Everybody Lies by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz reinforces the everyday practicalities of an immensely wider world of data. How long does it take an average consumer to turn a door handle? How long does lipstick last after it’s applied? How many shoelace holes are required for a sneaker to deliver optimal running performance? Large scale data that a product developer or marketer would have loved, was completely out of reach, impractical to collect. And not easy to analyze.
My own natural impatience when it comes to making data actionable made this book a perfect read for me. Stephens-Davidowitz discusses techniques that we marketers are already using including A/B testing and search data from Google for trends and competitive spending activity, but what more could we be doing?
The book focuses on both the marvels and the pitfalls of “big data”. The author discusses correlation versus causation (what’s real and what’s not) at length, and describes big data as looking for a needle in an exponentially larger haystack. Oh, and you’re likely to get stabbed by a couple of thumbtacks in your search for that needle!
The striking beauty of obtaining statistically reliable data in real time was also highlighted. Think back to the days no so long ago when executing mail-back surveys was a primary form of data collection. Accounting for delivery time, response time, data entry, categorizing open-ended questions, tabulation, analysis, and creating a report on findings, the process took about eight weeks to complete! Plus, you were never certain whether your response rate would be enough to provide reliable, meaningful, and actionable recommendations that clients could use to revise their marketing or product strategy. Analysis of Google search data has changed all that.
Of course, the author’s genius (and success at selling books) lies in his spot-on timing. Five years from now, his observations will seem blatantly obvious, even though they feel fresh and new right now. His inspired use of Google-based search data as the basis of his PhD dissertation drew criticism from faculty challengers who were aghast at his proposed methodology. This is hard to believe, given that data from Google provides us with insight on the collective country’s mindset at any precise moment in time.
I found that Everybody Lies led me to think of ways to be more effective. Yes, we direct marketers have been doing A/B testing forever. We didn’t need Google to come along and recommend it to us. However, when it comes to our B2B clients who offer specialized products with niche applications, this expanded access to data can revolutionize our thinking and potentially increase sales. That gives me something to chew on…