data

Foresight, Hindsight & Insight

It is sadly ironic that The Simpsons predicted the outcome of the presidential election 16 years ago, while almost all of the polls and predictions run by the media just before the 8th November 2016 were wrong. Again, I might add, having experienced a very similar phenomenon just a few months ago following the Brexit referendum.

Working in our industry, especially as a planner, I wonder how much we can actually still listen to the polls, the research groups, the quantitative studies? In a more unpredictable and uncertain world, is there still a role for forecasting and foresight? Can data ever be trusted?

Last Tuesday, on the day of the election, I attended the Future Foundation’s Trending 2017 event. On the day they revealed their rebranding to the Foresight Factory – a day when millions of Americans defied all the foresight. In hindsight, this doesn’t just feel like a bad coincidence. It almost seems symptomatic of the state our industry is in.

Don’t get me wrong. I have been working with the Future Foundation for years and intend to continue to do so. The event was a really interesting one to attend, with lots of food for thought around the evolution of conversational commerce, personality pressures in our social media driven world and the latest stuff on biohacking. Definitely enough material for another blog post and a testament to the work from companies like the Foresight Factory to inspire us all to think beyond the present and keeping an open mind for the future. Gazing into the future and thinking about what’s next is critical to what we do, and will always be something I enjoy most about my job.

However, there seems to be a more urgent question we need to ask ourselves at this point: has the way we handle ‘foresight’, research and ultimately data, put us out of touch with what actually moves the majority, or at least a big part of our society?

This might be a surprising question to ask for BBH Labs, but an important one nevertheless. In her article ‘Reality check: I blame the media’, Danah Boyd reflects on the role the media played in the election outcome and demands that “all of us who work in the production and dissemination of information need to engage in a serious reality check”. I would include the advertising and wider marketing industry, so see this as our reality check.

Here are three observations on what we can learn from the data flaws in predicting the US election and what has gone wrong when it comes to ‘data’ in our industry. As always, we are interested in hearing your thoughts.

Data itself has become the spectacle

Going back to the #TrendingFF17 conference. On the day there was an Amazon Echo inconspicuously sitting on the podium. Throughout the program, everyone in the auditorium giggled at Alexa giving us the latest polls and predictions when asked to do so. The source and content of the reassuring predictions of Hillary Clinton having a clear lead in the election almost seemed to be secondary, as everyone was still quite confident about the outcome and the technology took centrestage, or as Boyd puts it: “I believe in data, but data itself has become spectacle.”

Apart from the fact that our industry has a certain obsession with the latest gadgets, data itself and the way it is presented (in this case by a hands free, first generation AI, voice controlled speaker) tends to become more important than the actual facts it represents.

No question, Amazon Echo is a fascinating device and we love exploring what the future might hold. In this instance it was just another symptomatic reminder of how ‘the medium really is the message’ and that it is easy to overlook the validity of the data being presented through all those shiny devices. “This abuse of data has to stop. We need data to be responsible, not entertainment.” Which leads me to my next point.

Predictions aren’t properly scrutinised

No, this election might not have marked the ‘Death of data’ but in this article on filter bubbles and analysis, Kalev Letaru points out that “the mass availability of data today means we are increasingly grabbing at data and using it to produce findings without spending the time to think about the limitations and biases of the views it may provide us and especially issues like self-censorship.”

Everyone working with various forms of research and data inputs knows this. Methodologies, the size of the sample, the ways consumers respond in different environments, and the way conclusions are derived, are critical yet often overlooked or at least easily forgotten once the results are in.

This is the main reason why the media “weren’t paying attention to the various structural forces that made their sample flawed, the various reasons why a disgusted nation wasn’t going to contribute useful information to inform a media spectacle.”

The points about ‘self-censorship’ and a ‘disgusted nation’ are really important ones. It suggests that a big part of society is disenfranchised with everything that represents the establishment and the system that is working against them, including the media, corporate America and maybe the world of Marketing, brands and advertising.

In her Guardian article, Mona Chalabi points at the same phenomenon when she shared her observations working with Nate Silver’s website FiveThirtyEight and that ‘there was also a certain arrogance that comes from being part of an elite that “gets the numbers”, and an entrenched hierarchy meant that predictions weren’t properly scrutinised.’

