Four tips for marketers struggling to cope with information overload

We all need to sharpen our cognitive capabilities in the face of data overload, or we'll soon be replaced with computers, writes Mhairi McEwan, chief executive and co-founder of Brand Learning.

Thanks to the digital revolution, marketers can measure, track, analyse and research to an unprecedented level, often in real time. Offline campaigns all now have a blizzard of data behind them as well.

So let’s face it, there’s just too much data, and too little time and insufficient capability to properly make use of it. It’s no longer possible for humans to assimilate all this information, let alone act on it.

As well as finding tech solutions, future marketers will need to be able to cut through and make use of the masses of information flying at them on all fronts. They will need enhanced cognitive skills such as judgement, communication, problem-solving, resilience, agility and lateral thinking. And they will need specialists at hand to offer a firm grip on what’s really important.

Avoid cognitive overload

If our brains are bombarded with too much information and conflicting demands, they effectively shut down, so we can’t deal with anything.

Faced with this data overload, marketers can either take the path of least resistance, or turn their backs. But organisations are working hard to develop new solutions.

  • Search engines, for example, are already taking a more predictive and contextual approach, only pushing content that is of interest, and consolidating it in a way that is most useful to us.
  • External specialists are offering dashboards that present complex data simply.

Visualisation helps

The development of dashboards points to a visualisation industry that is coming of age. People are generally able to assimilate information more effectively in a visual format. Finding ways to visualise complex data in a meaningful way and simplify it through dashboards or infographics helps marketers decide what to do with it.

Find new models

In our fast-moving world of chaos and ambiguity, we all have to be more resilient and find ways to adapt. It’s less about what we know and more about having models in our head, so that when we see a problem, we have well-formed approaches for how to solve it.

Google, for example, has created an internal data-driven learning culture. The People Analytics (HR) team mines and interprets all the internal data generated to support this learning culture, so that it can provide insights for the right people.

Know where to look for trusted information

Organisations are trying to harness pools of collective knowledge so they can bring them to the surface and keep them current, vibrant and relevant. Enterprise social networks are one way: Deloitte has introduced a leadership and badging system, via Yammer, to help identify who is an expert on a given issue, so that people can distinguish which views are valuable and to be trusted.

Laszlo Bock, the senior vice-president of people operations at Google, said in a recent interview with The New York Times: "For every job, the number-one thing we look for is general cognitive ability, and it’s not IQ. It’s learning ability. It’s the ability to process on the fly. It’s the ability to pull together disparate bits of information."

As human beings, we all need to sharpen our cognitive capabilities to keep pace with the radical changes in our environment, or else computers will take over from people and our roles will become extinct. Marketers should take heed.

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