Disabling the Data Discord and Enabling the Data

Recently, I found myself explaining to my 8-year-old daughter what life was like before the arrival of mobile phones. I told her that “back in the day” if you were at the grocery store, for example, and couldn’t remember if you were out of milk, you’d have to find a public pay phone, hope that the pay phone worked, pray that you had some change to make a call, and cross your fingers that someone was at home to check the fridge to confirm whether or not a milk purchase was in order. Back then, making a quick call or sending a text on a smartphone simply wasn’t an option. My daughter found the pre-mobile-phone era to be unfathomable, mostly because she couldn’t conceive of a time when phones were tethered to walls and making calls required staying in one place to talk. Shocking! Recounting the terrible hardships we faced during our Lives Before Mobile made me think of the stories that my grandfather used to tell me about his childhood and how he had to walk a dozen miles to school and back each day — in bare feet, in the snow, over shards of glass. When did my own not-so-distant, low-tech past quickly become a prehistoric tale of woe?

As evidenced by the demise of cutting-edge-at-the-time tech like faxing and crimping irons, the world continues to change and evolve, thankfully. But these changes aren’t just determined by ongoing advances in technology (or even taste), but by the great limitless possibilities and innovations imagined and created by smart, forward-thinking people who asked, “What if,” and “Why not,” instead of just settling for what already exists. The drive to innovate, then to integrate the benefits of technology innovations into our everyday lives, seems to be an essential human impulse that’s accelerating change in new and unexpected ways.

Nowadays, consumers are all-too-ready to adopt the latest and greatest smartphone or tech gadget, and many will even line up for hours in inclement weather for their chance to upgrade to the Next Big Thing. At this very moment as I type, I have a Fitbit on my wrist, and when I finish writing this article and go for a run, my Fitbit and my smartphone will be with me, knowing when and where I go. While these are just a few moments in my day, over time, they add up to millions of data points that are constantly being collected and compiled, all non-personally identifiable, of course. But connecting the dots…or cookies, if you will…easily adds up to painting a pretty accurate picture of who I am, what I do for a living, where I travel to, things I enjoy, etc.

The volume of both personal and aggregate data that’s available today continues to grow exponentially. As a result, technology trends are advancing to such a degree, thus creating the ability to have data-driven personalized experiences within both digital and physical worlds. While it may be overwhelmingly disconcerting to some, the explosion of connected devices and wearables is just the beginning of seeing limitless opportunities for greater and better personalization for others. For a long time, we talked about each year being the Year of Mobile, then somehow that demarcation passed us by and we are now fast approaching a time when the Internet of Things is an accepted part of the developing reality that we live in.

A few months ago, I heard a talk by Mick Ebeling, the chief executive (CEO) and founder of Not Impossible, LLC, an organization that develops creative solutions — often with the help of technology — to address real-world problems. The real-world problems tackled by Not Impossible aren’t just about helping to ensure people are avoiding the consumption of old eggs, as the notorious Internet of Things first-mover Egg Minder does. Instead, the organization focuses on affordable health care and explores how low-cost solutions can be developed with the help of crowdsourcing and technology. The highly publicized “Project Daniel” from Not Impossible uses 3-D printers to make prosthetic arms for people affected by war in southern Sudan. Not only did Project Daniel make the arms for the Sudanese, but the project also showed them how to use the technology to make 3-D-printed arms for themselves, long after the organization was gone. The purpose of Project Daniel was not just about giving a fish to the Sudanese people, but teaching them how to fish. It was an empowering experience to see first-hand how looking at real-world problems could directly lead to the creation of real-world solutions.

Often, as marketers, we use data to evaluate trends and optimize experiences. However, the art of optimization is quickly being flipped on its head, not just as a means of creating better marketing, but as a tool to redefine experiences. This is accomplished by effectively working across business units and disciplines to ask bigger questions and solve bigger problems. Instead of asking, “What is possible?”, it’s better to ask, “Why isn’t it possible?” And yet, when we want to understand what’s currently on consumers’ minds, data is still the logical and best place to start. Then figure out what else consumers want from brands to better understand what’s next. Enable that curiosity, and you’ll grow.

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