You Don't Know What You Don't Know

Douglas Turk, CMO, JLT Group [LSE:JLT]

Douglas Turk, CMO, JLT Group [LSE:JLT]

I’ve recently written about how our society continues to careen down a path to information ubiquity—a new world where data is automatically created and literally surrounds us constantly. Some current estimates predict that by 2020 there could be 200B sensors in the world. That equates to 27 sensors for every human on earth. Talk about exponential information proliferation.

"Every human is programmed to recognize patterns and make sense of stimulus and predict outcomes"

Set against this new world, there is a recurring and relevant question about how to use this data in a meaningful way. Do we really have any idea which data to use? Do we know what data when combined to provide insight? This data application question of cuts across all areas of business from operations, to finance and marketing-just because we have the data doesn’t mean anything if we can’t understand it.

For marketers, we will soon live in a world of unlimited opportunity in the Age of Information Ubiquity. Our opportunities arise from capturing, analyzing and learning from the “right” data to refine our marketing strategy and execution.

The problem however reinforces the old adage of “You don’t know what you don’t know.”

This adage quite literally came to life recently while working on a new product development. Our firm has been investing in developing a proof of concept with a group of partners. The product, a combination of technology (IoT Sensors), business process, and analytics is targeted at improving workers safety and reducing workers compensation exposure. This is a huge market where today $60B of workers compensation premium is spent annually in the United States. Anything that can be done to improve worker safety, reduce this premium spend and losses could make a tremendous impact into the insurance market.

All of the partners in this development group come from the insurance industry, except for one company that focuses on the developing IoT based solutions. We were engaged in a meeting to define the product requirements and were all focused on defining the problem and solution from our specific areas of experience. It was only when this “outsider” firm began to review their findings and approach did we all recognize how far off we were from understanding the specific operational and implementation challenges to get us to our goal.

This experience brought me back to my readings and learning in human cognitive theory and pattern recognition. The reason each of the “insider” partners in the room saw the problem and solution the same was based on our common and shared experiences. Every human is programmed to recognize patterns and make sense of stimulus and predict outcomes. A core factor of our human existence and survival is being able to discern. Our mind, constantly, compares situations to previous experiences and compartmentalizes these current stimuli to match previous situations. If “it looks like this” then it “must be this” is the way our minds work.

For all of us in the product development room, we were basing our strategy and recommendations based on these common shared patterns. Therefore, we were missing key elements and the ability to look at the problem differently. It required someone who was “outside” to use their unique pattern recognition to frame the problem and solution differently.

For marketers, this is an incredibly important point for the new world we are entering. Pattern recognition is a key aspect of branding. The concept of creating and experience and creating expectations is about patterning. When you receive a specific stimulus you have a set of expectations that are triggered. When I see the company’s visual identity it will require me to recall a specific experience and I will attempt to categorize. When I buy this product, the same pattern is occurring, “when I consumed this previously, this is what I will experience” goes through my brain. Branding will fundamentally change as the distance between the brand and experience will narrow down and our ability to make faster decisions and assessments will be impacted dramatically by the proliferation of data.

Going down a different intellectual path, think for a moment about the development of business in the last ten years. Many of the large companies today didn’t exist a decade ago. The reasons are that today, many of the large companies, define their business and are valued by their bits and bytes. The markets today see most of its value in intellectual property, not physical property. It doesn’t take long to build the business. Most of the challenge is building the model and understanding how the technology and data will solve the problem. Once designed and built, scaling the data happens very quickly. Brands will literally be built overnight and validated and reinforced through data.

So this brings me back to my original question—in this new world of information ubiquity—are we using our old patterning to make sense of this new world or should we be looking at the world in an entirely new way. Are we viewing the data with a decade old lens or are we thinking forward? Do we really understand how brand will develop and change in the future?

The new world of Information Ubiquity requires different disciplines and perspectives. Thinking that we can make sense of the world with the shared and common experiences that were built up previously is a mistake, and an approach that is destined to fail.

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