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“Mrs. Robinson, you’re trying to seduce me, aren’t you?”

Every time I see the 1969 classic The Graduate, I am cast into the timeless brilliance of one of the most significant films of all time. If you’ve seen the movie, how could you forget this iconic line, uttered in terror by Dustin Hoffman’s Benjamin Braddock to Anne Bancroft’s most memorable character Mrs. Robinson?

Comic genius. (I know, most of you weren’t born yet. But it’s a classic!)

This is one of 100 iconic exchanges in the film. I want to talk about it, but another exchange keeps popping up in my head:

Mr. McGuire: I just want to say one word to you.

Benjamin: Yes, sir?

Mr. McGuire: Are you listening?

Benjamin: Yes I am.

Mr. McGuire: Plastics.

Benjamin: Exactly, how do you mean?

This kills. The exchange became the allegory for an entire generation of disillusioned college students. Almost 50 years later, I’m going to take the leap and tie this to the current feelings I have about the term “Big Data”. Plastics. Big Data.

So, for those people in the data business, when you try to explain to a reasonably well-educated marketer what the heck this is, and you start with “it depends”, you shouldn’t be surprised to hear the response “exactly, how do you mean?”

Like many issues in today’s world of information overload, this term confuses people like me as much as it excites people in the data business. That’s fine. We all have our hot buttons. But help me out here. There has to be a singular, unifying response that consolidates the concept, right?

The 2014 KPMG annual survey of CIO’s and CFO’s lays out some pretty stark realities for all of us when it comes to chewing on all of this data. The survey- this is from CIO’s and CFO’s, mind you- found:

  • 85% of businesses don’t understand consumer information they have already collected
  • 54% are unsure what data is most useful to them
  • 56% feel forced to adapt new data models that they don’t understand
  • Only 10% actually use the data they have collected and paid for

I’m hoping that the people who sell Big Data as a service can help senior managers understand how to use this information before they expect additional investment in it. I get it. More information is more power. When over $6 billion is spent on analyzing consumer behavior in the U.S., it’s a big bet. We should be paying attention.

I know that I can get the definition of “Big Data” from Wikepedia. But, I’m searching for some examples of how I explain the utility of it to my (more than a few) terrified clients. I assume there is significant uplift to be gained from its deployment.

I am being sincere when I ask for a more manageable frame of reference. How does this all provide so much more value than “little data”, i.e. what brands already know about their customers that they have no idea how to leverage? Clearly, if I’m to trust KPMG, we are still crawling. Now we are being forced to run?

To all of you data marketing professionals, I’m just asking:

“How do you mean?”

Terry Horsmon is a marketing strategist based in Shanghai, China. With his consulting company True North Worldwide, he has been working with brand marketers in China for ten years, helping them to understand how to squeeze the risk out of critical business decisions.

terry“Mrs. Robinson, you’re trying to seduce me, aren’t you?”
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