This should make marketers uncomfortable and question their data and the research that drives their decisions. Maybe people don’t actually want your business to succeed. Maybe they don’t want to engage with a brand. Maybe they are fed up answering endless questionnaires on their attitudes and purchase behaviours. True, no one is forcing them to, but the same can be said for the polls.

The only thing I am saying is, let’s be more rigorous with our data and let’s not fall in the arrogance trap and scrutinise every prediction and conclusion. It is critical for our business to have an eye on the future and continue to ask what’s next, but we should always question trends, future forecasts and the data that lies beneath.

Mistaking foresight with insight

The most important point though is to truly listen. I know it sounds like a cliche but with all the sophisticated data sets and tools we have at our disposal, they still don’t make up for truly understanding of how people think and feel right now.

I was fascinated when I saw this Michael Moore talk. He predicted Trump’s election months ago. Not only is he from a white, middle-class background, he spent a lot of time travelling around the country, talking and listening to people and trying to understand why they would support Trump as a candidate.

The truth is, real insight into people’s behaviours has always led to the more impactful solution, whether it is an ad campaign, a newly designed service or in this case, one of the most surprising and effective (as sad as that might be) campaigns ever. Donald Trump’s campaign succeeded because it tapped into an insight – that a big part of society felt disgusted, left behind and neglected by the whole system.

So let’s not forget that data is only as useful as the insight you can gather from it. If insight trumps foresight, maybe the Simpsons are the best way to predict the future. By holding up a mirror to society, Matt Groening and the writers behind the show have predicted many things to come true over the past few years.

In hindsight it all seems so obvious, we should have listened to the Simpsons. Or as someone once said “An insight is an insight, when it is obvious in hindsight.”

 

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Author: Achim Schauerte, Strategy Director, BBH London & BBH Labs

 

Election Special! Big Data Makes its Mark

Author: Thomas Gwin, Data Strategy Director, BBH London

Mapping the Polls - from the Guardian's interactive electoral data set

Mapping the Polls – from the Guardian’s interactive electoral data set

As the UK general election draws ever closer, many news organisations have picked up on the fact that political parties are using software to better understand voter audiences through data mining. Some are even going so far as to call this the “first true data driven election”.

Whilst much of the rhetoric in these news articles centres around how political parties are expertly using data as a secret weapon to seduce voters, the hidden truth of the matter is that whether considered through the lens of politics or marketing, the business of turning data into competitive advantage is a tricky one. And one that advertising knows only too well about.

Brands, of course have invested in sophisticated information systems to map, classify and prioritise target audiences for decades. Segmentations based on value, behaviour, attitudes, needs – you name it. More segmentations, and even segmentations of segmentations. Deeper and deeper insight, more and more powerful, but equally more and more fractured.

And at the heart of this lurks an internal tension between brand vision and audience understanding. The best strategists will know that these are not necessarily perfectly correlated, but will also know that ignoring either will result in compromise.

This same tension manifests itself in politics between political vision and voter understanding. But for politics, this tension arguably carries a far greater risk. To understand why, we must first return to how exactly parties are using data and what consequences one of these aspects could be having.

If the message is malleable, what does this say about a political party’s identity and values?

Data isn’t just providing political parties with insight, it is also allowing them to model voter intention and, crucially, provide them with the intelligence to adapt campaign messaging to individual profiles. For instance, what campaign message should Party A prioritise to conquest Party B voters who are potential “switchers”? Is it immigration, or is it the NHS?

This is not simply about maximising efficiencies (such as concentrating volunteer efforts on marginals or improving overall campaign targeting) – by adopting data, parties are also wading into the realm of predictive analytics.

Now in the world of marketing, Google suggest and Amazon recommended products are old news. With each passing day, evidence of organisations upping their marketing investment on initiatives like “intent-based” and “personalisation” accumulates. But in the less commercially agile world of politics, this is a huge step, directly imported from recent election campaign trends in the US.

But there is a vital difference here. Where brands use predictive analytics to (hopefully) better serve customers and be more useful, political parties can use predictive analytics to adapt their messaging to convert voter share.

But if the message is malleable, what does this say about a political party’s identity and values?

