Data marketers should stick to subjects consumers care about

The idea of making boring data fun may appeal to brands, but it is flawed. John V Willshere argues that capturing the data in something people already love is the best way to create an effective social object.

We are becoming more and more obsessed with making data fun. A lot of people don't inherently find data interesting, or aren't confident that they have the necessary skills to get properly stuck in, or just feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume they have to wade through. They don't like data, so they want it to be fun instead.

Now, calling it 'Big Data' is going to do nothing to help allay those people's fears. It doesn't sound fun to someone who doesn't like data. It's like telling people who are afraid of dogs that everyone in their street is getting a 'Big Dog'.

When the term 'gamification' first raised its head a couple of years ago, lots of people thought: 'Yes, that's it, let's make our data fun.'

However, it doesn't really; it just tends to make mundane things a bit more annoying. Have a read of Margaret Robertson's excellent essay on the difference between 'games' and 'points' to explore that a little more -

Instead of trying to turn boring data into some form of enforced fun, why not find something that's already fun, and look for the data inside?

3D printing company Shapeways recently launched The Vibe (pictured), an iPhone cover with a difference. You choose 15 seconds of a song via social music platform SoundCloud; it takes that bit of music, and turns it into a soundwave with which to adorn your phone.

It creates a social object, something to talk to people at work about, or in the pub, or on your social network of choice. The idea relies on finding the data within something somebody loves, and creating a meaningful interpretation of that.

I would argue that, for a brand, using this approach is much more likely to produce a powerful connection than trying to create something people might love on the basis of data they don't care about. If you are a car company, what do people love about driving? Where's the data in that? How can you capture it, and transform it into a social object?

Start looking for what people love, enjoy and care about. There's bound to be data there. After all, it's everywhere else.

John V Willshere is the founder of Smithery, an innovation works for marketing and product development. Follow him on Twitter @willsh or at


Three trends of which savvy marketers must be aware

  1. Big Data

    When people refer to 'Big Data', they are usually talking about datasets that have grown so big and complex that they are becoming too hard to use well using traditional human operators. We must therefore look to computer automation to help crunch the numbers, find insights, suggest solutions and even execute plans.

  2. 3D printing

    Where your 2D office printer uses ink to print information on the surface of paper, 3D printers use materials to create fully rounded things (plastics, resins, metals... even food). Any company that makes a physical product needs to look at 3D printing closely, and work out what part of their business it will make obsolete.

  3. Social objects

    Hugh McLeod came up with Social Object theory - 'The social object, in a nutshell, is the reason two people are talking to each other, as opposed to somebody else.' It doesn't have to be a physical object, of course, but in an increasingly intangible world it is tangible, physical expressions that can make brands stand out.


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