Big Data think tank

A retail company can have all the data in the world, but if executives are only looking at the surface level, so much consumer insight can be lost in those spreadsheets. The key to uncovering? Hire a digital anthropologist.

For years, there was a notion that numbers are numbers — there’s no room for human analysis. But as technology becomes more widespread, data is not simply black and white. Today, the way data is handled, interpreted and applied is shaped by humans for humans — enter the need for a digital anthropologist.

The emerging role of the digital anthropologist

Anthropology as the “science of humanity” has broadened and the idea of the anthropologist has evolved. Additionally, the spread of technology across all industries is making companies more aware of the need for cultural analysis due to the ways that demographics utilize technology. Now more than ever, culture can impact digital technologies in subtle and unexpected ways, creating the need for the role of digital anthropologists.

Digital anthropology as an area of study refers directly to the relationship that exists between humans and digital-era technology, and studying how people interact with technology. According to Microsoft’s Research publication, “Social scientists now grapple with data structures and cloud computing, while computer scientists must contend with human subject protocols and institutional review boards.” The digital anthropologist fills the void that exists between the two groups and bridges the communication gap through better understanding.

At the pace that technology has evolved so far, it’s to be expected that it will take on a new face in a very short period of time. Technology has changed the accessibility to consumers and brought about a new wave of the customer experience. For example, one of the most impactful ways for consumers to react to brands is through imagery. How consumers interact with and are impacted by imagery through various channels will be important to business success. By having a digital anthropologist, brands will be able to understand consumer thinking as it relates to consumer experience as displayed and provided by the company in the e-commerce environment.

Retailers’ landscape

From artificial intelligence and virtual reality to the growing popularity of data analytics, brands are inundated with new and innovative tools every day. Now, it is frequently turned to as a solution to enhance the customer experience. In recent years, adoption levels of technology continue to increase and become more widespread among industries. Take these stats for example:

  • According to a 2017 survey from Teradata, 80 percent of enterprises have some form of AI (machine learning, deep learning) in production today.
  • IDC predicts that global spending on cognitive and AI systems is forecast to reach $57.6 billion in 2021.
  • The 2017 Big Data Analytics Market Study found that 53 percent of companies are using big data analytics today — up from 17 percent in 2015.

With these new forms of technology comes quick access to large amounts of data. In an effort to keep up with retail leaders and innovators such as Amazon, brands can tend to err on the side of more is more when it comes to data. However, this practice can lead to analysis paralysis or the state of overanalyzing a situation so that a decision or action is never taken. Companies can invest in cutting-edge technology and collect all of the data they want, but it can be deemed useless if not applied strategically and in a way that adds value to the business. And if not applied or analyzed correctly, this could also lead to a loss of money, time and other resources. Without a proper implementation strategy, level of overall human capital investment, and adoption plan, new technology won’t be accepted in a way that will help reach its full potential.

When there is too much data that is not being processed in an effective and efficient manner, many hidden gems are left uncovered and the information to gain insight into consumer behavior will continue to be buried — a potentially detrimental move for a brand.

How to make a difference with a digital anthropologist

Making sense of copious amounts of data in a way that will benefit consumer experience is a problem that most retailers aren’t sure how to tackle. By having a digital anthropologist on the team, brands can understand consumer thinking as it relates to consumer experience as displayed and provided by the company.

Influencing the process of personalizing a customer’s shopping experience is crucial to the overall experience and impression a brand makes. By utilizing data in a way that relates directly to the technologies that consumers are interacting with, personalization can be much more effective and can lead to higher conversions. A digital anthropologist can help to bridge the gap between the information transmitted to consumers, how it is being ingested and how it is coming across to these groups. Content can be much more effective and give brands a leg up in relating to their customers.

Technology is becoming more than a bonus for brands — it is a necessity. Large investments are being made to find ways to reach consumers and have effective content. There are massive data sets out there directly related to consumer behavior. The hows and whys of consumer purchases are becoming less mysterious and more a matter of having a member of the team know how to dissect the data and understand the customer journey throughout many mediums that consumers interact with. Society is going through a strong “digital age” and therefore the customer journey includes more than solely walking into a brick-and-mortar store or seeing a commercial on television.

A digital anthropologist allows for the analysis to go a step further, make sense of the data that exists, and be able to leverage technology effectively to enhance the overall consumer experience.

 James Ingram is chief executive officer of Splashlight.