Some may say, this is nothing new. That politicians have always toyed with messaging and targeting at election time based on voter information, stretching the limits of how they can acceptably position big issues without contradicting party manifesto. And in a sense this is absolutely true. But what is also true is that the scale of intelligence now feeding these decisions is unprecedented. And the fact that this intelligence – so data lubricated and insight rich – is set against a backdrop of deep political disaffection, risks further aggravating public disillusionment with politicians and the political process.

Brands and parties alike have to adapt to people

Well if anything, brands understand the need for the brand idea, the long term, enduring vision that stems from a fundamental truth. Of course, this can and should flex with culture, but it must remain consistent. Otherwise consumers stop believing in you and stop trusting you.

Brands cannot remain static and endlessly pure – to the contrary, they are in a constant process of evolution, ebb and flow, plugged into the cultural zeitgeist which they tap into and also feed from.

And this does certainly not mean ignoring audience plurality, but it does mean that creating stand out aspirational stories that transcend differences is superior to developing powerful but micro-managed communication to suit heterogeneity.

The truth of the matter is that brands and parties alike have to adapt to people. But where the best brands are able to use data and predictive analytics to stay true to themselves and even better themselves, parties risk being perceived as selling out and losing the foundation values upon which they were built.

And the sharp, concise instrument that is data, with all of its clarity and processing muscle, is not alone able to solve this tension and afford parties the clear path they so desire to drive voters to the ballot box. At least not yet.

 

2014 Internet Trends Report: The World Gets Mobile

Author: Oliver Feldwick, Strategist, BBH London, @felderston

We’re all getting used to the relentless pace of digital. Graphs pointing upwards and so on. It’s easy to take it for granted and get a bit numb to it all. But with a bit of perspective, there’s some really big stuff. Internet usage is still growing albeit at a slower rate, but the scale of stuff now being done globally on mobile is seismic.

Some edited highlights:

  • Smartphone and tablet growth is on a trajectory where, instead of having 1b global PC’s, we’ll have 10b global mobile internet devices
  • Mobile data traffic growth has accelerated 81%
  • There are now 1.6b Smartphones and 439m Tablets globally
  • Global internet traffic is now 25% mobile, up from 14% year on year
  • 30% of global mobiles are now Smartphones
  • Tablets are growing faster than PC’s ever did, at 52% growth in 2013

It’s not just that what we did on a PC is moving to a mobile. It’s a fundamental shift in the base of devices the world is using. It’s worth dwelling on the impact of some of this – of a world with this proliferation of geolocated, connected computing devices.

Software is replacing a plethora of tools and tasks. Who needs a landline? A torch? A spirit level? A dictionary? A phonebook? A PC? Ultrasound machines? Calculators? Schoolbooks? Nike axing the Fuelband shows how specialised hardware is being threatened.

Anything that can be done by a smartphone or a tablet will.

This isn’t just a niche behaviour. ‘Over-the-top’ digital services like WhatsApp, Viber and Netflix have made complex tasks and behaviours completely mainstream. And it’s impacting all sorts of industries on a massive scale:

  • Tinder gets 800m swipes and 11m matches every day
  • 1.8b photos are taken and shared everyday
  • 50b messages are sent by WhatsApp alone
  • In many countries, Smartphones are now the primary screen in daily use
  • In the UK, Tablets and Smartphones get 166 daily minutes viewing time vs 148 minutes on TV

We aren’t just living our lives through our mobiles, we are living our lives fundamentally differently through mobile devices.

If that’s not enough food for thought there, add in the fact that smartphones rely on rare earth elements that are in short supply, with no clear substitutes and some of them due to run out as early as 2020. Just as we get hooked on these devices they will soon start to run out.

Which makes for a cheery thought given just how damn indispensable they are now. So maybe you don’t just need a mobile strategy, you need a post-mobile strategy as well?

Mary Meeker has her Internet crystal ball out again

Author: Adam Powers, Head of User Experience

 

The always prescient KPCB analyst has published her state of the Internet Paper for 2013 and, as ever, it makes for a stimulating read.

 

– whilst smartphone and tablet penetration is rampant, Mary suggests the future is all about, “…wearables, drivables, flyables and scannables.”. That last category includes the shocking revelation that QR codes are popular somewhere – 9 million scanned per month in China!

