viking coin hoard – they have no value if you forget where or why you buried them (yet jolly interesting and a lot more interesting if you happen across them with a metal detector years later!).

So let’s assume you move from consumer ‘spray and pray’ some time in the late 90s and you have captured every data point relating to your consumers for the last 20 years, and your CTO is asking you about the burgeoning size of your server stack required to hold it all, I think that’s where the rather ill defined catch all term Big Data came from.

So you’re waking up wondering what to do with your winter store, a little like a bear awakening from hibernation as the permafrost begins to thaw, and as you look out of the cave the worlds changed a bit so last year’s plan is exactly that and as the initial drips of thaw swiftly to become great torrents of information you’ve also got a whole new bunch of data to start thinking about.

So, pause…breathe and think – we deal with a lot of waking bears in our business paddling towards us through the rising waters and normally starting with a pretty similar opener.   We are different to everyone else – we have an enormous amount of information and we want to know how to make sense of it.

Our advice tends to be the same in most instances…why don’t we start by looking at something small that’s been bothering you for a while, see if we can make sense of that and see where that takes us.  It’s quite a neat way to work, as we have to collaborate and build trust as you start to reveal your family jewels, but it’s how we create advantage out of knowledge, or big data, or the Information or whatever you prefer to call your “Collection”.

Mark Bainbridge is Business Development Director at Black Swan Data