I know, I know . . . Hairballs are disgusting, and years ago, I never would have dreamed of associating something so repulsive with my chosen profession, marketing. But that was before – before marketers had to manage an ever-expanding array of channels and processes, before we had all kinds of data bombarding us non-stop, before we had to dig through countless treasure troves of information to improve the customer experience. Now all of these things, when left unchecked, contribute to an enormously complex mess I like to call “the data hairball” – and more and more marketers are challenged by it every day.
What exactly IS the data hairball?
Metaphorically speaking I see the data hairball as the biggest obstacle to improving customer engagement. It is the complicated jumble of interactions, applications, data and processes that accumulate haphazardly when companies are unprepared to handle information from a wide range of sources. More than the “data deluge” or the “sea of data” you’ve all read about, extending those notions, the data hairball would be the shoreline after a tsunami, but prior to reconstruction.
To me, the data hairball embodies both the promise and the threat behind big data and digital channels, and whenever I mention it to a roomful of marketers, I sense immediate recognition.
Heads start nodding in agreement. Nervous smiles appear. Some people shuffle their feet as if they could sidestep the very thought of it. Audiences know exactly what I’m talking about when I use the term.
But, that doesn’t surprise me.
After all, marketers are the ones on the front lines, battling with the chaos of traditional and digital information that’s now piling up 24/7. We’re the ones who recognize the colossal complexity of the situation. We’ve all felt the knot of anxiety in our stomachs when we’ve been called into the C-suite to present strategies that often lack the supporting data we know we need to make a compelling case.
While I was working on my book this spring, Jeffrey Hayzlett, the former CMO of Kodak who now serves as an advisor to other CMOs and CEOs, admitted to me that he knew the data hairball all too well and that he had struggled with it at Kodak. Read the rest of this entry »