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Data might be the buzzword of the moment, but content will always be king

We're halfway through 2013, the year the Economist claimed would herald the rise of quick data, jumping to replace big data as the "next big thing" in commerce.

Trevor Chambers: group creative director at Cubo

Trevor Chambers: group creative director at Cubo

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"Quick", "big" or otherwise, over the past six months, data has been centre stage at every turn.

Only the other week, Facebook was left embarrassed after a technical glitch that exposed the data of six million members to strangers.

Just before that, Edward Snowden’s leak of the US Government’s Operation Prism dominated front-page news for over a fortnight. Even Sir Martin Sorrell admitted he was surprised by the scandal, warning it would have a "significant impact" on people’s views about data.

Last month, at Cannes 2013 – traditionally a festival of creativity – data became a prominent topic, with Mindshare CEO Nick Emery suggesting the festival has transformed from a content conference into a technology conference.

"The central issue now," he said in an interview with The Guardian, "seems to be how agencies react … to data."

Recent research from Microsoft and IPG Mediabrands also revealed  that 46% of consumers are willing to share data for more relevant advertising, while 48% believe their digital identity has a value, and as many as 59% are willing to share their data in exchange for a reward.

And all the time, the industry landscape is becoming more and more high-tech – finding more intelligent ways to apply data, processing it faster; even peddling it as a new revenue stream. This summer, Sky will launch AdSmart – TV spots targeting individual households, based on their data. In the meantime, Barclays will be selling said data (anonymised, it hastens to add) to third parties, allowing them to track consumer spending habits.

Data, data everywhere. The world is in thrall with it, at once distrustful and amazed by what it can achieve. I’m a big believer in its power, but only to a point.

Some predict it will eradicate the need for creativity in marketing altogether. This is not the case though – data will leave gaps. For instance, think of Steve Jobs’ famous quote, "People don’t know what they want until you show it to them."  Will data be capable of predicting what a consumer doesn’t know he or she wants yet?

Marketers worldwide need to be aware there is a significant danger we will become over-reliant on data, and forget the reality of human nature – the reality of emotions like curiosity, pride, frustration, guilt, relief and indifference. It’s these emotions that really matter for brands, driving and influencing as they do every decision people make.

Our role as marketers is to create demand, desire and consideration that tap into these emotions. Not just to pump out stuff because the data said it’s the right time and place.

Yes, data matters, of course. It’s useful – but it doesn’t and can’t replace imagination, charm, wit and aesthetics. Which is comforting, as otherwise, in 20 years’ time, we’d have become redundant as a human industry – replaced by algorithms, just as novel-writers were replaced by machines in George Orwell’s '1984'.

At the moment, we’re in a battle to have the most data, the fastest, the best understanding, with the best plan of action for how to use it. And there’s so much of it too (quintillions of bytes of the stuff – 90% of which has been gathered in the past two years) that the race is still very much on, presenting real opportunities for competitive advantage.

But what happens when the most advanced data-analysis technology becomes ubiquitous, and cheap? When everyone has all the data they could ever use – at the same time, and with the same efficiency of application? Will it all cancel itself out? And if so, where is the opportunity for advantage?

The answer is, it’s where it always has been: in content, creativity and personality. These together have the power to arouse human nature, build brands and create affinity. And this can’t be done by ones or zeros. Yet.      

Trevor Chambers is group creative director at Cubo

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