Mama used to roll her hair
Back before the central air
We’d sit outside and watch the stars at night
She’d tell me to make a wish
I’d wish we both could fly
Don’t think she’s seen the sky
Since we got the satellite dish
Let’s get something straight. Contrary to what some data modelers, IT pros and even some quant-only marketing researchers may think, customers are not data.
While I really hate the name Big Data (see this post), I think the general idea and the predictive analytics that can stem from it are powerful concepts all marketers should better understand and learn to apply. What we shouldn’t do is make the mistake of letting these tools become a crutch.
A recent blog post at virtual-strategy.com illustrates this danger. The overall piece is fine, but the post opens with a thought that is irritating and a little frightening. The opening claims that Big Data is about “Learning to understand who your customers are as people….”
Data and analytics are and will continue to help us count, categorize, and better predict customer behaviors, but they are not going to help us understand who customers are as people. Where I shop, what I buy, how frequently I purchase and what I post via social media could all be helpful to marketers but these things (even collectively) are certainly not who I am.
McMurtry’s lines from Levelland that open this post are about what can be lost when we let something new take a bigger role than it should. Stephen King says “McMurtry may be the truest, fiercest songwriter of his generation.” That’s partly because McMurtry has an uncanny ability to create four minute sketches that deliver a rich, deep understanding of his gritty characters (I have included another example at the end of this post). This is the kind of understanding you could never get from a database. His song sketches deliver depth because they move beyond behaviors to the motivations and emotion driving those behaviors.
So please marketers, go ahead and buy that satellite dish but don’t let it keep you from looking at the sky from time to time.
Excerpt from Ruby and Carlos:
He looks out the window and it starts to sleet
Laying on a friend’s couch on Nevada Street
Lately he’s been staying high
Sick all winter and they don’t know why
They don’t know why or they just won’t say
They don’t talk much down at the V.A.
And Ruby’s in his thoughts sometimes
What thoughts can get out past the wine
He feels her fingers on his brow
And right then he misses how
She looked in that gray morning light
(this line omitted to protect younger readers…Google it!)
He sees it all behind his eyes
And his hands go searching but they come up dry
And half way in that wakin’ dream
Carlos lets the land line ring
He never guessed it was Ruby calling
The pin in her hip from the gray colt falling
Figure eight in a lazy lope
Stumbled on that slippery slope
And holding back the flood
Just don’t do no good
You can’t unclench your teeth
To howl the way you should
So you curl your lips around
The taste, the tears, and the hollow sound
That no one owns but you
No one owns but you.
James McMurtry—Ruby and Carlos