Let's Remember the Limits of Big Technology and Big Data

The always-smart Beth Comstock, the CMO of General Electric, has published an article today regarding the future of her companies business and business in general.  It can be read here.

Beth argues that the future for GE marketing and all marketing and indeed business are being reshaped by the connectivity and intellectual hiving and access to unprecedented intellectual capital and data on markets and consumers of the future.

Certainly this is the case, the very fact that this company, T Comms, can exist is via the almost instantaneous access to our disparate executives and partners and to broader best practice. While we are in agreement with everything said, it is concerning that marketeers continue to embrace the future of Technology and Big Data without, what we believe to be a healthy, skepticism.

Mathematics cannot circumscribe and predict all of human activity.  The emotional part of humans is irrational and has not and most likely will never be circumscribed by mathematics,.

We need look no further than our own somewhat recent economic history:  I

  • In the 1920's brokerages let their clients borrow money to buy stocks because of course "Economists have figured the full working dynamics of the capital driven economy" and stocks would never go down. 
  • In the 1980's companies were able to "leverage" purchases of other companies with high percentage bonds, based solely on the belief that capital assets would never be less than component pieces, i.e. worst-case-scenario," if we can't sell the purchased company to another leveraged buyer before the bonds are due, the purchased company can be broken up and sold-off.  
  • And finally most recently, it was believed that the Algorithmists at the world's banks had figured out how to completely minimize risk by spreading it into small packages supported by what of course would be an ever-increasing real estate market. 

Every time we think we have "cornered the market" on markets, they show us that our data and math has missed something.  We would argue that is because data is by it's nature always backward looking.  Yes, having access to intellectual capital is Yes, we can model it and predict what might happen in the future and the more data points one has the better the models become.

But... humans are still unpredictable and emotional beings and don't operate on "models".  They wake up one day and decide to go a new way to work, or perhaps not go to work at all, or have just become tired of that color they have always loved.  We need be skeptical and know that marketing will always require a qualitative element.  

CP,  25 March 2014