Focused Data and the foundation for competitive advantage.

The key to unlocking a powerful strategy is to ask a simple question: “What is our competitive advantage?” As Jack Wech once notably stated, “if you don’t have a competitive advantage, don’t compete.” If you know your competitive advantage then you are aware of how the company can compete and make money.

Today, companies have the opportunity to generate a vast amount of data but much of it is stored away for later retrieval (that retrieval somehow doesn’t happen). When it is retrieved, there is a shocking lack of desire to work at revealing insights that will provide them with a strong competitive advantage.

Data as a strategic influence

In a recent survey by McKinsey, only 35% of 2,135 global executives believed that their strategies rested on unique and powerful insights. In addition, only 14% of executives surveyed placed novel insights among the top three strategic influencers of financial performance. McKinsey offered that one likely reason was that widespread availability of information and the adoption of similar sophisticated strategy frameworks create the impression that “everyone knows what we know and is probably analyzing the data in the same way that we are.”

If this is the case then companies are missing out on developing compelling competitive, if not leadership, strategies. Being able to analyse data and see what others don’t is the very foundation of competitive advantage. The Nobel winning Physicist, Albert Nagyrapolt said, “ Discovery is seeing what everyone has seen but thinking what no one has thought”.

Marketers need that inquisitiveness to be able to provide that leap of discovery to create a distinctive brand advantage. However, they need to be armed with the right data, that which has been targeted to seek out the relevant. It is then easier to distil into stimulus that enhances the chance for discovery. The Zen Buddhist saying illuminates this: “For information add something everyday, for wisdom, take something away”.

More data, more knowledge

Too many assumptions about market and people behaviour are made from either poorly constructed research and or intuition that is inherently flawed.Professor Duncan Watts, former professor of sociology at Columbia University and currently principal research scientist at Yahoo has observed that due to the advent of web services we now have huge amounts of data available that provide a source for more accurately studying social networks.

He says that we use intuition for making assumptions about people’s behaviour but this is inherently flawed: “One consequence is that we now need to start suspecting our intuition. We can’t help thinking that we know why people do what they do or what they are going to do. But whatever hypothesis or intuition you have, however self-evident it may seem, when you test it against the data, it’s wrong- not every time, but very often.

We therefore need a different approach to gaining insights that are supported by greater granularity of data. An example of an outmoded model is where Advertisers use focus groups and support their findings with limited quantitative research. This they then use to simulate a consumer. Get one small part of this simulation wrong and you have a different consumer with different thinking and very off-strategy behavioural traits.

If, however, you have the tools to collect billions of clicks a day and to analyse actual behaviour, you can then use your intuition and experience to better understand what is really happening in the market place, predict outcomes and use this as the basis for the creation of insightful and effective strategies.

For these tools combined with high level global marketing experience, you will always be welcome at Intelligent Positioning.
Garry Titterton 18th August 2011