Facts & Feelings: Data Reconsidered

digital_chaos_3In a recent New York Times editorial by David Brooks, the author shares an anecdote about a prominent bank executive as he contemplated whether to close operations in a financially unstable country.  The banker undoubtedly had reams of economic data available to him to ponder and even to rationalize a decision to cut his losses.  Instead, however, he relied on his intuition to tip the scales and elected to continue operating.

Brooks describes the decision as based in this understanding of consumer behaviour:  “Commerce depends on trust.  Trust is reciprocity coated by emotion.  People and companies that behave well in tough times earn affection and self-respect that is extremely valuable, even if it is hard to capture in data.”

In this way, he introduces a discussion of the strengths and limitations of big data, noting, among other things, that all those zeros and ones simply cannot capture the emotional, sometimes irrational drivers of consumer decisions, that a hyper focus on data often obscures the bigger picture, and that data alone rarely delivers the magic bullet for truly complex and new challenges.

At Delvinia, we couldn’t agree more.  Don’t get me wrong, we lean heavily and regularly on one of our greatest assets – our AskingCanadians online research community – to help us unpack problems on behalf of our clients.  But when we really want to push the envelope and innovate, we move beyond the constraints of the questionnaire or the clickstream and simply sidle up closer to the customer, spend a little time in their world.  And what rewards that delivers!

For example, consider these sentiments that shoppers shared with us concerning the insurance purchase journey:

“It’s like trying to book an airline ticket online, and you just give up, pick up the phone and get on with your life.”

“Is there anything being offered that will make you feel less nervous about the future?”

“I felt stranded when I had no insurance.”

If we had relied on data alone, we would easily have missed out on the emotional impact of these insights, not to mention the richness they bring to better understanding the psychic context in which the purchase is taking place.  Real conversations – which, incidentally, can also be held effectively online and listened to via social – reveal not just where or when there is a pain point in the journey, but exactly how intensely that pain is experienced.

These are the same drivers and intimate insights that allow us to innovate entirely new experiences for our clients, moving them from presenting their customers with a collection of siloed touchpoints to wrapping them in a value-add eco-system.  After all, an ecosystem implies a community, and a community is an inherently personal, emotional experience that thrives through trust and reciprocity.

[Photo Credit: Digital Chaos 3 image by sachyn]