Big Data Lessons from a 19th-century Doctor

Big Data Lessons from a 19th-century Doctor

Harmelin Digital Contributor: David Farnoush

Big Data can pose significant challenges to advertisers and marketers, beyond just systems and implementation. Ignaz Semmelweis, a 19th-century doctor found that hand-washing by surgeons between patients and operations decreased infection rates and overall mortality of hospital patients. Immediately telling everyone his new findings, he was unprepared for the pushback, skepticism and disregard from colleagues to his data’s results. His major fault – he believed in letting the data ‘speak for itself’. Semmelweis’ story reaffirms that data without context is meaningless; with context it becomes powerful. It becomes information.

What this means for marketers: While it may seem natural to let data ‘speak for itself’, it’s imperative (and arguably more important) to turn your data into information first. Below are four points to help with this process:

  1. Clear-Timely-Actionable: Obvious but often overlooked, a lack of clarity, timeliness, or usefulness (real or perceived) significantly increases the risk of your information being misinterpreted, or worse, appropriated for some other narrative.
  1. Avoid the Curse: Of knowledge, or the inability to take the perspective of those without the information. It’s easy to judge another based on their initial reaction, but if they can’t see it, you’re likely not showing them well enough. Bonus points if your information is threatening to long-held organizational structure, processes and beliefs.
  1. Pathos: People are more likely to make decisions based on emotion rather than purely traditional logic. Thinking on the language, logic, and reasoning of emotion to craft and deliver your data’s message will increase buy-in from a larger audience by letting them ‘feel’ the results. This is the hardest to master, difficult to pull off and requires in-depth knowledge of your audience. Use effectively, if not sparingly, lest it backfire on you.
  2. Imagination: Move past tired descriptions, lazy explanations and the same worn-out bar and pie charts. In using interesting, innovative and inventive techniques to turn your data into information you will help your audience more easily understand your key points, while also keeping their interest.
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