A lot of other things had to happen before we got the marketing intelligence we do today. But where does that intelligence come from, and how do we know that it’s good intelligence? Should we act on it? Stories about that have been around for decades, one of the most famous being the The Machine that Won the War by Asimov.

In the story, Earth is celebrating their victory over an alien race and attributes their success to a giant supercomputer called Multivac. However, three high-ranking leaders share their experiences privately and reveal that they never trusted what the machine produced. Despite being written in 1961, the story has much to say about data, analytics, and trusting the insights that come from that data.

Modern online marketing techniques are firmly rooted in data. Big Data forms the foundation. But if you can’t trust those data signals, can you trust anything else based on them? The second foundation is analytics. Analytics are used to visualize trends in the data, like a giant reporting mechanism. Like data signals, most companies trust analytics engines without question. They don’t have the ability to create their own, and the analytics packages we have seem to work well enough. Finally, those analytics are turned into insights, interpretations of analytics that become business actions. But proper insight into what goes on behind the scenes of the web is dependent on good analytics and data.

The programmer in the story altered the data going into Multivac because he didn’t trust that the average person had a grasp of what was happening in the war. Data trails aren’t faked much online, hiding is the more common tactic, but there is an inherent trust in the data that’s out there that may end up being misplaced if it’s not the right data to watch.

The man responsible for analyzing the data in the story massaged it because he knew the machine wasn’t in good working order thanks to missing parts and manpower. If there was a bug in Google Analytics, would you be able to tell?

Most business leaders aren’t flipping coins to make decisions like the third character in the story, but should we always trust what the analytics suggest?

There is danger if you rely too much on technology to solve your business problems. That being said, you can’t do any online marketing worth the time if you don’t use marketing software. And unlike Multivac, if a piece of marketing software didn’t work it wouldn’t last in the highly-competitive marketplace. There’s lots of stories about how a piece of software helped a company gain a significant revenue bump. 

But as our data, analytics, and now insight engines get better and better, we shouldn’t lose our business instincts along with it. Understand the data signals you’re looking for. Test your analytics. Don’t trust a prediction without understanding why it’s being made. Don’t let software replace your business instincts.

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