Can too much data drive businesses to their deathbed?

‘InfoObesity’, a term coined by Debra Bass, president of Johnson & Johnson, refers to how marketers are now suffering from gorging on an inconsumable amount of data that is not just extremely complex but can quickly become dysfunctional. 

Today, big-data analytics has revolutionised the marketing landscape. In any given moment, companies may have access to an immeasurable amount of data, like a treasure trove of actionable insights, which can decide how the business should run. But, just like how too many cooks spoil the broth, having too much data can easily go wrong. 

A report from Boston Consulting Group found that managers in the most complex organisations spent 30 to 60 per cent of their time in meetings and the remaining 40 per cent writing reports. With all that time spent sorting out immense amount of data, it’s unsurprising to learn that employees can only get 6.5 hours meaningful work done each week. 

Does this mean that companies should start focusing less on being “data-driven” and return to its traditional “gut-feel” decision making approach? The answer is not definite – in fact, it’s a process of trial and error until you find the balance. 

Playing the data game 

The belief “more is better” does not always apply when it comes to data – if not cautious, you will find yourself facing data fatigue. In many cases, the rapid rise in our ability to collect data has not been matched by our ability to support, filter, and interpret the data. 

To paint a picture, it is a similar problem to people complaining about infrastructure in modern cities – the roads are too crowded, buildings too saturated, traffic bad, etc. Likewise, with a huge amount of data on hand, there must be an efficient data-management structure in place to avoid chaos and to create meaningful applications.

A successful case in point would be the growth of digital wallet Boost which, given its size, has a huge amount of data at its disposal. First introduced in 2017, the app started out as an empowerment tool for small businesses to go cashless. However, despite the app’s high install rate, it was difficult to retain long-term users. After amassing a substantial user base, Boost had to figure out a way to use the data on hand to better understand user behaviour and why some discontinued using the app. 

Working with ADA, they are able to systematically slice and dice the data they possessed, analysing their user’s unique behaviour pattern and develop detailed targeting profiles. Employing an acquisition strategy on a quarter-to-quarter basis, they are able re-gather data, break them down, and perform retargeting. 

As a result, after one year, Boost achieved a striking 2.8 million increased in users and 17-fold increment in gross transaction volume (GTV). By targeting the right segments, the company accelerated use of the features and raised the GTV from RM3000 (US$719) per week to RM750,000 ($180,000) – that’s a 250-times growth.

Why do businesses fail with data?

We often get enthralled by the sheer volume of data. The biggest limitation of data is that, without the right analysis it is just useless information. Marketers and agencies often rely on poorly collected and analysed data, which can often lead to wrong decisions and kill good ideas.

When not used wisely, Big Data inundates business on a day-to-day basis. Because of this, what businesses do with this huge amount of data is far more important than the amount of data itself. In a survey done by NewVantage Partners, it was found that: 

  • 72 per cent of survey participants report that they have yet to forge a data culture.
  • 69 per cent report that they have not created a data-driven organisation.
  • 53 per cent state that they are not yet treating data as a business asset.
  • 52 per cent admit that they are not competing on data and analytics.

These sobering results come in spite of increased investments in big data and AI initiatives over the years – which implies that many organisations are not even close to ready for the digital transformation that is already here. 

Huge organisations have failed in the past during its digital transformational journey. Of course, there are a variety of reasons as to why organisations may fall short during this transformation. 

After all, it is not easy to build a data-driven culture – in response, we see the birth of hybrid organisations. These organisations would establish innovation labs or departments led by data experts to drive results from their data investments. 

This also became a challenge as the talent pool for skilled data scientist in Malaysia is still relatively small. Having the technological tools to deploy big data alone is not enough, it is often the expertise and experience from these data scientists that make a difference. 

Marrying innovation with tradition

Many organisations think “going digital” means having lots of digital assets on hand, but that is further from the truth. More and more marketing dollars are shifting to digital advertising because of its inherent promise of effectiveness which is rooted in data. However, data-less digital advertising is like a ship sailing in the dark, which nobody notices.

Digital transformation is an ongoing process of changing the way you do business – it is multi-faceted and requires huge investment in retraining. So, instead of focusing on acquiring more digital assets, it is important to choose what to ignore as well. You cannot jump on the “disruptive technology” bandwagon just because everybody else is doing it. 

Cancer is a major health problem in Indonesia and cases have grown by 130 per cent in the past five years. Kalbe, a leading pharmaceutical in Indonesia, needed to reach out to a very non-digital savvy target market, including elderly patients with mobility issues. 

In this case, popular marketing methods such as ads buy on social media will not work. Indonesia, as a country, is unique because slow internet and high data costs have made SMS the preferred method of communication. As such, Kalbe collaborated with ADA to help it bridge the gap and reach out to those in need via its SMS-based Reach business solution.

How did Kalbe reach non-digital natives? Each purchase came with a simple thank you message, which was then followed up with a reminder once it was time to refill. Even though the reach mechanism was simple, it was still a hassle to manage the process manually. With the amount of information exchange on hand, Kalbe needed a holistic platform to manage all their communication channels to avoid a big mess of data. ADA created a CRM platform for Kalbe which involved a single dashboard that tracks individual customer journeys in real time: what they consumed, how often, their location and time, and reached out to them accordingly. 


The end result: Apart from a 40-per-cent increase in returning customers, Kalbe was also able to optimise their spend, reduce costs, and improve overall finances with its newfound visibility. 

Trust your ‘gut’ vs data

Experience + Innovation + Information (Data) are the three key components of a good business strategy. Over reliance on any one of these can result in suboptimal results. With all the numbers, percentages, and lines of codes, turning to “data-driven” solutions will always seem like the answer. Regardless, it is also very important for decision makers to not forget about their intuition – their experience – after all, their vision was not formed out of numbers, it was from their sole belief in what is possible. 

Between endless data and within the bell-curve, there are outliers which can be explored. Organisations must become more serious and creative about addressing the human side of data if they truly expect to harness meaningful business benefits.

Anurag Gupta is COO of ADA, a company that integrates data, insight, media, and content to deliver business outcomes.

In short, the human mind is very good at some things, but it also has its limitations. Vice versa, for the things we tend to be terrible at, we created computers to solve them for us. A great creative idea inspired by data-driven consumers needs to backed by a data-driven guarantee of effectiveness.

As data-driven as an organisation can be, it would be a total flop if decisions were made solely based on algorithms. A leader’s vision and gut feeling are nonetheless crucial to the business success. But, if you can put those two things together, you will have a much stronger and reliable predictions. Similarly, inspiration and innovations are always rooted on gut and experiences – they are like rough diamonds – and data helps them shine and travel far, whilst producing results. 

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