Quest for data

Data is defined in the dictionary as ‘information, especially facts or numbers, collected to be examined and considered and used to help decision-making’

Quest for data

Data is defined in the dictionary as ‘information, especially facts or numbers, collected to be examined and considered and used to help decision-making’. As such it has great value to business if collected and examined in the right way. In the parts of commerce where gathering is relatively easy, or automatic, it has long been used to great effect.

My son, a financial analyst for a major credit card company, works with teams of people examining huge amounts of data gathered at each financial transaction. They know who bought what, when and where. En masse they can see patterns that guide their actions to further increase penetration and margin. Retailers have put loyalty cards to great effect in gathering the same ‘who, what, when, where’ information that decides what goes on shelf and, with points and rewards, can be used to encourage consumers to buy more. 

At a recent sustainability conference, I learned that accurate data measurement in the renewable energy sector has helped drive efficiencies, innovation and, critically, investment. Energy grids, generators and machines are easily monitored, the units of currency, fuel and electricity are straightforward, so momentum built quickly. On the other hand, regenerative farming, which needs to accelerate to catch up with the renewable energy, is very difficult to measure and, as a result, lacks the investment needed. 

How do we monitor the natural world of plants, soil, water, animals, water systems, or the weather to anywhere near the degree that we can in our man-made world? Technologies like AI, robotics and satellite mapping are emerging to provide the data and analysis to tackle this complex challenge. It needs priority investment if we are to find more efficient and nature-positive ways to feed our growing population. The solutions to our world problems are not just in the grand gestures emerging from COP28 but the millions of tiny detail changes, supported by data, we make to our energy and food systems.

As a designer I find the who, what, when, where very interesting and useful to my work. However, there is a critical W missing from that list: why. Why did they buy this or that over the other? Why did they like this product and not another? Why did this item work better or worse? We don’t get that information from credit cards or loyalty schemes, but we need it to improve our offers, find more value and stand out from the competition. 

To do this we employ various qualitative and quantitative research studies to mine the whys from our consumer base. We can learn much from selective groups of people if we ask the right questions of the right people at the right time yet, by their very nature these techniques are limited. The data only relates to the specific questions being asked so are one-use only. When we are briefed on a new project, we are usually sent reams of background research reports to review. 

Originally commissioned to explore other questions they are rarely satisfying or clearly answer our own. Also, the data and conclusions are only as good as the questions being asked, and how do we know if we are even asking the right questions? 

What we need is a continuously generated supply of ‘why’ data we can examine any way we want.  The challenge is how can we gather this when there is no direct relationship with the consumer – the retailer is always in the way. There is an emerging answer – Direct to Consumer (DTC). Selling direct to the consumer allows a two-way conversation and, through that exchange, we can learn a great deal about the ‘why’. If it benefits the individual consumer directly, they will be happy to offer up their views, opinions and preferences. 

As part of this quest for the ‘why’ we have seen a huge increase in online customer surveys but I for one am overloaded by them and ignore the lot. I believe we need to be more sophisticated. A conversation needs to have a two-way benefit for the consumer to engage. Providing bespoke product and service solutions is a way to do this. Tuned to the individual consumer needs they provide a wealth of detailed information in the specification process. A great example of this is the distiller Sipsmith’s Sipping Society which provides members with unique experimental blends to try on a monthly basis, which they are encouraged to comment upon. Exclusive and exploratory for the members they are a mine of taste preferences for the master distiller to work with. 

Of course, using DTC services to understand the why is never going to have the scale of a store clubcard, but, if employed in the same way as the motor industry uses motor racing to develop and refine their technologies for the family car, it makes perfect sense. As with motor racing, DTC may never make money directly but, indirectly, it keeps brands at the leading edge, future proofed and has the added benefit of providing both premium and superior positioning. 

Nick Dormon
Nick Dormon

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