Jane Perdue asked this question on her blog this week: “Are you trolling for numbers or meaning?”
It’s a powerful question at a time where numbers seems to be judge, jury and executioner in our online marketing efforts. From simple numbers such the quantity of “Likes” and followers to numbers that purport to indicate one’s social influence to the black ‘n red numbers on a balance sheet, it’s all about the numbers today isn’t it? Strategies are crafted, decisions are made and conversations are influenced based on numbers. Business – and marketers in particular – love everything tied up in a nice little package: the number.
Notice that Jane asks if you’re trolling for numbers or meaning, which indicates they’re mutually exclusive concepts. Can’t numbers also have meaning? Albert Einstein suggested that a number, in and of itself, has no significance. Beyond representing the quantity of a group of similar objects, it has no meaning, right?
Yet there are many different kinds of numbers such as rational and irrational numbers, real and complex numbers, algebraic and transcendental numbers, perfect numbers, surreal and hyperreal numbers, and finally square and triangular numbers. In these cases, the numbers begin to represent concepts and not just quantity. So maybe the question of number vs. meaning is flawed? Maybe numbers can have meaning? As an example, numbers can represent the percentage sales increase in year-to-date revenue. If an organization collectively imposes meaning on numbers, those numbers mean something to the stakeholders.
So what’s the answer?
It doesn’t matter; the issue is not if numbers have meaning but our reliance on them, regardless of any associated meaning. The overload of data created and exchanged across a dizzying array of distribution channels, which is accessible at our fingertips and on demand, has changed the rules of the game. We can’t get away from it. We need it. We want it. We seek it out. In fact, in most cases we don’t need to find it; it finds us. The resulting interaction of data between people, between people and business, and between people and devices has made numbers – regardless of what we agree they represent – meaningless.
Gross domestic product, inflation rates and economic structures that were once cyclical and predictable are stumping the most experienced economists. The reality is numbers do, in fact, lie. Numbers direct the marketer’s attention toward current trends instead of the trend currents; what is “the now” instead of what that current activity predicts about how consumers will communicate, think or consume our products in the future.
From connections on social platforms to social influence scores, numbers have become a marketing disease causing short-sightedness in strategic thinking. What’s the cure? Stop giving numbers meaning; focus on contextual relationships and communications instead. Insight can no longer be gained by mathematical calculations or by parsing Big Data. The more data we exchange across a greater number of devices, the less meaning numbers will have and the more importance human insight and intuition must be given.
Are numbers meaningless? Are they creating short-sightedness in marketers? Is human analysis becoming more important in the face of growing artificial intelligence?
Feed Your Community, Not Your Ego