Coleridge And Your Data

Someone probably made you read Samuel Coleridge‘s Rime Of The Ancient Mariner along your educational way. It contains a couplet that got me thinking about data:

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Samuel Taylor Coleridge (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink.

We spend so much time collecting and attempting to analyze data and yet it seems difficult to “drink” from the overwhelming amount we have.  I wonder if we keep an eye on the reasons why we gather data in the first place.  In my mind, there are  two main reasons to collect data:

    • To form actionable business questions
    • To measure how where we are today is different from where we were yesterday

Let me take a second to discuss them.  When we gather information from a customer or potential customer, we should always have a reason for doing so.  Otherwise we’re just filling up our data storage with bits we’ve got no need to store.  A recent IDG Connect study found that the biggest hurdles facing companies in terms of data were poor data quality and excessive data, so we need to think before we gather.  Some of the information they will give you (name, email, maybe a physical address); other information you’ll take yourself (usage patterns on the web and/or mobile, information our of social profiles, etc).

We ought to be using some of that data to educate our fans about our brand and industry.  That falls under the “actionable” category.  What results do we want from them?  How can we tell if we’re moving the needle?  One big day of traffic might be an aberration but trends tend not to lie over time.  I like this quote from the report:

The true value of Big Data is in the ability to leverage it for development of an informed strategy. Organizations need to move beyond a focus on just managing data to extracting trends and insights that will drive business outcomes.

So if you’re feeling overwhelmed by the amount of information you have, you probably have too much.  It’s probably not properly focused.  We need to collect as little data as possible – it’s much easier to drink a glass of water than an ocean.  It should be just enough to generate insight and not enough to foster confusion.  Which are you doing?

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