Malcolm Gladwell on the Significant Shortcomings of Data

At the mobile marketing analytics provider Tune’s Postback 2015 event, author Malcolm Gladwell told the most data-driven marketing technologist crowd that data is not a blessing, but a curse. The reason he said, “More data increases our confidence, not our accuracy.” Data shows that the average person under 25 is texting more each day than the average person over 55 texts each year. This data however does not tell us the nature of that behavior, whether it is developmental or generational change.

Developmental change is behavior that occurs as people age and does not have enduring impact on behavior. On the other hand, generational change is behavior that belongs to a particular generation and they continue that behavior as they grow older. The question is whether the mobile video messaging application, Snapchat, is developmental or behavioral change. The answer could help determine whether Snapchat will be around 10 years. Similarly, Facebook connects billions of people around the world. That data however can’t tell us what Facebook’s potential is for the future or if it will hold as much influence in 10 years as it does now.

The sharing economy is becoming more prevalent with companies like Airbnb or Uber, which rely heavily on trust. Recent polls on trustworthiness however show that people’s trust is at an all-time low. That’s highly conflicting data and that data can’t tell us is how both points can be true. Gladwell said that “Data can tell us about the immediate environment of people’s attitudes, but not much about the environment in which they were formed.” Whether millennials are trusting or not, is extremely important to the future success of the sharing economy. The deficiencies of data are the reason marketers have a lot of work to do. Marketers must uncover the truths that lie within the data in order to better predict and understand consumers. 

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