“You dig deeper and it gets more and more complicated, and you get confused, and it’s tricky and it’s hard, but… It is beautiful.” Brian Cox

At the Forge we believe that all marketing is about influencing people’s behaviour, and that insight is the key to how we create that influence. We believe that Insight comes from getting to true expressions of what people believe.

We use four key source areas, forging them together for a richer and more comprehensive understanding. ‘Digging’ is one of our key source areas, and in common with the other three it possesses both great benefits and notable limitations.

For us ‘Digging’ represents the world of data analytics. ‘Big data’ may be flavour of the month but customer databases are far from a new source of insight. However we believe that few businesses truly make the most of the information they already hold.

Exploring database information often provides a great starting-point for a broader insight investigation. It helps to bring clarity around what the business already knows, and therefore highlights the key gaps in knowledge and understanding that additional approaches and techniques will be required to fill. Immersion in purchase or consumption data can also represent real behaviour far more strongly than ‘asking’ or ‘watching’. As such it adds a crucial piece to the overarching insight puzzle – people can say all sorts of things that can be true or false, influenced or uninfluenced, but when they buy something it stays bought.

However despite the definitive finality that purchase, consumption, and behavioural data bring this source of insight is not without it’s own issues and limitations.

Such data is by definition historical, retrospective, and very often static, in stark contrast to the fluid dynamism of the real world. Such data is often only reflective of existing and lapsed customers, but rarely tells us much about non customers. Such data rarely captures the degree of compromise that a person has made before making their final decision to purchase or consume. And linked to this, such data tends to tell us little about what a persons driving motivation for the purchase or consumption was.

The world of data analytics also brings some fundamental challenges regardless of the subject under investigation. Data can be cut many ways to suit many interpretations (or as American author Gregg Easterbrook puts it “torture numbers, and they will confess to anything”). A recent BBC online article entitled ‘Is Africa really a drunken continent’ provides a nice example of the pitfalls of the statistical average.

Attention to detail is another critical aspect of good data analytics. Just ask the engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, whose confusion between imperial and metric measures led to the loss of the Mars Climate Orbiter at a cost of $125million.

And as with all sources of insight there remains the challenge of asking the right questions. If I ask you what your most preferred brand of car is you’re likely to give me a brand that you consider to be attainable. If I ask you what your most preferred brand of car is if money were no object you’re more likely to think bigger. Answers to the first question would probably leave me measuring the relative power of Audi vs BMW, while answers to the latter question would likely see me measuring the aspirational brand power of brands like Ferrari and Aston Martin. As William Moulton Marsden said:

“Realise what you really want. It stops you from chasing butterflies and puts you to work digging gold.”

This is what makes for smart and actionable data analytics.

This combination of benefits and limitations explains why ‘Dig’ is just one of the four key source areas we use at The Forge. For us, genuine insight comes from applying effort to multiple sources of information and forging them together to reveal true growth opportunities

Insight isn’t found. It is forged. 


With thanks to JIMBOMACK66 (and Zeus) for the image