What advice would I give the next generation of planners? To misquote one William Jefferson Clinton, for me, it’s about the data. Using data to inspire and illuminate, not simply evaluate or quantify.
For the first time ever, we know exactly what people want. Not what people tell us they want in focus groups or tracking surveys but what they really, really want. We have an accurate, exhaustive and ever-evolving record of the hopes, fears, loves and loathings of humanity-what John Battelle, writing about search, described as “The Database of Intention”.
We know, literally, what they’re looking for today. Through the power of the crowd we know what they’re going to be looking for tomorrow. In their millions, through search logs, social networks and microblogs, our consumers can tell us things that as individuals they don’t know yet. They can tell us where flu is going to strike next, who’s going to win Pop Idol, they’ll tell us before we can see it anywhere else when the housing market is on the way up. They’re telling us every day what they love and hate about our brands. As the heralded “voices of the consumer” what could possibly be more exciting?
There has never been more information, more freely available, from richer sources. One of the most valuable commodities in the world and companies are literally giving it away. Because the data flooding in is out of all proportion to companies’ ability to analyse it, much less turn that analysis into insight. There’s too much out there to simply crunch. So we need to marry analysis with instinct, statisticians with cultural mavens and trendhunters, left brain with right brain. Sounds a lot like a job for a planner…..
So embrace the information overload, wrangle the data, interrogate it, manipulate it, get to love it. Watch the conversations happening round your brands, spot your super users, your evangelists and your antagonists. Watch what’s happening in the fandoms, keep your eye on the geeks and the mavens and watch them predict the mainstream. Find new ways of visualising the data, of turning information into dynamic, compelling and strangely beautiful insight.
What else…. Be generous with your ideas. Be extra generous with other people’s ideas. Get comfortable with chaos. Get good at drawing clarity out of it. Never forget it’s not enough to be right-you have to take people with you. And wear good shoes.
Patricia Mcdonald is Business/Planning Director at BBH London