Data Copperfield: Big Data’s Grand Illusion

2016-05-18 01-47-04

When I was 18, and planning the next phase of my life, I went into a theater as a weird teenager filled with doubt about the world. I came out of that theater -still a weird teenager – but now filled with wonder in the world.

David Copperfield flew around the stage as audience members were selected to watch from below. He flew through obstacles and inside plexiglass boxes – dispelling all doubt that this was an illusion. He closed his show recounting his memory of his first snowfall – then shooting snow out his hands. Watch how he does this:

David Copperfield is the most successful illusionist in history (even knighted by the French).

I called this post “Data Copperfield” because, like David, big data has been touted as the biggest thing in business. In 2014, I attended the National Retail Federation’s BIG Show in NYC. IBM CEO Ginny Rometty took the main stage at the Javitz Center and said, “Data is a raw material, like gold or coal or iron ore. It is how we take that raw material and use it that adds value.”

David Copperfield’s memory of his first snowfall as an 8 year-old David Seth Kotkin is just a simple childhood memory. In his hands, however, he wraps a story around and leads to a crescendo including two illusions that cause the audience to leap to their feet with applause.

As businesses, small and big, your job is to do the same for your clients/customers. How will you take your raw data and use it in a way that is seamless and somehow magical?

Companies that do this well, like Amazon and Google and Facebook, deliver content you want to see before you know it exists. When I send an email about a trip to Hawaii, my Google ads/results begin to craft around that interest. When I buy a Janet Evanovich book for my Kindle, Amazon suggests books other readers have also downloaded. Facebook shows me my network’s posts that match my recent or trending interests.

To get a great example of how this works, use Google to search for something on your computer. Then search for the exact same thing on your spouse’s computer. Now try the computer at the library or the Apple store. Your results are divergent and distorted because these other devices are not connected to you. Google doesn’t know you at the library unless you are signed in.

These examples for these huge tech companies seem logical, but data is really integral to the of small businesses as well. As a small retail business, it is imperative that your email list, e-commerce engine, and POS systems communicate to effectively build quality data on your customers. (*Quality* is key: garbage in = garbage out). When you can cross reference this info to identify trends in demographics and habits, you can engage your customers in meaningful ways that lead to higher conversion rates and less abandoned shopping carts.

When polled, customers will say they do not want to be monitored online by what they view or listen to or buy. When you say rather, “would you like to do business with a brand that caters to your preferences” they overwhelmingly say yes. There is a disconnect as to what they say versus how they behave.

Data is theater. The work put in on the front end needs to produce a well-executed illusion for the consumer that adds value to their experience.

For example: Just like magic, whether I click the ♥ or not, Instagram knows I love George Takei memes and delivers them to me on the regular.


Talk later,


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