Digital & Social Media

Start With Your Big Why, Then Let’s Talk Big Data


Simon Senak’s book Start with Why remains one of my favorites. While the book focuses on leadership, his message of “start with why” has wide-ranging applications.

In the field of research, analytics and insights, big data continues to be the talk of town. Whether it’s big opportunity or big headache depends on whom you ask. More often than not, most feel a sense of being overwhelmed. We salivate toward all the data because there is information that should be useful for business decisions. On the other hand, there is so much out there that we often wonder where we should start. Starting with why helps bring purpose, focus and sanity to big data.

Societies evolve. Communication channels change. Business models get modified. Yet at the highest level for any company, the ultimate goal remains the same: I want to continue to do what I do best to serve my customer (effectiveness) and maximize every dollar I spend (efficiency).

Keeping this overarching why in mind helps to bring clarity and focus to the subsequent goals and objectives, data sources to explore, analytics to understand patterns, and insights to drive actions.

Starting with why helps bring purpose, focus and sanity to big data.

The age-old adage still rings true – “I know I am wasting half of my marketing spend, I just don’t know which half.” This conundrum remains the ultimate why for the CMOs of major companies. The difference – and hence the greater challenge – is today we have more and messier channels to consider in this mix because of social media.

In fact, much of the big data discussion comes from the fact that there is a massive amount of real-time data in the social media space. It wasn’t that long ago companies were competing for more followers, more likes, etc. Today, as companies’ social presence stabilizes and matures, they are no longer satisfied with metrics such as number of retweets or likes, net sentiment, etc. The questions around social media data have taken on more of a business angle: How does my success in social media metrics translate into and impact my business performance success? Am I throwing too much money into social media presence and dominance?

Why the shift in these questions? Because if one thinks about it, getting on social media never really is the ultimate goal of any business. Social media has grown to be more like an advertising channel. The Facebooks and Twitters of the world are like media companies, except that they are more powerful in the sense that messages spread faster and reach further. Whether social media channels serve as an “enhancer” of the traditional media channels or a primary driver depends on a company’s business model, the stage of its brand development, and the target audiences it looks to engage.

Brand engagement arrow

So as we look forward to bringing more meaning and order to the chaotic world of big data, it’s ever more important to “start with why.” If we think about the various types and levels of engagement by consumers, the ultimate why for companies is for their consumers to be their brands’ fans or defenders – the highest level of engagement. If we think about how to move consumers along the four core levels, as illustrated in the diagram, it will help us focus on data that are most meaningful in providing answers to how companies can get their consumers to the final level of engagement – and get there faster.