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In the modern media era of TV and Internet, there has always been a fundamental tension between content and distribution. Is it better to own the content, or is it better to own the platforms and distribution mechanisms to get that content to the customer? For now, content is king, but there’s a new contender to the throne: data.
Of course, data in its raw form is useless. It’s just a bunch of 1’s and 0’s. But when you are able to analyze that data, it can become very powerful. That’s especially true since we are moving from an era of “structured” data to an era of “unstructured” data.
Structured data vs. unstructured data
From a marketing perspective, the easiest way to think about the difference between “structured” data and “unstructured” data is by thinking of the typical customer survey that you might send out after someone has purchased a product or visited your store. Most of the questions will be simple “yes/no” questions. Or they will ask customers to rate you on a scale of 1-10. All of that is “structured” data. It’s easy to put into a database and then analyze for insights. You can perform all kinds of statistical calculations very easily.
But then comes all the “unstructured” data. And this is where organizations are really stepping up their game. For example, that same customer survey might ask a question like, “Is there anything else you’d like to tell us that’s not included here?” That prompts a customer to write an open-ended response. Just a few years ago, that would have required a human to analyze it. Now, thanks to the rise of machine learning and artificial intelligence, it’s possible to have a computer analyze it and add it to a growing database.
And the type of “unstructured” data that’s available today is growing at a prodigious pace, primarily thanks to all the digital devices out there. Your mobile phone is a potential treasure trove of data that grows by the minute. What company wouldn’t want to know the precise GPS location of every place you’ve visited during the day?
The rise of artificial intelligence
Moreover, the type of analysis that’s possible today is becoming quite impressive. There’s a whole new field called “predictive analytics,” which essentially promises to predict future customer behavior based on known data. You can literally predict how a marketing campaign will do, based on what you know about certain types of customers. Companies like Salesforce are coming up with AI-powered marketing solutions that promise to help companies find the proverbial needle in the haystack.
So it’s no surprise that so many companies have jumped aboard the Big Data bandwagon. It promises to streamline just about every part of a company and create new revenue opportunities. As the analytical tools become more and more powerful, it’s leading to real excitement about the potential ability of AI to transform organizations.
Data is the new oil
Within the mainstream media, in fact, it’s now fashionable to compare the role of data in the digital economy to the role of oil in the analog economy. Back in 2014, WIRED magazine breathlessly proclaimed that, “Data is the new oil of the digital economy.” Earlier this year, The Economist remarked that, “The world’s most valuable resource is no longer oil, but data.”
If you follow this analogy to its logical end, it would seem to imply that companies best able to harness and extract this data will become the most valuable in the world. Just as oil companies like Exxon Mobil became the most valuable and powerful in the world until the rise of Silicon Valley’s Internet champions, it’s plausible that new artificial intelligence (AI) companies will become the most valuable in the world, once they’ve truly figured out how to harness the remarkable power of data.
And when that day comes – the day when an AI company is worth more than an oil company or a Silicon Valley tech giant – that’s when Data will be King.