 

– In fact China is the place to watch for innovation and developing trends. Mobile internet access and search have already surpassed desktop use in the land of Alibaba. (Whose business is now surpassing Amazon.) China also added 264m Internet users between 2008 and 2012, more than any other country.

 

– Mobile is the platform of choice for content upload, and right now photos are the thing. A staggering 500m of them uploaded every day but expect video, sound and data to get in on the act very quickly.

 

– the average smartphone user grabs their fondlebox upwards of 150 times per day. Significant for wearable tech opportunities but mouth-watering for mobile advertisers – Meeker identifies a $20 billion opportunity right there.

 

Check out her slide share deck:
[slideshare id=22135327&doc=internettrends052913final-130529094939-phpapp02]

Global Internet Trends of 2012

Photo: Mary Meeker, KPCB

KPCB Internet Trends 2012

We at BBH Labs are big fans of Mary Meeker. Every year we like to republish her Internet Trends and this year is no exception. The report has changed throughout the years but the insight gets richer and more useful as time goes on. The report is just under 90 slides so for you slackers that don’t want to read the whole thing we have pulled out the information that we found most interesting for your data snacking pleasure:

  • USA has the highest internet penetration with 78%, but that still means 22% of the population is not online
  • In the US and UK, almost half of mobile subscribers are using smart phones at 48% and 45% respectively
  • An impressive 29% of US adults own a tablet or eReader, up from 2% three years ago
  • 48% of American kids want an iPad for Christmas this year, 36% want an iPad Mini

This year we wanted to highlight a few trends and view them through the lens of Advertising. Ask a few thought provoking questions and put our own spin on some. A few of these things are good for our industry and other things will be more challenging.

  • In India, mobile internet usage has surpassed desktop internet usage. Mary Meeker’s team believes many countries will follow. As an industry we can acknowledge that desktop banner ads present a challenge to do great creative but when your space is limited to the size of mobile banner ads it becomes even more challenging.
  • They see a movement from asset-heavy to asset-light lifestyles in space, time and money. As an industry this means that less products are being purchased but it should increase the quality of products brought to market. When the product is good, the advertising is even better.
  • The average person spends 52 minutes per day in the car. As an industry we have relied on radio to reach this audience but as cars evolve in technology with touch screens, mobile and GPS navigation are we innovating to be be creative with this time and space? This medium seems ripe for innovation.
  • The average person spends 3 hours per day in front of the television. As an industry we know that second screen adoption is growing at a tremendous rate, ad skipping is at an all time high, how do we change trends in advertising to combat other distractions to the ads we spend a majority of our time on?

Internet Trends of 2012

Every year we like to cover the Internet Trends and Stats presentation that Mary Meeker & Liang Wu from KPCB compile. It’s always great and this is no exception. These were some of the stats that we found interesting:

  • The global internet had 8% growth mostly from emerging markets
  • 29% of USA adults have a tablet or eReader
  • The average eCPM for desktop internet is $3.50 and $0.75 for mobile
  • Mobile surpassed Land Lines in 2002
  • Internet advertising revenue surpassed newspaper advertising revenue in 2010

The report wraps up with a look at the U.S. Economic situation, which comes across as slightly more political than we have seen in the past.

KPCB Internet Trends 2012

Future Human: Transparent Life

A version of this post originally appeared in the 16.02.12 edition of Campaign magazine.

[vimeo width=”480″ height=”360″]http://vimeo.com/30011168[/vimeo]

Billed as a dive into the “rapid evolution of data visualisation tools”, last week’s ‘Future Human: Transparent Life’ could have lost its audience at ‘hello’. Data viz may have become a hot topic in recent years, but there was also plenty of healthy scepticism in the room relating to its publicity hungry off-spring, AR. Ah yes, Augmented Reality.. which, until very recently, has had to work hard not to be dubbed Awkward Reality.

