Data Obsession

JoAnna Bennett

JoAnna Bennett, O’Brien Communications Group

10 October 2019

As an overall population, we’re obsessed with data. We’re humans after all! We can’t help but be fascinated with the idea of predicting, preparing, and planning. Attempting to quantify things that are unquantifiable tickles a part of our frontal lobes, which also help to shape our personalities and emotions. How could we not be obsessed with data?

The Truth About Data

Data can be equivocal. Data can be misinterpreted. Data can be manipulated. Data can cause stress. We think data is useful. And on a small scale, it can be. For instance, how many people attended your seminar? How many customers purchased your widget? How many hours did you work this week?

However, when you start interpreting data, the results can be as varied as our individual personalities and emotions. For instance, you might want to quantify the survival rates for heart transplant surgeries in a specific hospital. Seems pretty straight forward until you add in ethics and the definition of survival. How about sales numbers? That’s another data point that seems pretty easy to quantify, but if you add in ethics again and people’s desires to appear successful, you can run into some issues. The SEC recently caught Fiat Chrysler inflating sales numbers. Data can be a joke.

Marketing Fraud

Last but not least, our industry (marketing) also has its share of fraud because, again, the ways of manipulating and interpreting data can be as varied as our personalities. (See “Advertising, Digital and Influencer”.) And with the array of personality options ranging between Mother Teresa and Bernie Madoff, you can easily see how unpredictable the presentation and interpretation of data can be.

Ad fraud has been called the most lucrative yet low-risk form of crime in the world. – Jeff Beer

We’ve seen companies become victims of this type of fraud. Brands hire firms that lie and cook the data books. Con men are always ahead of the game and out to make a quick buck. So, if you feel like you’re being sold a promise you’re unable to understand or quantify, you may want to reevaluate your vendor. When people’s personalities rely on manipulation and fabrication, it’s no wonder their business models do, as well.

As I’ve said before, it always comes down to people. Data can be a great tool but only when its interpreted objectively and presented fairly by great people. When the people are less than ethical, the numbers are as well.

For evil to flourish, it only requires good men to do nothing. – Simon Wiesenthal