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Data is not the new oil – it’s the new soil

Technology & Data

Data is not the new oil – it’s the new soil


To help you see the world from your customers’ perspective, I pose one simple question: are you comfortable with how much data companies hold about you and what they are doing with it?

If your answer is ‘no’ you may want to consider how the conversation about consumer data is developing in your company. Then ask yourself: ‘would I want to be our customer?’

Not long ago companies began waking up to the fact that people everywhere were generating huge volumes of useful information. Data that could be collected and used to understand people in ever finer detail. The phrase ‘data is the new oil’ started to spread like wildfire across the web. The buzz around ‘Big Data’ emerged.

Oil is valuable. If you find, collect and store oil it will remain valuable. Data is a very different thing. Data is generated when people do something. It is a record of an event. That means it starts losing value almost as soon as it is generated because it ages. We can see trends and obtain insights but to get real value from data it must be used in real time. Simply gathering and storing data is a pointless exercise.

Most companies have large quantities of consumer data, and have the ability to generate a lot more. Access to data is not the issue. Getting value from it is. Many companies are currently investing heavily in techniques to consolidate the consumer data they have and then use it to run marketing and communication programs.

From a business perspective that sounds great – a new way to communicate with your customers that can be adapted to suit them. But this brings us back to our first question. As a customer, are you comfortable with this? Companies try to convince themselves that people don’t really care, but of course they do.

Customers are not entries in a database. They are the people who are creating the data. They feel like that data is theirs. They are certainly not comfortable with it being used to send more ‘personalised’ spam. Their actions created it and they want to get value from it.

And this is where the real opportunity actually lies. As a business leader try to avoid thinking about data as an asset to be mined. Think about it as the raw material you can use to offer value to your customers and build a better relationship. As London based author David McCandless put it, “Data is the new oil? No: Data is the new soil”.

It’s the place where your customer relationships can grow.

Generating business value from consumer data isn’t about technology at all. It’s about how you use data to create a fantastic experience for your customers. If you can help your customer get value from their own information they will reward you for that effort. If you continue to use data to spam your customers or provide value to your company, you may find yourself wondering where everybody went.


Mark Cameron

Mark Cameron is CEO of customer experience innovation agency Working Three and a world renowned digital strategy commentator with well over 400 published articles. Specialties: Digital innovation, Digital customer experience strategy, Social media strategy, Digital strategy, Online Marketing strategy. He blogs at markrcameron.com and tweets from @MarkRCameron.

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