Data, Information and Knowledge (And What It Means For B2B Marketers)
The big data revolution has performed a valuable service in bringing our collective attention to data’s value and the need to manage it properly — especially the customer generated kind. But it has also limited our perspective at a time when we need to think bigger than data, big or otherwise.
If we leave our sights set on data alone, big data becomes a physical storage challenge that is solved easily enough by computer hardware and databases. However, storage is merely where the fun starts. There is value hidden in all that data that can only be discovered as we cultivate it by searching and sorting through it but especially by adding to it.
No data source is complete unto itself and the most useful business insights often come from combining data from multiple data and information sources. This might sound strange if you’re used to using words like data and information interchangeably. They’re related but definitely different.
There is a truism in the industry that hasn’t been around long enough to become a cliché and I hope it never does. Simply put, people make decisions based on their knowledge of situations — or at least they should. Data is the first leg of a journey that takes us through information to knowledge. If you keep this in mind, you’ll be able to derive much more business insight than if you focus on your data alone.
Data and Information
It’s worth remembering that data is any factual expression like 5 or red hair, your phone number, or a grade of B minus in calculus. You might note from this short list that data is not always numeric and not always quantitative. Data can be quantitative or qualitative and even when it is a number you can’t always do math with it. Red hair times 7 means nothing though you might want to count up all the red heads in your database which would give you a number that you could do math with. Similarly, the logarithm of your phone number or postal code would just be weird.
When data are brought together information can break out though it doesn’t have to. In the right circumstances, red hair and a phone number might be information but they need a person’s identity to bring them together. Add a name and suddenly we have information about a certain person. If we’re really clever, the phone number might tell us roughly where the person lives and this makes a key point — we obtain information when we judiciously add data and information together.
To be a bit more concrete in a business sense, a few data points like a person’s name, job title and company begins to build a profile but this is easily obtained from a data service so it’s of limited value, unless we can add to it. That’s what a well-designed marketing program will do. For instance when a person attends a webinar it’s a reasonable indication that this person has an interest in the solution being discussed. But does he or she also have a concrete business problem to solve, a time frame and a budget? If you can develop that information then you will have knowledge about a sales opportunity for your company.
Knowledge is IP
I call that kind of knowledge intellectual property. This knowledge might be unique to your business and it’s on an equal footing with the designs, patents, processes and other institutional knowledge that your business uses to make money.
Of course, getting all the way to knowledge is tricky business and depending on your approach to the market you might need to enlist the services of the sales team to confirm a customer’s need, budget and also the time horizon in which that person intends to act.
So the progression from data to knowledge really mirrors the whole marketing and sales process. Understanding the process this way suggests that if you really want to accelerate the entire progression, you might want to re-examine some of your tactics. If the most valuable knowledge you can have centers around understanding buying intentions then approaches that only focus on large quantities of raw “leads” might need to be re-thought. In this scenario the knowledge of a few buyers’ intentions might beat a pile of big data about prospects that generally fit your criteria.
I am not saying to stop marketing or generating low quality leads because low quality leads eventually mature into high quality ones, if you process them right. But I am saying don’t get confused by a little bit of data or even information. If you insist on better knowledge about the leads you pursue in sales, chances are good that you’ll spend a greater portion of your time in meaningful sales processes rather than in qualifying. There’s a growing body of sophisticated and easy to use technologies focused on this problem and you owe it to yourself to check them out.