Yet a few minutes in, the event’s organiser and first speaker, the journalist Ben Beaumont-Thomas, had held the audience’s attention, wise-cracking his way through a history of human motivation behind how we portray ourselves in public (the 1970s neatly summarised as a ‘me’ decade of solipsistic confusion; the 1990s as an ‘us’ decade, the start of social transmission and an accompanying loss of privacy), before moving swiftly up to date, to focus on how we consciously and unconsciously allow increasing amounts of information about ourselves to be generated and left in the public domain: the ‘transparent life’ of the event’s title. And with that, the talk became less about bytes of visualised data and instead about something both simpler and more profound: human identity and the blurring boundaries between our private and public selves.  (more…)

Internet Trends – Mary Meeker’s 2011 report

Author: Adam Powers, Head of UX, BBH London

KPCB Internet Trends (2011)

This week ex-Morgan Stanley research analyst, now at KPCB, Mary Meeker delivered her latest Internet Trends presentation. As always, Mary’s distillation of trends is always good value and genuine insights are peppered throughout.

For the time starved amongst you, here are some highlights:

World view:

• Though still with some ground to make up, it’s striking the number of Chinese and Russian internet companies popping into the global top 25.

• What’s more, between 2007 and 2010 China accumulated 246million new internet users – that is more than exist within the USA.

Mobilising the people:

• Mary notes that even in recessionary times breakthrough technology and services can breakout. One need only look at the extraordinary first weekend sales of Apple’s iPhone 4S to confirm this.

• 2010 QTR 4 saw more mobile devices (which includes Tablets) sold than PCs and signs that Smartphone sales outstripping feature phone sales in US/EU

• That said. still enormous unconverted user base with 835 million Smartphone users against 5.6 billion mobile device subscribers.

• Apple getting plenty of headlines right now, but it’s Android mobile devices with the remarkable quarter on quarter ramp up – jumping from 20million to 150million units shipped in between quarters 7 and 11 post-launch.

• Global mobile success story continues with app/ad revenue up by a factor of 17 between 2008 and 2011 to a figure of $12billion.

Touchy, feely:

• Meeker calls out the latest trend in the evolution of human computer interaction being from text command lines to graphical user interfaces (GUI) to natural user interfaces. Yes, Steve gets a name check too.

Cash is no longer king?:

• E-commerce story continues to be one of growth through tough economic times but plenty of room to grow.

• Again the big story is growth in mobile commerce with ebay and PayPal doubling or more their gross mobile sales/payments since 2010.

• The uplift in mobile e-commerce activity has been of particularly benefit to local commerce through the plethora of location aware discount offer aggregators.

Power to the people:

• Meeker identifies overarching mega-trend as the empowerment of people via connected devices.

• She references the Twitter traffic patterns post Japanese earthquake, the fact that 200million Indian farmers currently receive government subsidy payments via mobile devices and 85% of global population are now covered by commercial wireless signals versus 80% being on electricity grid.

Introducing: BBH Asia-Pacific Data Snapshots

Author: Simon Kemp (@eskimon), Engagement Planner, BBH Asia Pacific & BBH Labs

[slideshare id=7556517&doc=digitalmobileandsocialmediainchinaapril2011-110407224156-phpapp01]

The digital landscape across Asia-Pacific has seen significant change in recent months, with enthusiasm for social media driving the broader adoption of a wide range of connected services and tools.

Although Internet penetration levels remain low in many Asian countries, the sheer size of those countries’ populations means that the numbers must be seen in context; for example, internet penetration in China stands at just 34%, but the number of social media users in that country exceeds the total population of Russia.

It’s also critical to understand how people in the East access and use the web. (more…)

The State of the Web 2010

Every year Mary Meeker from Morgan Stanley amazes us with her State of the Web presentation, and this year is no exception. The presentation is immensely valuable to our profession because it highlights shifts in internet culture and identifies opportunities for businesses and marketers alike.

The most provoking part of the presentation is the Disruptive Innovation slide. PSFK had a great blurb on describing the importance of this theory:

Disruptive Innovation is what’s to blame for the success of smaller, nimbler but sometimes cheaper products or services that manage to disrupt the success or complacency of larger, traditional brand players. Think of Amazon’s continued growth and eventual ‘breaking’ of Barnes & Noble, or Netflix’s killing of Blockbuster. Meeker’s presentation lays out two ways in which this disruptive innovation can happen

The two ways that Disruptive Innovation can happen. The first is a Low-End Segment Strategy by offering a product or service at a very low cost and then move up market. The second is called a Non-Consumption Strategy which basically means true innovation where consumption didn’t exist prior to the product being available.

We have the presentation embedded here for your enjoyment. Please tell us what you found interesting? What worries you about this data? What excites you about this data?