The importance of interpreting data accurately

The year is 1975, the first digital camera has just been invented. Kodak is the very founder of this technology. It has been 48 years since the television had been invented. Kodak, a company that is completely dominating the photographic film industry would go to file for bankruptcy just 37 years later in 2012. You may be wondering, well what happened to them? How did they fall face flat and struggle to rise back to their former glory?

What happened to Kodak is what happens to a myriad of companies. You may have guessed what happened to them by now – Lack of innovation. But that was not the only reason that led to their untimely demise. It was a series of events with the second biggest issue being the inability to trust the “data”. Today we will focus on data – from why companies collect it and why interpreting data accurately can mean the difference between success and failure.

According to Wikipedia data is a unit of information, often numeric, that is collected through observation. In a more technical sense, data is a set of values of qualitative or quantitative variables about one or more persons or objects.

A former vice-president of Kodak, Don Strickland said “We developed the world’s first consumer digital camera, but we could not get approval to launch or sell it because of fear of the effects on the film market.” The company had developed a great product that they never got a chance to showcase to the world due to not listening to the data. Televisions had been in the market for almost 5 decades and it was just a matter of time before the digital camera would be the preferred method of motion pictures. All they had to do was extensively develop a motion pictures camera around their digital camera. Not understanding what was happening and taking decisive action to further develop a motion pictures digital camera meant their competitors moved in and stole an almost guaranteed market share.

We can also look at companies like Blockbuster. Blockbuster was one of the best performing video-rental companies back in 2004. When blockbuster was approached by Netflix for a collaboration, Blockbuster failed to realise what their data was saying – The numbers never lie. With the internet being available for over 20 years, it was a matter of time before they realised their error. This collaboration would have given them a chance to buy out Netflix, however, their market position blinded Blockbuster. Blockbuster rejected the proposal from Netflix and instead of taking their services online opted to open more storefronts. When Blockbuster finally filed for bankruptcy in 2014 – Netflix shares were estimated to be worth over R7 000 adjusted for inflation according to Investopedia.

So now, why are we telling you all these stories? Well, the idea here is the same, both examples show businesses that were at their height of business but failed to accurately analyse their data accordingly. Businesses do not just collect data. Data is collected and analysed to help with decision making. Think of it as a cheat sheet for your business to succeed. In simple terms data helps brands navigate, revise, and improve on their service offerings.

Any brand that does not use data to determine its next move can simply be compared to a person that responds to a dilemma by emotions. By now we all understand that you cannot assume or use emotions in business.

Both companies demonstrated the real need for businesses to interpret data accurately while understanding it to make informed decisions. Netflix can be said to be one of the companies that understood how to respond to what the data was telling them. Making them one of the richest brands known to man to date.

So, the key take here is to make sure that you collect data, interpreted it and make informed decisions. If your brand is not data-driven, then it is as a person that is driving blind. Any success that you may encounter may be a result of pure luck. Do not rely on luck – give your brand the edge and a cheat sheet to help set you up for success.

Sakkie Ngobeni