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The Monolith: Mad Men, Business Intelligence and Your Marketing Team

May 29, 2014 Business Intelligence & Data Analytics Alex Jonathan Brown

mad men, business intelligence, marketingMild Mad Men Spoilers Ahead.

If you’ve been watching Mad Men this past season, you know there have been a lot of lines drawn in the sand. You’re either with Don or you’re against him. The same goes for Lou and Cutler. There’s also another, bigger divide, one that the show isn’t making as big a deal of as maybe it should.

You’re either Harry Crane or you’re Michael Ginsberg. You’ve either decided that technology is the future, or you’re convinced that the drone of the computer is going to be the death of everything good in the world.

Of course, watching the computer crisis at SC&P seems terribly outdated when most of us have more computers than we know what to do with. We’re all plugged in, we’re all using advanced data, we’re all light years ahead of Harry Crane and his IBM machine, right?

Maybe not. Ginsberg’s argument against the computer is that it’s going to replace the creative team – it’s going to take all the magic out of what they do and replace it with ones and zeroes. (Mad Men’s showrunners littered the episode that introduces The Computer with references to Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, in case you needed a little help understanding the tension.) I’m not sure that anyone’s panicked about Excel taking food out of their kids mouths, but I do think we’re all a little more scared than we should be by the modern-day version of Harry Crane’s machine.

In the last ten years, data’s become a bigger part of marketing than it ever has before. TV ratings and newspaper circulation numbers have always been there, but every new digital avenue for marketers has brought with it a new set of numbers. Google Analytics for your web site. Likes, Shares, and Fans on Facebook. Faves and Retweets on Twitter.

We all know these numbers are important and we all know we need to do something with them. So we… print off the numbers? And say things like “This looks good, let’s keep doing what we’re doing.” Or “These numbers are low, let’s change something or everything.” Figuring out what to do based on those numbers – that’s our version of Ginsberg’s magic.

But we’re missing a big part of the bigger picture and that’s where the modern version of that giant computer comes in. It’s easier than ever to access all of this data, but so many people are operating under the assumption that it’s really hard to do anything with it. We’re still stuck in that idea that hardcore data analysis is something you’ve got to do on giant servers, something big enough that you have to get rid of your break room for.

Leveraging business intelligence products like Microsoft’s Power BI lets marketers do more than just look at data – you can put it to use, comparing it to publicly available data like populations and demographics or internal data from previous years. It’s not something that’s going to replace anyone’s job, but if you’re the person in charge of making decisions, it’s going to give you the kind of information you need to make better decisions.

Much like Crane’s complaints that SC&P is the last agency on the block with a computer, we’re already seeing a societal shift toward this sort of “big data” analysis. Between SABRMetrics revolutionizing the way sports teams do business (think Hardball here) and Nate Silver’s on-going quantitative analysis of the news with FiveThirtyEight.com, we’re slowly starting to look for more than just one-to-one comparisons.

We’re closing the book on the times when it’s enough to know that your organization’s seeing month-to-month gains in traffic to your website or sales or Twitter followers. It’s becoming more necessary than ever to know why.

There are two ways to get to why. You can listen to Ginsberg and hope the magic keeps working. Or you can use Harry Crane’s computer and trust the numbers to work out. We don’t find out how Mad Men ends until 2015, but based on the fact I’m writing this on a laptop, I’m not sure I’d bet against the computer.

 

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