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Building Market Intelligence

I just got back from Sydney, Australia, where I participated in a unique lab that focused on creating sustainable platforms for the country’s leading film projects. The multi-platform space is no doubt an exciting one, and not without its debates, but I wanted to focus this post on the subject of my talk down there, the notion of building intelligence.

It seems that every article these days has some mention of “Big Data”. And as companies wrestle with the fact that their legacy systems can’t handle reams of information they’re supposed to collect, process and manage, their markets and their customers lie in wait.

And marketing? Well, talk about the emperor having no clothes…

So what is it about this data and marketing thing that is so elusive? Let’s take a brief look at history.

In the 50s and 60s, trucking and distribution routes formed hubs that allowed companies to reach out directly to customers at incremental scale. In the 70s and 80s, this led to companies using their limited media wares to capture your mind (and at times, your heart) through select messaging and the occasional story or two. By the 90s, data became an asset, as evidenced by airlines that would leverage their hubs to not only optimize supply and distribution mechanisms, but to vet out the market and adapt to it if necessary (this often didn’t work as planned, by the way, and many of them went out of business).

By 2010, data became its own substrate, creating new markets, as information and technology systems strengthened their ubiquity, and put more power into the hands of customers than ever before.

So here we are, approaching 2013, and many companies continue to scratch their heads. “Why aren’t more people buying my product?”, they ask themselves.

The answer: You can’t assume the market is there. You have to interact with it. You need to build intelligence around it.

That something else is of course the bane of any product developer or marketing manager’s existence. It’s the coup de grâce. But it shouldn’t be. And through darkness, comes the light.

Take a company like Nike, for example.

We all know, at least most of us in marketing and technology circles that is, any company, any “brand”, can be reputationally conflicted in a matter of minutes. We’ve seen the biggest and the shiniest topple overnight. We live in a world that seeks transparency, and more important, meaning.

So when Nike wakes up in the morning, it needs to look itself in the mirror, and do right by itself and its customers. And if it can’t, it needs to address the issues. The changes it chooses to make, the way it acts, defines it as a brand. Plain and simple. And instead of playing defense, it can use this as an opportunity to transform itself and the market. To make an impact on culture beyond the product. To tell human stories with its product and its customers. To at once empower its supply chains, and manage them with care.

Whether we use films, webisodes, social content or good ‘ole fashioned media is not the point. Neither are the screens or the means. Soon, media and technology ubiquity will render stories as their purest selves, perhaps coming full circle from our early days around the campfire (and as my good friend Lance Weiler likes to say, “The stories don’t change, the telling of them does.”)

So, the “designing with” not “messaging for” construct is what operates at the foundation of a modern brand. And with that, warts and all, we have a chance to grow markets and maintain them from the ground up.

What changes?

Our attitudes and our mindsets. The real-time world is one that is just as forgiving as it is foreboding. It just requires that we pay a little more attention to the people that drive our businesses and our brands, and that we build a lot more intelligence around the things that matter within the markets in question.

How does that sit with you?